Forget Me Not ~ An interview with Jennifer Lowe-Anker

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If you’ve been following the news recently you probably heard that there was a startling discovery in the mountains of Tibet. The bodies of climber Alex Lowe and filmmaker David Bridges were discovered near the sight of a tragic 1999 avalanch at the base of Mt Shishapangma. After 17 years the legacy of Alex Lowe is continues through the lives his surviving climbing parnter Conrad Anker, his wife Jennifer and his sons Max, Sam and Issac. In his name the Alex Lowe Foundation works support and improve the lives of indigenous people throughout the Himalayan region as well as raise awareness for the importance of avalanche safety and prevention.

In memory of Alex Lowe the Joy Trip Project is reposting an interview with Jennifer Lowe-Anker recorded in 2009. Her memoir  Forget Me Not shares the intimate details of her life after having tragically lost her husband, a climber, only to fall in love all over again with another one.

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Have you have ever thought about why you love the things you love most? And not just things, what about people? How do we come to discover those with whom we fall in love? Through the course of our lives I believe we drawn without even realizing it to things, places and people that are important to us, that make us happy. We bring them into our lives and with them comes great joy. But sometimes, actually more often than not, the thing that you love most is what keeps you apart.

Jenny:

I think from the beginning I knew Alex was one of those guys that was kind of like a wild bird that you might entice to hold in your hand but you could never really hold on to him. And that was part of his appeal to me.

JTP:

Jennifer Lowe-Anker was in love with professional climber Alex Lowe. Each with a passion for the outdoors and the wild scenic places of the world, they built a life together of adventure and travel. But with separate careers, Jenny as fine artist, there were many times when the two were apart for long stretches of time while Alex explored

Jenny:

Interestingly enough that’s what I thought of book from the very beginning. I thought this was not going to be the average climbing story. And I’m not going to be doing a biography but what I really wanted was to show people the person that they loved from the most intimate perspective that I could give away of him because there was such an outpouring of grief and love for Alex at his death.

Jenny:

Very soon after we got married I decided to leave him and go off in pursuit of a better job because I didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t making good money and I felt like I was spinning my wheels. It was just a situation we were in and I kind of learned from him that time was precious and I wanting to make good use of my time and thinking when we’re together we could do something fun once we made our money and earned it. So I took off and chose to spend a couple of months apart from him working so that we could have a different dream.

JTP:

Do you have any idea what it was like for him without you?

Jenny:

I certainly do through his letters. He missed me. We missed each other. And we wrote each other a lot. And some of those letters you get to read. He wrote very avidly. I literally have over a thousand letter from Alex through the time we were together.

Jenny:

We were together through our letters a lot. He sat down and wrote me nearly every night when were apart. And sometime it was in a journal form and he would spend me like 5 sheets you know over a period of a week or two weeks and little bits of writing that he did everyday to tell me little pieces of what he lived that day and share that with me. And then I would do the same back to him. So we shared the adventures we were having and we shared our caring for each other and concerns and experiencing life.

JTP:

What was it like on the occasion that he didn’t come back?

Jenny:

It was very devastating. As much as anyone can say , “You know we’re all going to die.” And you know when you fall in love with someone that sort of sick feeling of risk that goes along with falling in love because it’s sort of giving your heart to someone else and the risk is in loosing them. Whether it’s loosing them to someone else or having them go away from you or die, it’s a part of love. It’s a part of life. It’s half of life. I mean we live and we die. We’re born and we die and everybody has to face that.

JTP:

Conrad was with him on that particular day. And he was obviously there for you after that. This might be a personal question to ask but how was that transition to go from your husband’s best friend to your new husband.

Jenny:

It was very unexpected.

JTP:

Was it?

Jenny:

It was. You know when Alex died and when you loose someone suddenly like that there’s a period of time when the tragedy is in your conscious mind. So when you’re awake you know about. But your unconscious mind has not excepted it as a reality. And it can take several months for that to actually register. And so every morning when you wake up it’s like the whole think happened again. It’s that panicked feeling in your stomach. It’s like oh my God this really happened. It wasn’t a dream and you face it. And so it was a terrible sort of a desperate time. And because it was an accident that happened suddenly, even though I knew Alex did dangerous thing. And I think that I had grown kind of accustomed to his always coming back and thinking, “Oh he’s going to be safe. He’s going to be safe.” And kind of convincing myself that even though I knew climbing was dangerous that it wouldn’t happen to Alex. And he of course wanted to think that himself, “Oh I’ll be safe.” And we all want to think that. We want to think that when we walk out the door to do anything and we want to think that about our children and everyone we love. But accidents happen as does illness and ultimately we’re going to meet our end one way or another. But the transition was kind of slow. I didn’t really know Conrad that well before Alex died. I had visited his home with Alex and the children in California where his parents live when we had gone to Yosemite and Conrad and Alex would be climbing together. So I kind of just knew him peripherally and through Alex and the story that Alex would tell me about him. And because he lived in California and we lived in Montana I didn’t see him that often. And it was a surprising thing falling in love with Conrad. For both of us it was a surprising thing certainly. But after it happened the transition was actually pretty easy.

JTP:

Conrad is now your husband. And you lost tragically one climber and married another one.

Jenny:

I know.

JTP:

How do you do that?

Jenny:

That’s a touch one to answer. I think that when you fall in love with somebody. Maybe you’re not always choosing to do that. I think sometimes that just happens. And I don’t know about you but it seems like that’s what’s happened with me. It’s not like, “I’m going to find someone who’s like this.” But…and I didn’t expect that to happen. In fact when Alex died, I pictured myself alone for a long time and it just didn’t, it just didn’t turn out that way. And I think that it was shocking to some people how soon after his death Conrad and I started seeing each other and a little bit surprising to me the way it evolved and certainly to Conrad. Both of us where kind of just going along a step at a time but there were things that ushered our relationship into uh I think a little bit more serious a relationship and that was the presence of my children. You know it was like I’m not going to get involved with someone unless it’s going to be someone who might be a serious long-term relationship. And right away he was very committed to the children. And he had…obviously he felt a lot of survivor’s guilt after Alex’s death. And the reason he wanted to care for us and help us through our grieving process was his love for Alex and his partner and feeling that commitment to him. But I think he didn’t…I know he didn’t expect to become involved to the extent that he did then to have our lives change that way.

JTP:

Now you have three sons. What do you see in Alex in your three boys?

Jenny:

Well…I think there’s little bits of Alex in each of them. And I know what Alex would have to hoped to have seen is passion. And I think I see that in each of the boys in different ways for the things that they care about. In their lives and are beginning to pursue. You know they’ve gotten something from Alex, something from myself and something from Conrad, all of them, we’re all an influence on them in some way or another.

JTP:

For anyone who reads this book, what do you want them to come away with having learned about you and about Alex?

Jenny:

I think just not to let go of hope and the ability to adapt to your situation however grim it might seem. And try to look for the good in life and try to keep going forward with some kind of a purpose to see what’s out there.

JTP:

What’s your purpose? What do you hope to accomplish?

Jenny:

I think there’re so many worthy things to work toward right now. With the environment is so in need of our help right now. And I think that so many people are in need of being educated for what’s important in the world. We started the Khumbu Climbing School and we’ve started the Magic Yeti Libraries. We have lots of ideas for other things to kind of branch off from those two.

And with the boys growing up and getting interested in various things. Our youngest Isaac, he wants to be a naturalist. He’s very interested in the natural world and other species of life and the environment. Sam our middle son wants to be a filmmaker. And he has already won two awards on an environmental film that he did about Antarctica. And our oldest Max is here at school as a freshman at Westminster University wants to combine an education in business and environmental studies. And he’s helping with Avalaunch to educated people on the safety in the mountains and avalanche safety. And so I think for the boys to have a purpose to go forward and feel like they can help something, whether it’s another form of life or a human in this world is what I hope to do and be there with them to be part of it and just to enjoy life and appreciate being on this earth for the little bit of time we have.

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Thanks for listening, but as always I want to hear from you. So please write to me with your questions comments and criticisms to info@joytriproproject.com

 

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Author:James

I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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