It seems we can’t win to lose this year, but thankfully there are only a few days left in 2007. Our most recent tragedy happened on Christmas Eve when Sarah Armstrong was killed in a car accident. Sarah was our neighbor, and wife of Dean Osmar, who Colleen handled for three year. Dean and Sarah taught Colleen everything she knows about mushing, and over the years Sarah became Colleen’s best friend in Alaska. More than a friend, Sarah and Dean are almost family at this point. We talk to one of them on the phone at least every other day, and as transplants to Alaska, we have often gone to their place for Thanksgiving meals and Christmas gift exchanges. In fact, after the tragedy we learned from Dean the accident occurred while Sarah was on her way to do some last minute Christmas shopping and attempting to get a horse carcass. Apparently she was going to surprise us with a horse quarter on Christmas and had planned to leave a note that would read “To Doc, From Shark.” Doc, as some people know came from Dean and Sarah and she has always come by regularly to visit with him, and Shark is still Dean’s best lead dog.
Sarah was someone who was so pure that her goodness, almost contagiously, had a positive effect on everyone she came in contact with. She made people better, just by knowing them. With just a warm smile and a few friendly words she could seem to make even the worst situation seem not quite so bad.
One of my fondest memories of Sarah is from the start of Colleen’s first T-200. Colleen was a nervous wreck the whole morning and while she hooked up dogs, but as her team was moved to the starting chute, Sarah was there waiting. She stepped on one runner and offered Colleen a piece of candy from her pocket and a tissue for Colleen’s running nose, and then she told her a funny story about Dean’s departure. Colleen cracked a big smile and I could see that all of her fears about the next 200 miles had, at least for the moment, melted away as she joked with her close friend.
Sarah was always good to us in that way, she often was the voice of reason in ridiculous situations, the sound of safety while picking fish on dangerous seas and while mushing in blowing snow storms in the Caribou Hills, and on a few occasions when we had self doubts she was a reassuring truth.
She had a caring heart for all people and seemingly all creatures. I can remember one time when Dean brought home some mice. He wanted to see what a sled dog that was obsessed with searching for mice would do, when it actually had one. Sarah felt bad for the mice when she saw them in a bucket in the barn, but she knew letting them go would be wrong. However, if she “accidentally” knocked a stick into the bucket and the mice got away on their own, well, then that would be O.K. That is, or course, exactly what Sarah did and the mice did get away, and then they quickly bred, and bred and bred some more, until there were more mice living in the barn than there were sled dogs living out front of it.
She enjoyed good food and was the best cook I’ve ever known. Colleen would always say one of the best parts of taking road trips as a handler for Dean was the fancy cheeses that Sarah would bring along. We both always enjoyed getting a call to come over and try delicious creations from some new recipe Sarah had tried out. She had a streusel that was beyond super, her pastries were the stuff of legends, and her Thanksgiving meals (with corn casserole on the side) always made us not feel so far from our own homes and families.
In many ways she had become family, though. She shared feelings in our highs and our lows. They say you can count on one hand all the true friends you’ll have in life. Sarah was definitely one of them. She never judged our lifestyle. She was one of the few people that would come in our tiny, messy cabin and not be in a hurry to get out. She wasn’t afraid to lounge on a dog-hair-covered chair to enjoy talking with us for hours. She was also always there when we needed her in a pinch. If we broke down somewhere or had to go away unexpectedly, we could always count on her to come feed our sled dogs, and let our house dogs out. To this day, she was one of the only people our defensive dogs would let in the house. I guess it’s true that dogs can judge the character of people, and could sense she was good.
Sarah worried about Dean, the sled dogs, and her scruffy companion Bernie. She cared for the well being of her close friends. And, she looked out for the dog sled handlers, the fish crew and many others. She did her best to make sure all the people in her life were safe, well, and happy. In the end, she died like she lived, selflessly.
Loosing her hurts more than words can describe, and life will not now, or ever again, be the same for any of us that knew her well, but I am happy for the time that I did share with Sarah and the few years I knew her. Our lives are definitely richer from having had her as a friend.
My Dear Friend Sarah:
Is so great
With you gone
The numbness takes hold
Where is your smile?
Spread through our hearts
Reminding us to live life
And feel full
Where is your laugh?
Dearest of friends,
You will be missed
Well beyond the words
This pen can write