On the river, anything can happen. A beautiful, picturesque day can quickly turn cloudy. A mistake in boating can result in misery. The river changes; one day, the levels are low, the next day, after a heavy rain, the levels can be high. It is never the same.

The river is a source of many metaphors….

A beautiful, sunny day it was, on the Snake River in Wyoming, recently. My son had done some research on various rafting companies in the area, and we picked one with the best ratings.

No helmets were needed and we listened attentively to the safety instructions. I was prepared to get wet. I preferred not to row, so my seat was in the middle of the raft.

Once in the raft, doubts crept in. How well would this inflatable raft would hold up in rapids with levels of 2-3? Could it  be punctured easily? How often did these boats tip over? Had I made the right decision to agree to this? What if I fell out? Was the water cold enough to cause hypothermia? I felt a little serpentine river of fear sneaking up my spine…

I’m typically not a fan of being so near and close to the open water. I was on a jet ski once on the ocean, and did not prefer that. But this was a river, not an ocean, and we were not too far from either shoreline on the left or the right, and parts of the river were quite shallow. I decided I could enjoy it.

I learned that the leader of our raft had not had a single raft tip over on him. That was comforting, but it was still possible to fall out, though. Those sitting on the edges and with the responsibility of rowing were told to tuck their feet in snugly.  I had handles to hold onto and I held onto them tight whenever we faced moving waters.

We had plunged at least a few level 2 or 3 rapids when we came upon a few other rafts. Something wasn’t right. One of them flagged down our raft and said someone on another raft required CPR and asked if our leader had a radio.

Thankfully he did have a radio. He also had an AED machine on board, as well as rope and a blanket.

The man guiding our raft radioed in to his company and told them a private rafting company had requested him to contact search and rescue and request emergency medical help.

As we got closer, we tried to wave and signal the raft with the individual in distress to go upon the next beach. CPR was hard to administer in a raft. But, the raft kept moving. It finally stopped at a point where the raft knew an AED machine was located on the edge of the river.

By the time we arrived, several rafts were nearby and a person was lying on the ground, and several people were administering mouth to mouth resuscitation and CPR. An AED machine was nearby.

We banked the raft, and our leader got out with the emergency equipment and a blanket. As he was the leader of our group, the other rafts in our group also stopped and waited. Three young women on our raft got out to help- one of them immediately jumped off board to help with administering CPR. Another young lady helped hold the victim’s head in a proper position.

These young ladies, I had just learned , were all in their 20s, working as adventure leaders for Disney Excursions, and were on their own rafting trip as their summer adventure trips were drawing to a close. This rafting company was the one that Disney was using and these young ladies enjoyed rafting so much that they came on their own for a rafting trip before parting ways for the summer.

I was impressed that they remained calm, and did not panic. I suspect that this was part of their training in leading/hosting adventure tours for Disney in Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and the Snake River, and I’m not sure where else.

Once we were close enough to the person, I could see that it was an older woman, and I could see her face. Her eyes were open, her eyes fixed, and she was unresponsive. It did not look good. I held back tears. I saw others that were in her rafting group in tears.

Because once I saw her face, I knew.

It was the second time in the past 5 months I had witnessed CPR and that look. That look of death.

I suppose by the time the medics arrived, people had been continuously trying to revive her for at least 40 minutes. I knew even if the hospital was able to resuscitate her enough to the point her heart was beating and even breathing on her own or with the aid of a machine, she had been without oxygen for so long that there would likely be no viable brain activity.

I had seen this just a few months before with a neighbor. I knew something was wrong when I saw my friend standing at the edge of her driveway in the pouring rain, waving down the street. The fire truck did not see her.  I drove down the street (because it was quicker than me running) to flag down the medics because they couldn’t find the right house.

They transferred my neighbor to the hospital, got his heart beating, but not independently breathing. They cooled his body and then rewarmed it; standard operating procedure in his situation. He remained in ICU for several days. Even if he did come through, he had been without oxygen for far too long. And my friend had to make some hard decisions and answer questions about his quality of life. He was in his late 70s. Did he want to live like a vegetable, sustained by machines? His wife of many years knew the answer.

This lady on the river had no idea what would happen that day. I heard the story: she had fallen out of the raft, swallowed water, became ill. She had only one good working lung and health issues. It seemed that people did whatever they could do to revive her.

After the EMS personnel took her (our raft leader and several other men had to help the EMS team carry her on a special plastic board and up some stairs to reach the roadside above), we continued the raft ride.

The mood was somber. We just witnessed a tragedy. The guide said he only had one thing to say: that we had done all we could do, and we had done the right thing. He said we’d have a safe trip, and we’d continue on.

And we did.

At some point when the young ladies returned to the raft, after helping the EMS team carry up their equipment, before our leader returned, they confirmed that this rafting company was one of the best, and consistently good. This company had emergency equipment on board that others did not. They did have the highest level of ratings of the rafting companies we had looked into. Now, we could see another reason for those ratings. Professionalism, courtesy, stopping to help in a situation of serious need, and — very importantly, enough  experience in keeping the raft on balance and from tipping over!

At some point, we managed to focus on the rapids in front of us, getting through them safely, and witnessing the wildlife around us (which consisted of a few osprey sightings in the trees on the banks of the river). And we had fun doing so. We took movies, selfies, photos, and the young ladies jumped from the raft into the river. And we finished the river trip without incident.

Because of some weird circumstances, we faced a 2 mile walk back to the hotel… but thankfully, our wet hides were saved because the bus driver who drove our group out to the river told us about the free buses in the city. We found the bus stop, and the right bus within just a few minutes, and were dropped off right on front of our hotel, saving us a long, wet walk in the sun.

From there we changed, and walked to the nearby downtown area and ate burgers for dinner.

After coming home a few days later, and wondering what became of the lady, I searched online and found the news. She was taken to a hospital and had passed away.. She had three grown sons, was a photographer and a member of a large denomination that is prevalent in the state of Utah. She was on a youth trip and was one of the leaders on the trip for her denomination at the time of the accident. Her friends and family heralded her kindness, and she was only in her 50s. A GoFundMe campaign was begun to help her family pay for expenses; because of her autoimmune disease and sarcoidosis, she was not insurable.

It’s not what I expected to see that day. For my kids, I think it was their first time to witness someone die (I think she had already died by the time we arrived), but also to see it happen that close, and to see that kind of emergency.

I was reminded that anything can happen anytime, anywhere.

I’m not sure of “why” we were there, “why” it happened, etc., but something I had read came back to me. I had been reading Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen on this trip, and as I was reading, I was taking notes on little sticky notes and putting them throughout the book.

One of the notes I had written was this:

You belong to God from eternity to eternity.  You were loved by God before you were born; you will be loved by God long after you die. Your human lifetime — long or short– is only a part of your total life in God. The length of time doesn’t matter. Life is just a little opportunity for you during a few years to say to God: “I love you, too.”

~ From Spiritual Direction, by Henri Nouwen, p. 49


We all have that little bit of opportunity.