Tag Archives: death

The Uncompromising Alison Hargreaves

via Daily Prompt: Uncompromising

In honour of International Women’s Day:



I’ve been captivated by many women, and not in the least my wife Lyn. But one woman who, having read her story, and who has remained in my mind, is the uncompromising Alison Hargreaves.

Hargreaves was born on February 17, 1962 in Derbyshire, England. The town she grew up in, Belper, was in the Peak District, a much loved climbing area. She was deeply influenced by one of her teachers, and outdoor pursuit teacher Hilary Collins. When she left high school she chose to open a mountaineering equipment store with Jim Ballard, whom she eventually married. Ballard was already a climber, and he saw Hargreave’s potential and became her mentor and coach, encouraging her and supporting her to extend herself.

Even in the early 80s it was unusual to see women rock climbers, and Hargreaves was a distinct figure on the rock climbing circuit. She had a strong inner drive and enthusiasm, and she pushed herself to achieve. And in the early 80s she had already begun to make a name for herself, conquering the Alps in Europe. In 1986 she went with a small team led by Jeff Lowe of the US to climb Kantega in the Himalayas, and she successfully summitted. Rather than return to the Himalayas while pregnant, Hargreaves instead chose to climb the north face of the Eiger and became the first British female climber to summit. After the birth of her first child, son Tom, she also gave birth a second child two years later – Kate, and Hargreaves now gave primary time to raising her children, yet venturing out to the Peak District and then across to Europe’s Alps. She set herself a goal – to climb all of the six most famous Alpine north faces, and solo in a single season. She did it, and in record times.

In 1994 she set another goal, to climb Everest, solo and without oxygen, ascending to the South Col, she turned back as she risked frostbite. She returned six months later to ascend the north face (following Mallory’s route) solo and without oxygen. Hargreaves successfully summitted and also made a safe and rapid descent.

In early 1995 she was 33, and in her climbing prime. Hargreaves had set a goal to climb the three big peaks in the Karakorum Range in Pakistan, Everest, K-2, and Kangchejunga, in sequence and unassisted in the same year. In May 95 she summitted Everest, and in August 95 she successfully summitted K-2. However, Hargreaves got caught in a severe storm descending K-2 and died. Such a tragedy.

Her story is amazing, and her success and death belie the personal struggles she faced, and the povery she and her husband Jim endured to pursue their humble business and her climbing career. The lost both their business and their home, and faced severe tensions in their relationship (which was subject to much speculation). Hargreaves faced unstinting criticism from the public in pursuing her climbing career – what sort of wife and mother would do that? What woman would put herself first? She was criticised as being driven, self-focussed, a poor mother, a bad wife, for being uncautious, egotisitical … The press and public were , at times, unrelenting in their negativity. Hargreaves ignored them.

For me she is a haunting figure of triumph even in death because she was true to her passion and her vocation. this was indeed a calling, a true vocation, and she gave herself to it, even to the risk of death. Even as I write this, her story still moves me. And if I take anything away from her example of life, it is to honour your vocation, your calling, fearlessly and unstintingly, even in the face of criticism and ridicule. My guess is that had she not died climbing, she would have died inwardly by being deprived of it, a pining away. Hargreaves achieved many of her personal goals, and achieved a deep respect in the climbing community for her ability and the successes she had. Even in tragedy, she is an inspiration, never giving up. She was uncompromising, tenacious, and yes, driven. But she achieved so much, and not in the least for herself, but also for climbers, and especialy for women. Her death does not diminish her, it is in fact a testimony to living authentically. Something we must all reflect on for our own journey.





Filed under history, life, Mountaineering, self-development

What Do You See?



Back in the nineties I was working in a country high school. One Friday I passed one of the teachers in the stair well, and I greeted her, as I normally would have done on any day. She looked up, and nodded, I couldn’t make sense of her grunted, terse,  reply. But I noted her eyes, black holes, pits that never ended, and it startled me. I commented to a couple of people who merely retorted that she was under pressure, her marriage was struggling, and she was always terse. But that’s not what bothered me, they were merely symptomatic, this was deep.

I left that afternoon with a heavy heart. It was a long weekend ahead and lots to do at home, so I turned my mind to the journey home. I spent Saturday around the farm and with the family. But all through Saturday I felt a deep pressure. I wasn’t ruminating. It was just there, and probably stemmed from my meeting in the stairwell. I felt that she was on edge, at risk.

Come Monday afternoon I told Lyn that I was feeling like something really bad had happened, but I didn’t know what, but that my colleague was in trouble. It was oppressive. At around 5.00 p.m. a friend rang me to ask if I was aware of the news around town, and I said I had no idea, but now my mind was racing. My friend replied that someone who was always scanning the short wave news, had picked up a police report of a death, something to do with the teacher and thought I should know. I realised immediately that my feeling was real.

I later rang the deputy principal and yes, the teacher had shot her husband then shot herself in a carefully planned action. She had her resolution, sadly. But I had had a premonition. It was painful knowing, and painful not being able to use the sense of it. It was what it was, and nothing could have been done (as my training tells me). The use of a premonition is not clear to me, but somehow I felt connected to a process no matter its outcome. It was a diferent level of awareness.





Filed under community, life, mindfulness, psychology


via Daily Prompt: Panacea


Photo from – unusedwords.com

Many years ago I knew someone who was working hard to get a hospice in the city of Perth. They and others achieved that aim, and now there are several facilities offering hospice care around the metro. Hospice care is for when there is nothing more that can be done for an ill person. It is holistic in that it covers more than just patient care and medication. It is all about reaching out to the family of the dying person (so that children are included and so that pets can also be included). And in regard to the person dying it offers spiritual guidance (which can be independent of a religious affiliation); social worker help; volunteers to sit with the person, allowing family to take time out; pain management, and general care.

I’ve had cause to visit people in hospice over the years. It is hard to accept death, but even more so for those who are family and close friends. Often they desire a miracle, a cure, something, a magic pill. I guess we’d all like a panacea that offers a comfortable exit.

But in my experience there is an alarming avoidance of pain to the point that death is sanitised. Now I’m not wedded to any view of assisted dying (euthanasia) or opposed to it in principle, but assisted dying is an avoidance of pain, perhaps a fear of pain. A common statement I hear often is “I’m not afraid of dying, but …. I don’t want to end in pain.” But who does?

I need to tread carefully here, but there is something about how pain is part of our journey as humans. This life is not a constant pleasure ride. Yet we desire to be rid of it, to avoid it, to never have pain. I’m struck by people who live with all sorts of pain, Maximillian Kolbe the Polish priest who gave his life in place of a young Jewish husband and father that this man might have life. Martin Luther King Jnr. who knew that death and discomfort was a real risk; the many people I have been privileged to journey with through terminal ilness and dying. Pain cannot be romanticised, nor should it be glorified, but yet it must be faced. Elisabeth Kubler Ross in her groundbreaking work of 1969, wrote passionately about dying and grieving.

Two things she has said:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. these persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.”

Hospice is no panacea, it simply manages pain, among other aspects of life and death. Somehow I believe that we shouldn’t rush to end pain, not so that we can build character or grow, but so that we can face ourselves, our body, and all that goes with pain and death. And maybe we’ll overcome our fear of pain if we face up to it, and take a different route. In some ways, I’d like to see my carvings, my beautiful scars and know them. So don’t search for a panacea for me, just sit with me when the time comes, and rejoice in the beauty of the carvings of my life.




Filed under life, Philosophy/Theology, Spirituality


via Daily Prompt: Brave


Roman Catholic (Franciscan) priest Maximillian Kolbe, born in Poland in 1894, and following taking his final vows in 1918, was ordained a priest, and in the 1930s he served in both China, and then Japan where he helped establish a Franciscan monastry. He returned to Poland in 1936. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland and occupied it. Kolbe refused to sign papers that would have granted him immunity as he was of German origin. He was, as were many Polish people, arrested. He was later released and allowed to return to work at the monastery where he managed large numbers of refugees, hiding and helping relocate many Jewish people, and writing anti-nazi propaganda. Eventually he came to the attention of the Gestapo and was arrested and imprisoned, eventually ending up in Auschwitz. He was regularly beaten and treated appalingly by the camp guards. In this he was no different to many inmates of Auschwitz. Where I think Kolbe defines what it is to be brave is where he one day stood in another person’s shoes.

At some point there was an escape from the camp, and the commandant ordered reprisals from among the prisoners. Ten were to be chosen at random. One young man cried out that he had a wife and children. Kolbe asked to stand in his place, and the commandant accepted his offer. The commandant ordered that the ten prisoners be starved to death in a cell, and as eye witnesses testified later, Kolbe was the last to die, and with dignity and calm.

I don’t know how you stand in the place of death for another, but Kolbe did. I have stood inside his cell at Auschwitz, an eerie place, and felt that a light had shone briefly here, that one person had been a beacon of hope for humanity in the midst of evil. For me Kolbe personifies what it is to be brave. He was powerless, yet he used his gift of life powerfully.





Filed under life, Philosophy/Theology, Spirituality



2014-07-26 18.10.58 2.jpg

It was a beautiful walk up and around Kings Canyon (Kings Canyon Rim Walk). Kings Canyon is in the Watarrka National Park (Northern Territory). It certainly needed more than a bit of moxie for me to get near the edge. The previous year, sadly,  a young woman had fallen to her death off this very ledge, so it is a risk. Nerve wracking ledge, fantastic view. Amazing how fear and amazement, death and beauty sometimes pair off.



Filed under nature

Seeking Asylum: Why Do They Come? (Part Three)

There are many reasons why people seek asylum, but following the previous post on the U.N. Convention (see below), the reasons enshrined in the Convention and International Law (and following Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) are: political and non-political persecution (persecution over sexuality, race), religious persecution, economic persecution, war (conflict), torture, barbarous acts, oppression, tyranny.

In the majority of cases people do not take risks to leave their family, community, nation and take further risks leaving savings and worldly goods to others, take the risk of unsafe travel, risk discovery and return, in order to just enjoy a western lifestyle. The reasons for someone to actually take these risks are substantive.

Self reflection here might be helpful. When communities are faced with bushfire or earthquake there is an understanding that one might need to leave home and belongings to escape danger. It is not easy to do that even when faced with danger, and people have recounted how they have left late, or have even stayed and risked death, rather than leave and face something new, no matter how temporary. For many, leaving what they know and control and make sense of is not an easy or simple matter. There are whole sets of relationships, opportunities, cultural connections, identity, and world view, that are so much a part of each person they cannot easily be junked at the drop of a hat or on a whim.

The Story of ‘Gus’ is familiar to a certain generation. His family fled Austria after Hitler’s Anschluss. The family didn’t rush into it but eventually they fled in 1939, to arrive in Australia and safety. Gus’ father was Jewish, but this meant that even his mother wasn’t safe even though she was not Jewish. (see this and other stories at http://www.ras.unimelb.edu.au/refugees_australian_stories/). There is the story of Maimun who fled the civil war and utter chaos of Somalia for a UNHCR camp in Kenya and in 1999 came to Australia. There is the story of Pierre who escaped certain death in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) and who came to Australia in 2006. The story of Ayuel from Sudan whose family fled persecution and certain death, moving around camps in Ethiopia, Uganda (where the Sundanese militias pursued the refugees) and Kenya before being brought to Australia and safety. These are just some of a small collection of stories from refugees who have settled in Australia through the UNHCR program.

My own interaction has included working with “C” from Sudan (and “J” “J2” and “J3”, “D”). “C” was sent out of his village in south Sudan by his mother as the rebels entered shooting. “C” escaped the hail of bullets and wandered for days in the bush until entering Kenya. The story of “A” and his family is amazing, he escaped academic, religious, and political persecution and death in Iraq, he gave up a career, security, parents, and money to get here. 

Najeeba from Afghanistan reflects that for her to leave her friends and family and culture was the hardest thing she has ever done, but escaping the Taliban and oppression, abuse even death was a must that finally pushed her parents to come by boat to Australia.

Three years ago Ashane escaped by boat from Sri Lanka as a young man who the Tamils or even the government were attempting to press-gang into fighting in the guerrilla war (and please note that although the war is over, the government has continued its persecution of Tamils). (see http://www.rethinkrefugees.com.au/real_stories/).

From Europe in the 1930s to Afghanistan and Syria currently, there are substantive threats to the security and safety of ordinary people. The threat of death, persecution, oppression, torture, religious persecution, and the loss of human rights in general is real.

Why do they come? Because in many cases the people would die if they did not try. They are willing to die trying rather than remain and be killed by others. I would do that too! They clearly struggle to come to the conclusion that they should leave, but leave they must if they wish to live or even have rights.

My contention is that we have fallen into the trap of tribalism whereby we harp on about border protection and population control without really looking to see that we are a global people. We are all human and we all have inalienable rights. we need to educate ourselves more on why they come and what it is like to live in the shoes of refugees and reflect on how we might react and respond through hearing those stories.

For further reflection I would recommend the book and film “Kite Runner” which tells the story of how Russian intervention brought the collapse of the Royal family and enabled the rise of the Taliban (with U.S. help) and how the Hazara are persecuted by other groups in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. I would also recommend Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut “In The Land of Blood and Honey” a romantic (sic) story set in the midst of the Serb-Bosnian war and tells of ethnic cleansing, murder, rape, concentration camps and love. “The Killing Fields” and “Schindler’s List” are also valuable in alerting us to ‘why.’

And very confronting is the 2011 short film “Unwatchable” which was commissioned by charities to shock western audiences into action over the human price of gold for mobile phones and the destruction of lives to obtain that gold. The story uses a fictional English family who are raped and murdered to tell the true story of a Congolese family who went through this (interestingly the Guardian journalist Jane Martinson whinged about its brutality saying it made her faint and others sick – but that was the point, this was real for someone who couldn’t just wander down to the video store and choose a Disney film or go to Maccas for lunch!) The official site is now closed but the video is available on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flePzz_CEuQ or engine search for “Unwatchable” within Youtube. It is six minutes long but a hard six minutes!

Why do people come? Because they live in fear and face death for many different reasons.

The U.N. Convention is a commitment by all countries to honour the rights of those who come to us as asylum seekers. But I have also already suggested that we shouldn’t hide behind the convention, we should respond humanely without recourse to laws. 



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