Jens Hagen Anderson – with your grizzly bear head, windswept hair, green eyes, thick hands, Viking shoulders, and hobbit feet – how could you die? How could you leave us to go through this life without you? No more of your grizzly bear hugs, or your far-too-long engineer explanations?
You were so strong and gentle, so big and big-hearted. You leave behind a lot of unfilled holes. Jonell without her husband. Lowell and JoMarie without their son. Peder, Sten, and Bjorn without their youngest brother. Bob and Deb without their son-in-law. Jess, Jai, Jessica, Annie, Tarryn, and Franky without their brother-in-law. Allistaire, Solveig, Haaken, Per and Marzio without their uncle. So many of us without our loving, protective friend.
God, were you determined. You tried so hard to serve and love your sweet Jonell. And how she loved you in return, how she tenderly called you by pet names, "Yens" and "Jensie." And to watch you make faces and jokes that set your nieces and nephews to giggling their cute little brains out. How you drummed with your eyes shut so tight, that goofy face that would have cracked me up during worship if it weren't for all the earnest hopefulness, thanks and praise written on it. I was in awe of your devotion to your parents and brothers, how deeply you loved them.
I loved how you would drop everything to spend time with them, whether exposed to the elements on those ascents of the Grand Teton, or in the soft, woody warmth of the Kelly Canyon home you grew up in.
You were so unassuming. I almost forgot how much your résumé makes you seem like a saint. I mean, a mechanical engineer who designed wheelchairs for children in developing countries? Who worked on monkey brain devices that might help scientists find cures for mental illness? And you were only 28. Jens, really, were you just trying to make the rest of us look bad?
And my gosh, Safety Sam, you were such a pain to ski the backcountry with. Digging pits even in low risk, low consequence situations. And I know it was how you were raised, but you really took that Anderson Family Adventure Pact to the extreme: "If you have a bad feeling, even if you're not sure why, you have to speak up. I'd rather us all bail than have something bad happen we'll regret." And you clearly had no problem speaking up. Every time you did, we'd spend the day on slopes so flat I had to pole just to go anywhere. But you don't have to tell me. I know you saved your family's lives that one time on Granite Peak, turning everyone back from what would become a deadly lightning storm. And I'm sure you saved mine a few times too.
What's so hard to understand, though, is just where was your Jensie Sense this time? Why didn't it kick in? I know, that snowpack was so stable. You guys managed your risk to a fault. And Jens, when you took the lower section first, saying, "Why don't I go down a little ways and get some pictures of you guys," that was so like you.
You lugged that big dSLR on your chest everywhere, and sometimes the batteries were even charged. You loved photography, but even more, you loved preserving memories with friends and sharing the beauty you'd seen with anyone who would look. And it wasn't just that boat-anchor of a camera you carried. On every outing, yours was the biggest pack, stuffed with extra clothes for anyone who got cold, a big first aid kit so you could take care of us, and on longer trips, at least one can of Coors Banquet for everyone in the party.
And for those of us who were carrying burdens of the heart, you so lovingly and delicately lightened our loads. You made things so much easier for all of us, and I don't know what we're going to do without you.
When I look back over your life, there's a clear pattern. You worked tirelessly at rock climbing and trail running, not because you were passionate about those things, but because those things would get you more time with your brothers. You stayed on too long at some less-than-ideal jobs, not because you didn't have other offers, but because you didn't want to leave your employers in a bind. And you swam for so many years, winning a number of regional championship events, ranking top 10 in the nation, and setting countless Montana State records – 11 of which still have your name next to them. But you weren't finding joy in swimming. You kept at it, knowing all the effort your parents and coaches had put into you, until you felt the presence of God for the first time at 16 and understood that they would be OK, and that you were free.
And with that freedom, you skied. My gosh, could you ski. Your big green eyes just lit up out there, and it didn't matter whether you were bombing through the deep or slicing up hardpack. Heck you were even giddy on the skin up, you big goof. You were just this blonde, roaming grizzly bear, powerful and noble, desiring to know every secret the mountains might hold. And every chance you got, you took JoJo with you, adventuring together, wrapping her hand in your big old paw. And true to form, you took up telemarking, helping you check your speed so that you would spend more time with her.
I'm so grateful you guys got to go to the Lofotens this past summer. Your Norwegian blood had been calling you there for ages, and you two traipsed around like gypsies, exploring the mountains and villages and beaches, just the way you'd always dreamed.
Jo told me your biggest flaw was that you were too critical of yourself. And I'd have to agree. You could get to the bottom of a run, whooping and howling, only to look up at your line and pick at all they ways you should have skied it better. It was the same in life. You'd look back at the things you'd already been forgiven for, and you'd pick them up again, just to bear the weight of your regret.
But Jo, in her wisdom, told me this great flaw was also your greatest strength. It drove you with a keen desperation to become kinder, more creative and more loving. And Jens, we can say so confidently, you became those exact things.
You went from being called Mr. Grumpy Gills as a high school boy to becoming a man of warmth and grace. You'd go to Seattle for little Allistaire as much as possible, and when you couldn't, you did everything to make sure JoJo could. You devoted dozens of hours to building Peder a truck bed platform that matched your own, but you only let him pay for the materials. You became a creative who composed photos and beat drums so the rest of us could experience the world the way you did, a maker who worked wood into furniture for your family and friends, a renaissance man who loved discussing literature, with favorites like War and Peace, Les Miserables, and the entire catalog of Ivan Doig.
And as you grew, you came to understand just how much joy you had always brought God, even when you screwed up. You felt his grace and freedom, and you learned to simply rest, floating on an infinite sea of His love for you. His was the well from which you drew all that outsize strength and love and wisdom.
You were so careful in the mountains because you knew the weightiness and pain of death. But you did not fear it. You gladly accepted all that God ordained for you. You prayed in that sweet and tender voice that you might submit yourself to His plans. You lived each day to the hilt, with great privilege and responsibility. Jens, you made our Papa proud.
I can't stand having to live the rest of my years without you. And I'm not alone. We miss you so much, and this is going to hurt for a very long time. But all of us, we are so fortunate for every day, every minute, we were given to spend with you.
To JoJo's husband
Our dear, dear friend:
We love you with everything we have, and we'll see you again very soon.
- A close friend of Jens