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Promises to Keep

To Anne,

I am forever grateful to you for gracefully revealing how to cultivate a life well lived;

a life abundant with love and acceptance and a dash of crazy.

You elevated my life with the lessons you shared, the journeys we endured and the conversations that left me a better person.

I will always remember the inspiration you sprinkled along all of the paths we crossed together.

Until we meet again.

- Melinda

(Excerpt from Fresh Air Kids Switzerland - Hikes to Huts)

I met Anne many years ago at a clubhouse of sorts for expats living in Basel, Switzerland. We were all swimming in a sea of the unknown, looking for a life raft to cling to that would bring a sense of familiarity and home. Anne floated by. She was friendly, open and above all, an instant friend that was determined to help me make Basel my new home. She succeeded without ever knowing it.

We instantly connected, not because I was special, but because that was her gift. Anne connected with everyone she met, creating a sense of community with one or 100. She had a heart that welcomed everybody regardless of age, gender, orientation or ethnicity. She saw you for who you were and met you right there. I still love her for that and I’ve often tried to emulate that sense of acceptance with others in my own life.

Through the years, our friendship deepened over long hikes, exploration, overnight stays in gorgeous Swiss huts and general life happenings. She was one of the special few. A solid soul - generous and true. A rare gem in a wild world.

A few years ago, we were hiking to a remote area of the Alps; a location so stunningly beautiful it often left us speechless. We were deep into a climb, the sweat was accumulating, and our heart rates were elevated when Anne stopped abruptly. Her tone became serious as she looked up at me. “I always get a little sad when I come here,” she said. I knew this was one of the most sacred places in the world to her, so her words came as a surprise. “Why?” I asked. She proceeded, “What if this is the last time I get to come here?” What did she mean? How did she know? I remained silent as she continued, “I need to be here” she uttered with absolute certainty. “What do you mean Anne?” wondering if she was about to tell me more. “If something should happen to me, I want my ashes to be here,” she said without wavering. I stopped in my tracks. My response surprised me for how instantaneously my words crept out. “I promise you, if I have to carry you here by myself, you will be here.” She smiled knowing our words were consecrated and would indeed be honored should the time ever come.

We pressed on. We arrived at a place that had welcomed us both many times before over the years, yet always remained fresh in our memories. The views from that remote mountain inn never grew old. The familiar face of the cheese maker, the cows that grazed in the high Alpine meadows, the pigs whose job it was to eat the scraps left behind by those not quite hungry enough, were all waiting for us.

The beds that rested weary bodies for decades and the quaint rooms void of luxury, but perfect for escape. We feel into an ease on that Alp that didn’t exist elsewhere. The lull of quiet hushed us into a tranquil calm. We came to revel in the silence and marvel at the views.

We embraced that weekend with full hearts and whenever I was with Anne, the sun never refused to shine. Quite literally. I’d worry about impending rain in the forecast, but with Anne if it did rain, it was always at the most opportune moments. Once we would arrive at a hut, while stopping for lunch or during the night hours when we were in the crux of shelter and warmth.

That weekend, we rose early to take in the sun and make the most of the glorious days. We watched the cows come in for their milking by gentle hands and cheese being made in massive copper pots with experience and wisdom. Tradition was one of the reasons we both came to adore that Alpine location. Together, we felt as though we had stepped back into a simpler time, which was always a welcome reprieve from the modern world.

We retreated outdoors for late night walks that allowed us to witness an almost darkness blanket the Earth, as stars were just visible in the distance. We toasted a weekend that seemed too good to be true. I cried out of sheer awe as we sat far too close to the helicopter making a routine delivery. Provisions, such as trash and everything required by the hut to run efficiently had to be delivered and removed

by helicopter. We took turns weeping that weekend. At one point it would be Anne overwhelmed by the landscape that stretched out before her, then it would be my turn; overcome with gratitude for such an experience and such a genuine friend. We toggled back and forth, ripe with emotion. Nature always had a way of leveling us.

We left that sacred place after three days feeling full in a way only the mountains can render. Our bodies were tired, but our souls were content. How often can one say that in this life? A humble sense of peace infused us both. We clutched onto that feeling, hoping it would remain with us as we returned to our routine lives and the unknown.

The next time I would see Anne, her days had been less than kind. Anne, having returned to the States years prior, now sought peace in the tranquility of the Swiss mountains, after discovering that her annoying hearing loss was nothing relating to her hearing at all, but rather a brain tumor. Despite a growth that would require resection and a body that would endure chemo and radiation, she was

determined to return to Switzerland, if only for one last time.

With tenacity and a level of perseverance I may never fully grasp, she led a hiking tour in September of 2019. She battled jet-lag, relentless fatigue, brain fog and the uncertainty as to where her life was headed. With those major issues plaguing her, she managed that trip with grace. The planning and execution of those weeks freed her temporarily from the reality of what may indeed come. I had no idea that would be my last time in Anne’s presence. A presence I had become accustomed to, despite the fact that she had lived thousands of miles from me for a number of years.

Over the years Anne had become a pillar of strength. At times a mother figure, other times a close friend. Sometimes, she offered wisdom and advice that I longed to hear. Other times, she would simply congratulate me on being a mom, one of, what she often said, “Was the hardest jobs in the world.” As I aged, I found myself longing to fill my life with powerful and ambitious women. Anne fit that need

perfectly, for she was all of those things and more. Anne was also a life eater. She said an enthusiastic “yes!” to everything that crossed her path. Rollercoaster, “yes!” Trip to the Galapagos, “yes!” Hiking in the Alps, “absolutely!” It was as if she somehow knew her time on this Earth was shorter than she had planned and therefore, made it her mission to absorb every experience fully.

When Anne returned to the States, she discovered the worst possible news: her brain tumor had returned, but this time, with a vengeance. What she had hoped was merely necrotic tissue from radiation, turned out to be stage four Glioblastoma. This news crushed her and the circle of steadfast people around her.

I wasn’t privy to Anne’s unraveling, but I can imagine what it entailed. I watched my own father succumb to the ravages of cancer. The brutal and downright insidious disease that took him from an able-bodied man, to a lifeless human, praying for death to wash it all away. Anne was optimistic, however. She was certain she would be an outlier. One of the few who “beat” the cancer, to make a full recovery and

place cancer in her past; something she would remember, but triumphantly overcame. She did indeed move past the disease, but not before it would remove her from this world.

Anne was a genius. She had a way of surrounding herself with the most dedicated and genuine people in this world. The very women and the occasional man, who would enrapture her with love, provide foot rubs, embark on medicinal Marijuana runs and endless laughter. They were tireless in their efforts and they taught me what it meant to show up for those you love. They knew her fate was closing in, even

though Anne would not surrender.

Anne, though optimistic, was a realist. She quickly got her affairs in order. On one occasion, as we spoke over the phone, she specifically laid out where she wanted her ashes spread. She was exact with her locations. I knew her desires and fulfilling that promise would be one of the greatest privileges of my life. I made mental note that night, hanging up and wishing that I wouldn’t need to see her request through for years to come.

I would receive phone calls or texts from Anne’s dear friend, kindly letting me know how she way doing. One message read, “Though Anne is not yet actively dying, it is getting close.” Anne wasn’t finished actively living and I was certain she would depart on her terms. She was pretty awesome like that. On a cold, dark January day, when the sun hid behind steel colored clouds, the message came. Anne had crossed over into another life. A life, I was certain was free of cancer and filled with everything she cherished. The mountains were waiting for her, as were the jagged cliffs of the Oregon coast. A strong glass of whisky and a competitive game of pickleball.

Anne never wanted a funeral, rather friends and family gathered at her home, the official meeting place, to read poetry, to reflect on the life she lived and how she left her imprint on them all. Each person present and those piped in via Zoom, were all touched by Anne in a very special way. A vast gathering of eclectic people that loved and respected one woman who lived a remarkable life, were all present to

honor her. That was moving, but it didn’t prepare me for her official goodbye that she had requested in her favorite Alpine location.

During the summer of 2022, eight of Anne’s friends gathered to make the trek up to that remote and sacred area of the Swiss Alps to spread her ashes. An uphill hike consisting of steady mileage, steep inclines and sketchy descents. Regardless of its position, that isolated Alp was Anne’s requested resting place and she would be laid to rest there - we all made certain of that.

What struck me the most about the three days we spent commemorating the life of our friend, was the absolute ease of it all. Eight women gathered, laughed and cried, were honest in such a refreshing way and all the while, holding space for not only Anne, but every individual on that journey. I was certain that Anne knew that whomever would make that pilgrimage would leave a marked soul. A soul

that would forever observe the world in a different light. A transformed human for the absolute best. So, all the while we thought we were gifting Anne her final wish, she granted us the ultimate blessing.

Anne had requested that some of her ashes be spread on a moraine overlooking gagged mountains, retreating glaciers and an Alpine lake in the distance. One couldn’t paint a more exquisite landscape if they tried. That spot was indeed worthy; worthy of carrying her ashes into the ether of time and space. Speechless and overcome with emotion, we gathered as the first release took place. We all released in

our own ways too. Relaying memories of Anne in her prime and her illness, her ashes carried it all away. Life at the moment seemed ever so ephemeral. Just a few short years ago, we had visited that very spot together. At that time, Anne was strong and robust, showing no signs of slowing down or falling prey to illness. On that day, however, Anne’s physical being was being liberated from our grasp, exactly as

she had requested.

We continued on. Her second designated resting place was a meadow. A meadow we once sat in for hours watching Ibex resting on a nearby ridge. Those hours unraveled in mere silence. We were good like that, never needing to speak when the world around us was busy holding a conversation of its own.

Anne’s remaining ashes made their way into the meadow among wild flowers and a grazing herd of cattle. As her remains took flight, I’m quite certain, none of us wanted that experience to come to an end. While we had all fulfilled a promise to our dear friend, that last release meant that in that moment, there was a finality to Anne’s physical existence. While we are so much more than our bodies, it was

such a joy to have Anne around.

We slowly walked back to the mountain house, each of us deep in contemplation as memories swirled in our minds. We all loved her in different ways, which was made visible on that journey. There was a sense of contentment that washed over us all. Sadness and elation were mixed, blended with mental and physical exhaustion. Our emotions were raw, but sharing that moment with Anne’s tribe connected

us all in such a profound way.

That remote Alp will always be held with great reverence. I will reflect on moments with Anne as a bird takes flight and moves freely over one of her favorite places in the world. I’m certain I’ll catch glimpses of her – black hiking pants, bandana hanging from her backpack and her lightweight hat soaking up sweat from a day’s work.

What I learned from Anne is that when a person has touched you so deeply, it is natural that they live on through you forever. There is no finality to love; it is continuous and true. Thank you Anne.


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