Nine climbers died yesterday in a large avalanche near Chamonix, but while they died young they died doing what they loved and in a place that they loved, fittingly.
They died as they chose. When someone has an overwhelming, all-absorbing passion for an activity or aspect of life, it can happen more often than we realise that he or she literally lives and dies for it: they become part of it and it is a fitting end, always, and often an honour to be allowed to end the human life with or through the love of your life. If I were a beekeeper, it would be extraordinary and magical to be stung to death; zookeepers may be killed by the animals they tend and love and with whom they have built up a relationship; an alcoholic who has an irresistible attraction to drink may find one day it will kill him; and mountain climbers know, every time they embark on a new quest, that there is a risk that they will be claimed by the mountains they love – but they believe it is a risk worth taking.
The manner of a death has meaning always, certainly for the soul being released and often for the participants, and the more extraordinary or relevant the passing, the more it has significance. If someone dies alone and, as can happen for some mountain climbers, their body is not found for weeks, it is not a sad occurrence but one that is appropriate for them. I am friends with a few climbers, and know that for them their greatest joy is their connectedness with the mountains, and that when they are on a climb they almost shapeshift into this challenging world of nature.
Some people would like to die with their family around them, in their own home, or without pain, for these are their priorities. For years I have been attracted by the idea of dying in nature with perhaps some bird or animal companion, and then my body being consumed by raptors and so perpetuated. It may prove to be very different and I do not dwell on it! But for the climbers who died in the Chamonix avalanche yesterday it was a fitting end, and those who mourn the loss of these committed mountaineers, and there are many, will understand this too.