November 26, 2002

Gregory Gaines, April 6, 1982 Ė November 17, 2002

ē PRESCOTT Ė A Prescott man reportedly died at the scene of an accident near Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Sunday afternoon.

According to a Prescott Police report, 20-year-old Gregory Gaines lost control of the motorcycle he was driving on Hunt Drive near Haas Boulevard.

Prescott firefighter Dave Peterson said Gaines was not wearing a helmet and was thrown from the motorcycle. He reportedly suffered serious head trauma and internal injuries. Prescott Fire Department personnel pronounced him dead at the scene.

Authorities do not know if the accident involved alcohol, and it remains under investigation.

In four short paragraphs; the end of my friendís life.

I met Greg shortly after meeting Alison, about three and a half years ago. They were classmates and had known each other for years, so I was the stranger. Not to worry, though. He was one of those rare people that, upon meeting, you want nothing more than to be his friend. Smart, witty, handsome, with a retiring manner and an off-the-wall sense of humor; he was someone that enriched everyone that knew him, just by being himself. A helluva guy.

We saw each other fairly frequently for the first year that Ali and I were together, meeting at parties and going out to eat. The more I talked to him, the more I came to like and respect him. He was my little brother, the embodiment of everything I wished I was when I was younger. I wanted to talk to him, listen, offer what advice I could, and show him what I had learned in my extra years. It made me feel good, just talking to him.

After that first year, we didnít get to spend as much time with him as weíd like, though at a time like this, I donít think I could ever have spent enough time that way. After graduation, he went to Prescott, AZ, to chase his dream of being a professional pilot, and Ali and I moved to Fort Collins, CO, where she is pursuing her vet degree. Weíd get together once or twice a month during the summer, and maybe three times during the school year; something I always looked forward to. Some of the best memories I have are of sitting on the couch, or in chairs in the office, drinking beers and talking about whatever was on our mind until the sun came up and reminded us that itís time to sleep. We even managed to have fun watching the Red Wings destroy the Avs in game 7 of the Stanley Cup last year, which, for a pair of diehard Avs fans, is pretty impressive.

On my 26th birthday, Greg joined Alison in throwing a cookout/party for me. That led to great conversations and an amazing hangover, at least for me. He was smart enough to go to bed before the sun came up. Then, a few days later, Greg and Alison surprised me by renting a Cessna 172SP and taking me up over Denver for an hour and a half flight. It was Alisonís first time in a private plane, my second, and it was the best gift I could have gotten. I sat in the copilot seat, and got to fly for about 45 minutes, while he coached me and offered suggestions. We flew all over Denver, finding our houses, schools, and businesses, doing touch and goes, and making funny noises at each other over the headsets. It was wonderful.

After that, we made plans to go in halves on an old bike, and I was going to teach him how to ride. In return, he was going to take me flying as often as possible. We talked of finally fulfilling my dream, a motorcycle road trip from coast to coast, following as much of Route 66 as possible. A month later, I had located the bike, but, due to bad budget decisions, was unable to purchase it before he left for school. Iím still torn by what might have been, had I only followed through and taught him to ride safely.

He was one of the first people Alison and I told of our engagement, and I still remember how excited he was. He told everybody he knew about the engagement and the (very tentative) wedding plans, Ďtil Iím sure they were good and tired of hearing about these two people theyíd never met. He was going to be a member of the bridal party, as he and Alison were very close, and we joked about making him wear a dress. Itís amazing, that some memories can still make me smile at a time like this.

Weíd been planning to get together this weekend, when he was coming home for Thanksgiving break, for months. We were going to meet up with him on Saturday, head to the mountains, and go play in the powder at Copper. He was an excellent snowboarder, one of the few people Iíve ever met who could keep up with Alison, which put him light years beyond me. Ali and Iíd been corresponding with him, trading ideas, finalizing plans, all the usual pre-holiday preparations. We hadnít seen each other in about 3 months, and we were all excited.

We last heard from him on the morning of Saturday, the 16th, basically confirming dates and times. We didnít hear from him for a couple days after that, and were getting ready to harass him about not returning e-mails when a mutual friend told Alison the news. She called me and I left work immediately. Everything after that seems like a particularly bad, extremely detailed nightmare. I remember being very numb, then very drunk, then numb again.

His father called Ali yesterday, to tell us the time and location for the funeral. He told us that he had opted for cremation because, you see, ďWe canít put our pilot in the ground.Ē Of all the things Iíve heard or remembered, that hurts the most. Itís true. We could no more bury him in the earth than we could tell the birds not to fly. He belongs in the sky, where he was happiest, where his dreams were. It is his place.


Epilogue:

The funeral was Friday afternoon in Denver. Alison and I met at her house, and her mother accompanied us to the ceremony. I still felt like this wasnít happening, like this was some tremendous bad joke or endless nightmare. I couldnít accept it, so I went through the motions, awaiting a miracle.

The first indication I had of how many friends Greg has came when we had to park about two blocks from the funeral home. We parked, and walked in, and the chapel was full to overflowing. The chapel was full, all the annexes were full, the lobby was full, and people were spilling out onto the sidewalk. In total, around 150-250 people attended. Amazing.

The ceremony wasÖ well, it was very sad. There were songs, and prayers, and a friend wrote a beautiful poem that made me cry even harder. People heíd grown up with, scoutmasters, coaches, and friends, spoke of their time with him. Alison and I stood in the lobby, and listened. It still hadnít hit me, not entirely.

Itís amazing what you learn about people, things they donít tell you. Greg was accepted into West Point, among other first rate colleges, but turned them down so that he could learn to fly. He was planning on proposing to his girlfriend this upcoming Sunday. Things like that, plans and dreams that will never be brought to fruition. Thatís when I finally got it.

After the ceremony, we went into the chapel, and sat with friends. His mother, father, and sister were in the aisle, talking to the long line of friends and family that waited to offer their condolences. Watching his father fight back tears, his mother smile through them, keeping up the brave faÁade, broke my heart all the more. We talked to mutual friends, people we hadnít seen in a while, and waited for the line to shorten.

Finally, when we could put it off no longer, we joined the line. I will never forget the pain and the emptiness that was etched into their faces. I tried to speak, but there were no words, nothing that didnít pale before the magnitude of their loss. So I hugged them, and sobbed. It was all I could do.

I spoke to his mom briefly. She led me the few steps to the casket, pointed to a family portrait standing next to it, and said, ďThatís the Greg you remember. All thatís in the casket is whatís left behind. Thatís him in the picture.Ē

And it is. Greg, the man I loved like a brother, is gone. His time on earth was cut far too short. But I can look at the pictures, and remember, and as long as I do that, heíll live on.

"High Flight"

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of -
wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hovering there,
I've chased the shouting wind along and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew:
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr.


Pre-flighting the Cessna for my 26th birthday present


Top of Mt. Princeton

Posted by Dork at November 26, 2002 12:07 AM | TrackBack
Comments

I recently had a friend die in a motorcycle accident, and he wasn't wearing a helmet either...ack, no wonder my father made me promise not to ride motorcycles before he died. :-(

Posted by: David Mercer on December 2, 2002 11:54 PM

Greg was my RA last year here at Embry Riddle. He was a truly unique person who treated everyone he met as a friend. I am sorry for your loss, it is truly felt by all of us here in Prescott as well.

Posted by: Doug Moody on January 9, 2003 12:48 PM
Post a comment