by Jeff Sawyer on Friday January 03 2020
“Be grateful, just a little reminder.” — Jason Draginda A.K.A ‘Dickie’
As the adage goes, it’s not a place to live. It’s a way to live.
For those of us who knew Jason, he was a man of endless expressions that counted. An idea generator that could move minds. A conservationist who envisioned only a utopian peaceful planet, and a savvy businessman who was ahead of the times. Being in the moment is sometimes about seeing yourself sensing, seizing the moment is about living your best life, no matter what the circumstances.
He certainly lived for the snow, the mountains, and the rivers that run deep.
For Jason’s family and friends, his spiritual gangsters, we were his prodigies. We were the ones that made up the cultural landscape of his mind. In the same token, he could effortlessly be so many things to so many of us; an icon, your mentor, a stylizer with an aesthetic philosophy, an innovator, a futurist, a pioneering entrepreneur, the true original, and a collector of brilliant stories.
But most of all, he was a true friend.
It’s true, that’s not quite a subtle array of attributes, and it’s hard to compete with the pedigree. At moments, listening to him speak it often seemed he was more educated and enjoyed more informative facts than some PhD’s and scientists out there. Let’s be honest though, pages can be turned, pictures can be painted, but without imagination, the story doesn’t have a beginning, a middle and an end.
I first met ‘Dickie’ back in Junior High School when I was in my teens, and like most valley kids, he had a cool mystique about him. To us Nelson kids, he was a rebel skateboarding/snowboarding, mountain biking GN-narler, who had the heart and the courage of a lion.
You see, as impressionable as a teenager can be, it truly was a cool experience to spend time with him. He set the tone for how to be cool, how to be smooth, and . . . how to meet girls. He was a true charmer, with a smile that matched his heart of gold. His zest for life was real.
He certainly didn’t have a shy disposition. His natural confidence could completely bowl over all of us. Yet, he possessed a remarkable humility, even when he watched us fail in the same attempt at trying to be as cool as him. He loved showing off, while laughing at our adolescent attempts, and in the most memorable and humble way, he still made sure we all came off looking as having some style.
Growing up in Nelson, we all thought we were legends in our own right, but I have to say, looking back at all the fallen angels that we have lost throughout the decades, the true legendary ones only seem to slip through to the other side during symbolic and profound moments and times.
Through a likely epic surrender, Jason passed away on December 12th, 2019, which happens to be my dad’s birthday, as uncanny as that seems to me. It also happened to be 21 years before, when one fateful moment in time, forever changed our friend’s path in a diving accident on Shuswap Lake.
It’s surreal to me now writing this tribute story. It came from the realization that Jason’s celebration of life was his tribute to all of us. He was planning a Christmas party for his closest friends and family. It was a wrap up for 2019, along with all the trimmings. It was completed with gifts and ‘Be Grateful’ cards, signature stickers and the most ‘Grateful’ swag designed by JD himself. There was an amazing spread of food, consumables galore, and the classic ‘wet bar’.
When God wants you with him, there is nothing that can get in the way. A gentle shift in the universe opened a new path for Jason’s journey to continue on, and in a new form, riding an epic wave or trail for sure. Remarkably, I had a profoundly vivid dream the night he took his next steps towards furthering his enlightenment. Yes, it was only my dream, but it was in conjunction with me going through some of my own personal grief. Though it wasn’t hard for me to interpret what I experienced.
In this dream, Jason, myself, and some other friends were out on a friend’s deck. It was summertime. Jason was wearing his signature yellow t-shirt, and he was beside the patio table in his chair. We were all getting ready to head home, when I asked Jason how he would be getting home. He told me he was going to “walk” home…. and I distinctly recall being somewhat confused. I wasn’t sure what he meant.
I asked him again, how are you getting home Jason, and once again he said, “I’m walking home”. I moved towards Jason and embraced him and said okay then. And at that point I woke. It was only a dream, but I know Jason was ‘walking’ into the light. I feel grateful that he presented himself to me in that dream.
Though I will be honest, it made me feel like I should have been more present with him over the years, more generous with my time with him, as he was to me. I think I would be a better and smarter man if I had.
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the ‘Easy’ way, which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me like I prayed for you.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just around the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
Jason was a true pioneer of mountain culture in Nelson and the Kootenay’s. His involvement in the Magazine Peak Freak Radical and Ripping Giraffe gave him a unique perspective, as there were only a handful of people in the mid to late 90s that were actively trying to grow and elevate an outdoor lifestyle here. He was so passionate about it that it stayed with him after his accident, even though he couldn't physically participate in it anymore. Myself, and my business partner Peter really respected that. And through the formative years of Kootenay Mountain Culture Magazine, Jason was a huge help. His support was unwavering and came as a real inspiration. Jason believed that the specialness of the Kootenay’s was not something anyone could keep for them-selves. It was to be shared with anyone interested in pursuing it. That sensibility is what makes this place so great, and is, in my opinion, one of the true pillars of the Kootenay’s.
How do you say goodbye to a friend? A friend that was with you through countless good times and helped you through many hardships. Jason was a truly special person. I honestly can't say I've ever known anyone who loved and gave as much to his circle of friends and family as Dickie did. When I was asked to write a tribute to a person who had such a massive influence in not only mine, but the lives of so many I was honoured.
But what do you say? How do you put into words what Dickie meant?
The answer came to me from listening to my heart, a lesson that many learned from Jason.
I was talking to my brother Wes about him just after he passed, and he said what he admired most about Dickie was how he was always 100% his own person. He never tried to pretend to be anything other than who he was. He embraced his own individuality and was completely comfortable being him. Never judging. Always accepting. Always loving.
He could spend time talking to anyone. Old, young, all walks of life, any kinds of human beings. He had this special way of relating to all of them. We all felt it.
I admired how he always thought of other people. Through everything he was going through, all the battles of dealing with his injury, he still managed to think of everyone else. If I hadn't seen him in a while, I would get a call. If I didn't answer the message, I was always aware that he was thinking about me, Anne, the kids and sending love. I'm sure many of us had those messages. I also know how much we will all miss them.
I'm amazed at his courage and determination after being dealt such a brutal hand. Even during what must have been many dark times, he chose to live life. No why me.
I feel that what defines a person is how they deal with adversity. He chose to face it head on, keeping a smile on his face, nurturing his relationships and taking pleasure in the experiences he was fortunate to have, and vicariously enjoying the stories of adventure from many friends that came with it.
The night before he died, I walked into see him. I told him how much he was loved. How much he meant to us all. How much he will be missed. I told him to fly free. I know he heard. His light shines bright. It was beautiful to know you my friend. One love.
As Jason's care aid I witnessed the pain Jason endured as a quadriplegic. Most people think that with a spinal injury you can't feel your body. That is a myth. They can, just in a different way. Jason once told me that when he wakes up his body feels like "he's hooked up to a 12 V battery" creating spasms so painful his head would throb. You might think how can anyone persevere with so much pain?
His mind and spirit are what kept him going every moment of every day. He called it a "distraction", anything to distract him out of his body. As a worker, I helped by massaging him and sharing stories. He loved it if I came to work with a little gossip or heartache story, he might be able to ease with his words. Once he was awake, he'd go down his phone list or messenger account and reach out to people to stay connected to the outside world.
His mother Sheila and stepfather Michael would always answer the phone, they talked daily. Jason and Sheila had so many interests to share, and nothing was off-limits, everything from sacred geometry to aliens, to world politics, to what she was cooking.
Food was one of his passions. He would reach out to friends to discuss business ideas and relished in the days he helped friends through hard times. He had a skill to stay positive and brush off things that don't really matter. He focussed on what made his mind come alive. He may not have been able to ride his bike or his snowboard, but he went there in his mind. He was a dreamer, a philosopher, a spiritual man, an entrepreneur and a great friend with a listening ear. I learned so much about patience, to keep calm when shit was going sideways, and the power of the mind in the face of adversity. I'm so grateful to have had the chance to be one of Jason's support workers for the last 12 years.
Jason was extraordinary. He was unique. I met Jason in my early teens, and he was charismatic, kind and funny. He was hip and free-thinking, a trickster, a risk taker and fun to be around.
I remember him showing up for a birthday party at my home in Nelson, with the biggest perfect bud in a little classy blue glass bottle. Of course, this was my gift, and I kept that bottle and I still have it to this day.
Jason championed integrity and seemed to always stand beside his friends through thick and thin. He was very loyal and genuine. As a young woman, I always felt implicitly safe with Jason. He was never uncouth or predatory. Always polite and genuinely interested in what the next conversation would hold. He was protective of his women friends and was caring and sincere. I always felt deeply seen by Jason. He never failed to inquire about my family and how my heart was doing. I hope that he felt the same from me. I hope that I was truly present in my interactions with him.
I cannot begin to fathom the challenges Jason faced after his accident.
I had moved away from the Kootenay’s around this time and so lost touch for many years. When I shared with people that I was moving back, Jason warmly welcomed me home. Our friendship picked up from where it had left off. His accident didn’t define him. He was still the same big-hearted human as before. Perhaps even more so as he needed to face each day with tremendous courage and discipline to keep going.
In reflection of Jason, I think he genuinely transcended his pain and limitation, and continued to tirelessly awaken to the love that is possible in the world. He listened closely to the pulse of life and found an expression that was uniquely his own. In this way, he was having a very personal and necessary conversation with the universe, as we all are. He shared deeply of himself and had a huge sense of humanity.
At the end of November, I heard from Jason and he told me he was in terrible pain. I have been in the health field as a massage therapist and craniosacral therapist for the last twenty some years, and so I hoped that perhaps I could help.
I brought essential oils, an eagle feather fan, sage and sweetgrass. We did a smudge to clear old energy and pain, and we listened to beautiful heart centred music. We did the session outside with a stunning view of Elephant mountain and a pink-orange sunset unfolding on the water. That session was full of stories and tears, and I was honoured to be part of his experience and his vulnerability. I believe that Jason was ready for a relief from pain. He was preparing for a transition into a new phase and he was clearing away the old to make ready for something new.
Life enters us and leaves us and all we can ever hope for is that we find authentic expression in the world. I believe that Jason achieved that with his ever-open heart and dogged optimism. I am ever so grateful to have known Jason and will miss him greatly.
"I know now that when the loving, honest moment comes it should be seized, and spoken, because it may never come again. And unvoiced, unmoving, unlived in the things we declare from heart to heart, those true and real feelings wither and crumble in the remembering hand that tries too late to reach for them."
Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
To Dickie, Rest in Paradise, One Love Brother.