Love One Another
It has been a hard ten days, we cut short our cycling trip after our dear friend's son died following a deep depression. Writing the obituary while hosting the family in our home, which was a tornado of grief and love, friends, family, babies, wet dogs, burning bacon, and endless coffee and lasagna-- which is as one family member noted- apparently the officially funeral food of Haines—was the hardest thing I have ever done. Last night, before everyone went back home and our house became ours again, friends arrived with a casserole made from the neighbor's chicken, which the visiting bird dog Stitch killed a few days ago, and chicken-fried moose steak.
There was a potluck picnic at the cannery Sunday evening, and a memorial service Thursday at the Chilkat Center that was standing room only. Our choir sang Donis Nobis Pacem, Down to the River to Pray, and an Emily Dickenson poem called Hope is the Thing with Feathers. Presbyterian pastors Crystal and Ron preached and prayed, and Corrie made a beautiful slide slow that made us laugh and weep. I was asked to give the eulogy, and figure the rest of what I want to say about the young man we all loved fiercely, is in it. (With thanks to Mary Oliver.) ---
"The good here is in Aaron’s eventful, precious, and wild life; in the shared grief over losing him this way--- and especially in the community kindnesses. Aaron’s families feel blessed beyond measure by your tenderness towards them and each other following Aaron’s sudden death last week. Today would have been his 39th birthday.
Aaron was an often-exuberant standout artist, skateboarder and snowboarder, outdoorsman, and fishermen, who suffered from Bipolar Disorder for over two decades. It was what made Aaron the remarkable person he was—as well was what shortened his life.
Aaron was fun, fearless, and intense. As his friend Jason said, “Aaron had an ability to saturate himself in the experience, to be in the moment, which allowed him to experience things on a much deeper level than most people do in a lifetime—daily-- even several times a day. But the what made him special was that he drew other people—us--- into his moment, his world.” Each Aaron adventure would start with an idea—often kind of crazy. “If Aaron wondered at eight in the morning how far he could take a jet boat up the Katzehin, by noon you were with him high and dry up the river,” Jason said.
As a high school student and young man Aaron made front-page news from winning the Governor’s Award for his artwork to defying gravity in the Big Air snowboard competition. He turned a vacant lot into Haines’ first skateboard park, built a half-pipe in the yard of his family’s iconic Victorian downtown home, and with his younger brother Olen and friends pioneered the local snowboard scene before heli-skiers discovered Haines. He loved to fish and hunt too. Aaron could pack a moose like a human four-wheeler—cheerfully shouldering a whole hindquarter and carrying it on his back for a mile through a swamp wearing leaky Xtra Tuffs.
From water skiing behind his old Justy on thawing Chilkoot Lake ice to skateboarding down to the border from the summit, Aaron’s exploits were legendary.
Here is his story:
Aaron Andrew Nash was the second child born to, and fourth in the birth order of the six children reared by fishermen Don Nash and nurse and quilter Becky Nash. He was born March 17, 1977 and spent his early years in Pelican where Becky said he liked to leap with a toilet plunger until it stuck to the high ceiling and hang onto it up there before flipping down to the floor. When he was eight the family moved to Haines, and Aaron spent the rest of his life raising his own family on the same block he grew up on. Becky asks that you especially hold Barbie and the children in your hearts and prayers.
Aaron worked as a sport-fishing guide at his family’s Elfin Cove lodge, and as a deckhand long lining and trolling with family—often his dad, brother Lee and sister Corrie-- and friends. He also owned a hand troll permit. The stories of Aaron being “fishy” are endless— whether he sensed a King salmon or halibut lurking under the boat and dropped a line and caught it, or was standing out on the banks of the Chilkat River casting for Dollys or cut throats-- You could use the same gear, be in the same spot right next to him, and he’d catch ten fish and you wouldn’t hook a nibble. He had animal instincts. Running with the cross country team in high school on the Seven-mile Saddle, Aaron stalked, chased and successfully caught a grouse, which he held in his arms and observed closely—no doubt for a future drawing—before setting free.
Art teacher Linnus Danner said Aaron was dream student, and his talent was rare because at such a young age he mastered drawing. In Jr. High he could draw a perfectly proportioned human body.
Linnus said he was so fun to teach because he’d take in each lesson and apply it right away. Aaron inspired her to create the advanced art curriculum at the school that has benefited a whole generation of young Haines artists. Much of his art hangs in the school. “He is the shining example for students,” Linnus said. He earned scholarships to art camps and to the Northwest College of Art & Design in Poulsbo WA, though he chose not to attend.
“Aaron was probably in the top five of all time great athletes to come of out of Haines High” track coach Jim Stanford said. He was on regional championship cross country and basketball teams, a state qualifier in track in several events and finished 15th at state in cross country even though he was built like a football player and ran like freight train. He channeled most of his athleticism into board sports-- skate, surf, and snow--
He snowboarded in borrowed gear or his Helly Hansen fishing bibs, and soared above his peers for decades, winning last year’s Big Air competition with three gigantic back flips, 20 to 30 feet in the air, that his friend Luck said all began with the climb. “He climbed higher than anyone on the mountain. He came down like a cannon ball. He didn’t speed check. He’d hit the jump and pop it like a sonic boom then he’d fly like superman, kicking back and floating and sailing through the air with the board above him like the tail of a humpback whale,” Luck said. (And people say I’m the writer here.)
Don and Becky kept Aaron under their wing all of his adult life, near home, on boats, at moose camp and deer camps, fishing and splitting wood, playing cribbage and Scrabble and working on projects. For the last two years Aaron was his dad’s primary deckhand on the Shinaku.
He was good company, and a fine crew, a well-loved, son, brother, boyfriend, father, uncle, nephew, cousin, grandson, great nephew—friend and inspiration in so many paradoxical ways.
As Becky used to say when he was doing something crazy again—“Oh that’s my Aaron.” She meant it with love down to her bones.
I think that in the end, what matters when we leave this world is that we loved and were loved. Aaron accomplished both, in spades.
He left his handprint on our hearts.
Corrie says it’s because underneath is all Aaron was kind. “I can’t recall Aaron ever saying a bad word about anyone,” she said, and that’s not a cliché. “His friends were all over the map and from all walks of life. He was a really cool kid, but never the cool kid.”
Aaron’s brother Olen preceded him in death, survivors include son Noah, Barbie and her children Karl, Emma, and Eric Gillham; parents Don and Becky Nash; siblings Yongee, Lee and Shanah and their children Ocean and Ezra, Song and Amy and children Christian, Mason, and the timely blessing that is two week old baby Mercy, and Corrie and Daniel and little Olen Stickler, Don’s mother, grandmother Evelyn Beilh of Seattle, and the extended local Nash family, many loving aunts, uncles and cousins too -- and all of you--
His Great Aunt Carol Lawrence would like us to remember Aaron with a smile every time we see his Main Street mural. “Who else but Aaron would put a rubber ducky in the middle of that beautiful painting of the sea and birds?” She said.
So what do we do now?
Tonight, and tomorrow and the next day, and next week, and from now on, what we will do is take care of each other, love one another -- ---and in Becky Nash’s words—Be Kind, Be brave, and Be so very Grateful--- for all the blessings of this one, wild and precious life we lead--- and the people who share it with us-- "