February 1, 2003 is a day that I’ll never forget. For many of us, we remember the seven astronauts that lost their lives in a horrific space shuttle accident.
But that wasn’t the only tragedy that happened that day. Back on earth, 13 students from Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School were skiing in the backcountry near Revelstoke, British Columbia when an avalanche caught them by surprise. Carolyn’s cousin, Marissa Staddon, was one of the people on the trip.
I was up at Muskoka Woods Sports Resort when I received a phone call. “There was an avalanche in British Columbia; Marissa is not on the survivor list,” Carolyn explained tearfully. Marissa, along with six other students had been tragically killed in the avalanche.
At the time of her death, Marissa was 15, four months shy of her sixteenth birthday. She was the daughter of Donna and Karl Staddon, and sister to Brittany.
The following is an excerpt that Donna wrote for her friend Donna Carter’s book, 15 months after the avalanche:
Friday, January 31st, Marissa left early in the morning for her outdoor education ski trip—the anticipation and excitement was high! As I hugged her and kissed her goodbye—the usual ‘Love you, have fun and be safe.’ the tears started streaming down my cheeks. Not a usual occurrence with my goodbyes. Marissa looked at me, eye-to-eye and said, ‘Mom, I’m going to be O.K.’ I nodded my head in affirmation and gave her an extra firm hug and the ‘I Love You’ was exchanged one more time. But my stomach was unsettled that entire day as I frantically cleaned the house. My thoughts were constantly on Marissa and I prayed endlessly for her safety.
We received word of the avalanche at about 5 pm on Saturday, Feb. l, 2003. Marissa’s name was not on the survivor list. The RCMP told us to prepare for the worst. We decided to drive to Revelstoke but just prior to leaving home, Ray Matheson one of our pastors here at First Alliance came to our home and prayed with us. The one thing I held on to during our drive was Ray’s words: ‘Marissa is alive… whether she is alive on earth or in heaven, she is alive.’ I knew I could take assurance in that because Marissa had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I prayed to God that he would protect Marissa. I prayed that she would be safe and be alive but at the same moment, I also prayed that if He needed to take her so that another may have the opportunity to be prepared for eternity, I could accept that too.
We left home at 7:30 pm and about l5 minutes after being on the road, my husband Karl received the phone call from the RCMP informing us that Marissa was not a survivor. At that moment I just said out loud, ‘Marissa is alive… she’s alive and in heaven with Jesus.’
I felt nauseated with the reality that Marissa was gone from our presence and tears flowed, but at the same time I kept repeating those words of Ray’s…. that Marissa is alive. It was a calming thought. The tears that flowed were quiet tears. I immediately held onto Christ, knowing that Marissa was safe with Him.
Marissa was gifted in many areas and was guided by her strong faith in Jesus Christ. She was passionate about figure skating, but even more so, she was passionate about serving Jesus.
In 2002, Marissa went on a trip to Mexico to help build houses for the poor. She loved interacting with the Spanish people and learning their language.
Donna recalls when Marissa was seven years old, their family spent almost three weeks with Wycliffe Bible Translators’ personnel in Pucallpa, Peru. “We flew by float plane into a remote jungle village where Marissa laughed and played with the village children communicating only with smiles and giggles—no words spoken.”
Five weeks prior to her death, Marissa told Donna that she hoped to one day use her Spanish, and perhaps with a medical degree, go and help people in remote areas of Central or South America. Marissa desired to give of herself to help others, to serve God and reach out to those in need.
It’s times like this when we can easily throw up our hands to God and ask, “Why God? What possible purpose can you have in Marissa’s death?” But He has a purpose indeed.
Through Marissa’s death, many people came to know the Lord and grow stronger in Him. Donna received letter after letter from people who were changed by Marissa’s life, and by her death.
Donna notes in her letter to CanIL—an organization that trains linguists, translators and trainers so that people can have access to the Bible in their own language:
Just a few weeks ago I came across some writings of Marissa’s from January, 2003—in these she expressed ‘I want to use my talents to better one person’s life each and every day—I desire to be more self-less’. I cried when I read those words, knowing that indeed she was at that time, and to this day continues, impacting lives in a positive way. Her passion and energy to live life to the fullest and her heart to serve and encourage others was evidence that God was working through her. Though the pain of losing Marissa is ever present in my heart, God continues to tenderly remind me that His plan is so purposeful.
Marissa’s passion and joy are painfully missed, but she is alive and well in Christ. One day soon, we will see her again.
Marissa reminds us of this through this amazingly prophetic poem that she wrote in February 2001, two years prior to her death:
A Fresh Start
She ponders, wonders, cries
Tears walking round her face
Covering all in their course
Overcoming the skin before them.
Why is she alone?
Why out in the snow?
Out in the cold?
Kneeling, bowing, stooping
Fallen in the frost
She finds a Redeemer
A fresh start.
What an unbelievable testimony of God’s wonder and majesty. She found her Redeemer. She made it home.