Adam Campbell has tackled many great feats in his life that have not only required immense physical strength and grit, but also a high degree of mental fortitude as well. But nothing could have prepared the lawyer and elite mountain endurance athlete for the road he’s now forced to tread.
“Having this huge void in my life and figuring out what grief is like. It’s a pretty strange and difficult journey to go on neither of those are linear,” he said while walking on a snowy path in Canmore, where he lives.
Last January, Campbell and his wife, Dr. Laura Kosakoski, and a friend (who is also a mountain guide) were skiing in the backcountry off the icefields parkway. It was the planned last run of the day. Laura went first, then their friend, but just as Adam was about to ski his line he said the entire slope “cracked” on him.
“I started to slide down and I quickly was able to get on my ski pole and self-arrest myself. And I watched this entire slope avalanche and give way and I saw this huge powder cloud. I yelled avalanche but Laura and Kevin couldn’t hear me because they were 300 meters down the slope,” he said.
He found his friend but not Laura. They pulled out their avalanche beacons and got a reading; she was buried four meters below the snow. They quickly started digging.
“It was really, really hard work and I was on the verge of just losing it the entire time, but had to hold it together to try to dig her out. When we got to her her legs were upslope from her and she was blue, and we didn’t get a pulse… We had to dig her out that took another 40 minutes,” he said.
“It was horrific and finally the search and rescue crew came… we bundled her up to try to keep her warm. They long lined her out and then they came and got Kevin and me. And at that point I just collapsed mentally, you’re underneath the helicopter and I just started screaming and crying,” he said.
“Things were looking pretty grim, we hadn’t had a pulse in a couple of hours.”
Laura was airlifted to Foothills hospital in Calgary where doctors found a pulse. Her family gathered around her but she slipped away the next day.
“I was just telling her how much I love her and thanking her for, you know the incredible life that we’ve lived together. She really was an incredibly special person, she made my life so much better,” he said.
Campbell is sharing his story as part of our series Strong But Not Silent, a look at men’s mental health. He admits his own emotional well being has been shaken to the core since the avalanche. He has vivid flashbacks from that day.
READ SERIES: Strong But Not Silent
“It’s stop-and-go and there are days and moments I’ll just break out crying. And then add the confusion of COVID on top of it all, and the isolation that came with that for several months was an added trauma,” he said.
But he admitted that professional counselling has helped.
“I’ve been trying to share her journal entries on social media and it’s been very therapeutic for me as well to read through her memories and keep in touch that way.”
Grief has a huge impact on mental well being, but only a fraction of men seek counselling. According to Alberta Health Services grief program, only 30 per cent of clients are men
“Grief is a unique experience for all us. There is no right way to grieve. I think our society doesn’t hold grief entirely well. And so very often we feel lost in terms of how do we navigate this life-changing experience. So when you access the grief support program or counselling related to grief it really is a way of gently processing the experience.” said Tracy Sutton, a registered psychologist with AHS.
“A big part of what we do is to normalize what it is like to go through grief. Grief impacts us on every level of our being and sometimes people get a little concerned about what might be going on for them and really it’s just the grief manifesting.”
Campbell was back out skiing just weeks after the avalanche; he said it’s where he feels closest to Laura. They spent hundreds of hours in the backcountry and were trained and experienced.
“Not everybody understands that and that’s fine but for me it’s a place of healing and a place of strength and it’s a connection of Laura and I’m lucky I can still see her in natures beauty.” He said adding whenever he sees the bright glow of venus or ravens flying overhead-he thinks of her.
Campbell has found strength in the vulnerability that can come with opening up and sharing his story and his pain. This past summer he made the journey back to the spot of the avalanche and collected his wife’s gear. He discovered a much different place than the one that’s been plagued in his memory.
“There were these beautiful alpine flowers out and a wonderful babbling brook and the views out on the icefields were spectacular. And it actually changed the power of that place and it actually became a beautiful, wonderful spot,” he recalled.
“My love for Laura was just so strong, I think when there is so much light in something you can make the dark feel really dark.”
“But I’m trying to remind myself it felt dark because the love was so strong. It was only for six years but it was still an amazing six years.”
He encourages others to be “gentle” on themselves always try to find the light, regardless how dark the day.
And if you are someone you know is in need of help you can contact the Calgary Grief Support Program through Alberta Health Services.