Tragedy struck the family in 1983 when Andrew fell to his death while rock climbing on Wallface Mountain in the High Peaks. He had recently graduated from Harvard and was preparing to work as a nuclear researcher at MIT.
Although I hadn’t seen any of the family in a decade, I immediately felt some guilt as the person who taught them so much about the outdoors. I quickly realized my guilt was nothing compared to his father’s who had introduced his boys to the outdoors.
Other than a letter of condolence after Andrew’s accident, I hadn’t had any contact with the Metz family since 1973. So, when Matt called me recently and said he wanted to visit Wallface Mountain I was eager to help any way I could. While I have hiked in the area of Wallface I immediately knew that Matt should talk with Don Mellor. Don is the senior rock-climbing guru of the Adirondacks and if anyone knew about Andrew’s accident, Don would. I learned that Don was indeed familiar. He hiked in with Lake Placid Physician’s Assistant Mark Ippolito soon after the accident to commemorate the tragic event.
When Matt and I discussed his visit, I suggested he come over for breakfast. Last week he reached out and said, “I’m arriving Friday. How about we get together for breakfast on Saturday?”
I said, “Sure.”
He said, “Great, there will be eight of us.”
“I didn’t know you would have an entourage,” I said, “How about we provide waffles, maple syrup, and coffee and you bring bacon and OJ?”
Phyliss thought I was crazy to invite eight strangers for breakfast. But I assured her that Matt was a great person – at least he was when twelve years old, which was the last time I saw him. I figured his eight friends would be okay too.
Matt’s entourage turned out to be his family. His wife Susan, two daughters Megan and Emily, and his twin sons David and Daniel, his sister Jessica and her boyfriend Jim. We had a fulfilling waffle breakfast, shared a bit of our life histories, and reminisced about our outdoor adventures.
He shared the toll his brother’s death took on his parents, namely that they never recovered, something I know all too well. He and his sister shared stories of their Newfoundland and how it became a beloved twelve-year companion.
We departed with hugs, and I thought to myself how hard their hike would be the next day. Physically demanding? Sure, but more importantly, emotionally demanding.
I received a text from Matt upon his return from their 12-mile round trip to Wallface Mountain Sunday evening. “It was a tough day - we started at 6:30 AM and didn’t get back until 5:00 PM. Don was amazing. I can’t thank you enough for connecting us with him. We had a great time. It helped give the closure we were hoping for.”
My immediate thought was, closure? After forty years?
But then I realized we all find closure in different ways. We all grieve in different ways. We all find different ways to start life anew in the new normal after loss.
It felt good to be able to play a tiny role in helping Matt find peace with his loss.