Jimbo Bergstrom: May 1st 1953 - November 4th 2021

Jimbo on the trail

Untitled photo

I lost my best friend on November 4th 2021. My Mom lost hers too. The Earth lost a friend and ally. I’ve been in a holding pattern of emotion, wondering what to share, perhaps fearing that sharing would just make it more real. After 3.5 years of diagnosed dementia with Lewy bodies and likely another 4 or 5 years of symptoms unknown to us at the time, my wonderful Dad, James Jim Jimbo Papa Bear Bergstrom passed away in his Portland home with family around him. He was only 68 years old.

My Dad was the kindest man I have ever known.

My Dad is the young man in the picture above  – an explorer with an unbound curiosity for the world around him, and a sense of style like no other.

Jimbo was a calm warmth of love, goodness, ingenuity, creativity, thoughtfulness, independence, curiosity, observation, intellect, and action. Multiple friends have said to me in thoughtful reflections that he always seemed to have a certain twinkle in his eyes – something that you might almost look past, but subconsciously conveyed a simple joy in his surroundings. I think this is the story of my Dad – a story of someone who found happiness in his experiences of family, meaningful work, birdwatching, talking like Donald Duck, Jazz, connecting with nature, live music, an espresso or cup of Coava coffee, rebuilding a car engine, or cooking a gourmet dinner. He did it all. We laughed a lot together. We hugged a lot. One of my Dad’s biggest gifts to me was showing me a peaceful masculinity – not one of bravado and false confidence, but one of thought, emotional intelligence, determination, and love. He would dance with my Mom in the kitchen, he would throw batting practice to me until his arm was numb and the sky was dark, he cared about the health of our planet.

My Dad taught me about awe, ilihia, about biophilia, pilina, reciprocity with the wonders of the natural world around us before I knew what any of those words meant. He taught me through experience, through always being available to talk story, through a type of respect that lives somewhere in all of us without needing to be spoken. He taught me kuleana long before I would come to learn any of the Hawaiian words that seem to echo his existence because of their complexity and depth beyond a single word. My Dad was the beauty of subtle complexity.

I don’t think many really know my Dad’s story or how truly amazing he was. He was quiet, but his conversations were full of substance carefully balanced with an ability to listen. He rarely talked over someone just to make a point. Jimbo always tried to figure things out, to dig deeper, to find missing pieces – he was the opposite of modern meme sharing; he was a man my grandpa Eugene would have been proud to know through his life. My Dad also never really seemed to care about accolades or getting credit for his contributions; though confident in his abilities, Jimbo was never arrogant or boastful. I never really saw him angry except when he drove through LA or was yelling at a youth soccer ref for the injustices on the field. He worked as a trail clearer (pictured), a shoveler of cow shit (his love story with my Mom meeting on a dairy farm after a tip from Rabbit), a mechanic, returned for a degree in Hydrology at University of Arizona, toiled with the false promises and contradictions of for-profit environmental consulting, and built the foundations for the County of Monterey’s entire GIS (Geographic Information Systems – aka: really powerful computer mapping) program. He spent almost two decades acting as a civil servant – he was an early adopter of GIS in the 90’s seeing its high future value at a time when most people didn’t know computer mapping was even possible. He taught himself, he sought out training, and then he single-handedly built the system the county of Monterey would use into the future for coordinating its operations from the 911 system to water resources. Jimbo did that and most people in Monterey will never know who Jim Bergstrom was. I guess that would probably be okay with him, so maybe it should with me too.

Jimbo and my Mom formed a unit of sustainability before it was a cool trend to be marketed. Neither of them put much value in the insatiable commercial mayhem of materialism – in fact together they did all that they could to buck it. Our weekends were spent exploring the ponds and rapids of the American River as we stepped over rattle snakes and spotted kestrels in the binoculars. “Things” seemed of little consequence to happiness and what things my Dad did have, he treated as if he would use them, repair them, and use them again for life. My Dad would be in the kitchen each night chopping up the food scraps to add to the compost pile in the garden, he would bike miles to work or school (sometimes with a wild toddler hitched to his tail), he would build us shelves out of scrap wood, there always seemed to be thought behind the impact of choice.

My Dad cared about his small family more than anything I think. He was infatuated with my Mom – looking at her with eyes of admiration, attraction, curiosity, devotion. They were a dynamic married duo for 44 years. He would speak Yiddish words that tickled my Grandma’s heart. He didn’t tell me how to love, he showed me how to love through his actions. He always believed in me and elevated my interests to become his interests. He was proud of me. He built me pitching mounds in our side yard where he would be bruised from catching balls in the dirt. He would stay up all night with me when I procrastinated to help me finish a school project. He would road trip with me to college campuses when I was looking at schools for undergrad and graduate school. When Nicole visited Portland and met my parents for the first time in 2018, Jimbo was at the very beginning of his rapid decline into dementia, and yet as we walked through Forest Park he stopped me and said he and my mom were already in love with Nicole and it brought him joy to know we had found each other. I wanted them to know each other more. My Dad’s love is powerful. I’ve been lit by it since I made my way into this world. I’ll carry it with me on what is left of my life journey.

I miss you so much Papa Bear, losing you is not fair, you’re a true wonder of this world. I love you.

How can you honor Jimbo?

1) Pay attention to the beauty of the world around you and understand that our actions, individually and as a community, have consequences on this wonderful place we call home.

2) Try to speak like Donald Duck in your next conversation

3) Thank someone in your life today who maybe doesn’t get the recognition they deserve because they aren’t the loudest one in the room. Thank someone for their quiet service to their cause.

4) For those who want to make a donation, my Dad and our family asked that the funds go to Friends of the Columbia River Gorge  – this wonderful organization care-takes for the region of Oregon dear to him and our family – filled with waterfall trails, bald eagles, and the wilderness of my Dad’s favorite, Mt. Hood – a peak that when it popped into view on a walk or drive, even in Jimbo’s final weeks, when most of his ability to communicate was gone, he’d proclaim, “There it is.”

For the last couple weeks I have been oscillating between wanting to crumple on the floor and die, wanting to find new ways to take the world head on in ways my Dad would be proud of, and everything in between. Grief is not something I have spent much time with in my very fortunate life, but now I feel all the stages from fierce rage at an irrational world, to gentle peace, to incomprehensible relief from suffering, to painful nostalgia, to aching despair, to nurturing sadness with heavy tears. Every day is still a mix of unbearable and beautiful recollection. These last four years have shredded my soul and yet I have been treated to unprecedented loving support from my community of friends and family. I’ll get back my mojo. Jimbo would want it that way. If you have any stories or memories you would want to share with me about my Dad, please feel free to shoot me a message. Thanks for listening.

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