I am so thrilled! I was given your scriptures. I don’t have much because everything is held so tightly, but this precious book was given to me! I will never read any others. I see the artwork and all of your markings as you highlighted verses that touched you in some way. I went straight to you favorite scripture in Alma 5:26 and remember the day you told us about it and why you loved it so much. I’m guessing it was about 5 years ago. It reads, “And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?” You shared with me that if you once felt these things, it was by the Holy Ghost, and that meant they were true. And if they were true then, it is still true now and will forever be true, even at times when you struggled and did not feel the Holy Ghost. I feel like this scripture is a gift you have given to us for now; for the times when we are bitter or angry and struggle to connect with God. Truth is truth then, now and forever. Jake, I have always admired the testimony you have of Jesus Christ. I know it’s not easy and none of us are perfect. We all struggle, but you have never doubted the things that are important for your salvation, and I know where you are and what you are working toward. I will continue to hope and pray that others in your family will remember the things they were taught and the times they felt the truth. The Holy Ghost is real and brings me peace at times. I am grateful for that. I miss you my sweet boy.
I am certainly not an expert on grief, but I do know that when emotions are high, other emotions, even those not related to our loss enter into equations that seem impossible to solve. I have heard terrible grieving tales of hatred within families; anger, battles over things, comparing levels of grief…to the point that families or individuals within families sever their relationships. I cannot think of anything worse for the person who is gone. My heart aches for the deceased because certainly he/she would want family to come together to celebrate life, love one another and move on trying to improve ourselves in his/her honor. These tales seem so very hard to comprehend, and then it happens and interrupts the important grieving process. I think of my sweet son who wanted to do nothing but make people laugh and to make those around him happy. I know that if hearts break in the afterlife, his is breaking now and this is something I cannot bear as a protective mother. As badly as I want him back, it pains me to say that for the first time, I am happy he is not here. I am thrilled that he is in a place free from the ugliness, selfishness and cruelty of some whom he loves dearly. Grieving such a great loss is more than I can bear and something I need to do, yet the happenings of this life are distracting me and preventing me from healing. I have a desperate need to work through my grief with Jake as my focus, but instead the irrational anger and hatred of others torments me. I pray for peace and wisdom in coping and I suppose all I can do is fight within myself to keep the focus on my sweet son who deserves nothing but love in his death, because this is how he lived his life. I know I am expected to forgive even the non-repentant and those who feel no regret for harming others, but I will continue to pray daily for the strength to do so because this is the best way I can think to honor Jake, my peacemaker.
Can levels of grief be compared? I believe they shouldn’t be, as we all come from various backgrounds and our relationships with the deceased are all very different. It seems that no good can come from such thoughts and resulting behaviors. Can a comparison really be made between a sister’s grief and that of a wife? Can we even compare the grief of two sisters? Certainly not. If one believes that he/she is grieving more than another, the other person’s feelings are then dismissed altogether. I suppose that raw human nature is self-centered. We need some of that for survival, but as we mature, learn and grow, we gain something that improves the lives of those around us, consequently improving or own lives. We learn to empathize with others and even sometimes think of others before ourselves. We learn to contemplate our own feelings, but still have room for the compassion needed to accept and have sympathy for the feelings of those around us even if they are different than our own.
I am not an expert on grief, but I have seen that comparing levels of grief and creating hierarchies of relationship types to the deceased is nothing but destructive. Jake touched so many lives that countless messages, phone calls, texts, emails and conversations… have been shared by thousands. Each of these people has a story to tell and each is coping with a loss that cannot be measured and cannot be categorized. To do so is to remove truth and possibly remove a part of Jake’s life. Minimizing Jake’s influence on any one of us is to minimize his life story. That would be a crime.
The grief anger I had so frequently heard about amongst family members is not leaving our family alone, and it is destroying me and all who truly love Jake. Through this process of enormous loss, I have barely coped as my world has crumbled, and I have become the target of hatred and anger. Me? These are people who love my son too, but direct their anger and grief at his Mother? If I were to guess, the anger might be because my son left me as the person authorized to make decisions in the event of his death, but I cannot guess what is being said to cause such cruelty. I will continue to ignore the anger the best I can. I keep thinking of a fellow Gold Star Mother who said, “I couldn’t have gotten through this without my son’s battle buddies”, yet my son’s buddies are being turned against me and I don’t even know the story being told. As heart-breaking as it is, I must not join by responding to these cruel actions, even to defend myself.
The funeral will be held at Jake’s church because it was the choice recorded on his Army records. It is the church he grew up attending. Any other place would disrespect Jake’s beliefs and his wishes. There is only one seat on the small plane bringing Jake home from Dover Air Force Base and I believe that person should be Jake’s dad. Everything else is flexible, so at the request of his wife of 5 months, he will be buried at Fort Logan National Cemetery. At the request of his wife, the casket will be closed even though he’s viewable and many would like to see him, no hymns will be sung, the Book of Mormon isn’t to be mentioned, and the service is to be non-spiritual… Individuals from both sides of Jake’s family will speak including my brave daughter whom I love with all my heart. Don’t they know that Jake would dislike this contention? I will find peace in knowing that both God and Jake know I have been and will continue to be only kind and respectful. I will do this because it is the right thing to do and because I love my son. We should do this for Jake who loved us all.
I keep watching your memorial from Afghanistan. It is so clear how well these men knew you and how much they love you. I am so very proud of the man you became, and so happy that you left this world without an enemy. You were a friend to everyone and had compassion for all of God’s children, even those you did not know but served anyway. I love you and I will forever remember and appreciate your big heart and your happy smile. I miss you; everything about you.
Everywhere I go I see my beautiful boy. I see him in tow-haired little boys, mannerisms of others, in smiles and laughs. Although wonderful, every reminder creates a pain in my chest that radiates down my arms all the way to my fingertips and from my heart to my stomach. I’m going through the motions of making arrangements but I feel quite separate from these activities. I am here but I feel lost, I am surrounded but I feel alone, I understand but then I don’t. I have experienced 16 surgeries on my hands and wrists, one on my foot, tonsils out as an adult, and my stomach cut open having organs removed and others resuspended. I have experienced the chronic pain of four autoimmune disorders and failing adrenal glands for most of my adult life. I know pain and I have learned to live with it. I can smile through it and put it in the back of my mind attempting to live a normal life. But not this pain. This pain is much different. It is unpredictable and relentless. I feel broken at times and unable to go on, but I know that I must so I battle through it moment by moment, and hopefully someday I can battle through it day by day. Now is not that time.
I cannot comprehend that he’s gone from this life, from our lives. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. We bury our grandparents and one day our parents, but not our children. I had just spent almost 22 years raising and teaching him to be an adult, and now is the time to see the fruits of my labors. I need to continue watching him grow into the man I was beginning to see. I need to see him raise a family. I need to love his children and hopefully watch them grow to have children. His legacy needs to continue because he is such an exceptionally good human being. The world needs him to go about doing good and brining joy. I need to spend time with him. We had plans! But the Lord has made it clear that our plans are not His plans. Our needs are not His needs. He needed Jake and He took him. I feel no anger and I do not ask, “Why”? I know why. But faith cannot fill the emptiness inside and it does not take away the excruciating pain I feel in my chest, but I do hope it might at another time in this life, and certainly it will in the next. I will be with him again, but until then I am blessed with the ability to close my eyes and hear his voice, smell his smell and feel his embrace. Although it brings indescribable pain, I am compelled to remember everything I can. I never want to forget anything about my darling boy.
Jake’s body arrived in Dover after several days of delays. We struggled through the transport of his body from the aircraft to the vehicle that would take him to the coroner. Finally seeing the flag-draped box that contained my son made it all so very real. He was in there and all I wanted to do was run over, open it and hug him. I wanted to hold him tight one last time, but we didn’t get to go anywhere near him. I became dizzy and needed to sit down and that’s when I felt Jake with me for the remainder of the ceremony. I felt his “sunshine” on me, and in my head I heard his voice promise that everything would be okay. I don’t really know for sure if I’ll survive this, but I do believe that in the end everything will be alright.
We arrived in Colorado yesterday already exhausted and grief-stricken. I wanted to crawl inside a hole and disappear, but this was not about me, it was about honoring and loving my precious boy. I put much of my grief on hold to accept condolences, flowers, cards and messages, visitors, food, etc. and arrangements needed to be made. The community of Thornton movingly honored my son. Little League baseball teams added American flag patches to their caps, our church wore yellow ribbons, the governor ordered the flag to be flown at half staff statewide, and American flags lined the streets of neighborhoods, all to honor Jake. It became clear that Colorado loved this boy as much as he loved her. He never wanted to live anywhere else and he never had to. We would spend the next week making arrangements to honor him and at his wife’s request, to bury him at Fort Logan National Cemetery in his beloved state.
Often times the pain and grief exceeds what I believe my mind and body can accept, and this is when I can do nothing but cry to my Father in Heaven for help. I feel so alone. I realize that countless mothers and fathers have experienced this very loss since the beginning of time. War has always existed, but this loss is still so rare I can’t think of a single soul who knows what I am feeling except Jake’s dad. This loss is tremendous and unique.
I had happily and willingly invested and sacrificed almost 22 years of my own life to nurturing, teaching and guiding Jake to become the best at whatever he chose to do in adulthood. Like most parents I gladly made this investment knowing a legacy of fulfilled dreams would be accomplished; grandchildren and great-grandchildren would bring joy and promise to our futures. The world would have new people to influence others for good, leaving their own legacies behind. For this loss I have grieved, but as I pray and study I am reminded of the good news that this life is but a “blink of an eye” in all of eternity. I am reminded that Jake lives and waits for us. That his legacy is not one intended for this life but for the next. I know that Jake is busy doing something amazing. When I feel alone in my grief, I can remember that my Father in Heaven also sacrificed his son for the benefit of others. I know He knows my heart ache and I know he will comfort me when I ask. God blessed me with this wonderful son, and this blessing greatly exceeds my loss even though my loss feels so impossible at times. He gave Jake to me to raise. He trusted me with one of his most precious souls. Although my pain is unbearable, I would not trade one second I had with Jake to take this pain from me now. I love being his mother and for that I’m eternally grateful. I will see him again one day and it will be a wonderful reunion. Until then, I will look forward with gratitude to that special day. I will cry when I have to cry and ask impossible questions, but I will look forward to seeing my precious boy again.
Right now, I am exhausted, heart-broken and lost, and I guess that’s okay for now. I just pray that I can continue to remember the big picture. Now, I simply need to figure out how to be in this world without him and it seems impossible.
I have asked so many question but information comes slowly or not at all. Jake was in Black Hawk helicopter on a medivac mission. At 11:45 PM they were coming in to land, the soldiers unbuckled and the helicopter started spinning throwing many of the soldiers out. Jake was the only casualty. Until the investigation is complete I won’t even know the cause of my son’s death. I’m told the investigation could take several months. My sweet Jake was born on July 14, 1992 at 9:28 PM and died sometime between 11:45 PM on May 28 at and 2 AM on May 29. How will anything ever feel right again?
Jake is gone, and my mind and my heart cannot make sense of it. It was Thursday morning, May 29. I woke to my husband’s solemn voice, “Heidi, I have some bad news. There’s been an accident”. Immediately I sat up and asked, “Is it Jake”? He sadly shook his head as I asked, “Is he okay?”, and I heard the most regretful “no”. I asked, “Is he dead?” And an even more regretful “yes” followed. “It can’t be true, not Jake! He’s coming home! He’s actually coming home early. We got a letter from the Army and he is coming home early. We have so many plans. This has to be a mistake. It can’t be Jake! It can’t be my boy, my only son. No! Not Jake!” The denials continued and would continue all day, but then business needed to be taken care of so I began making phone calls. I notified family and friends from that same spot where I received the news. For several weeks to follow this bed and this spot would offer renewed shock and grief as I woke each and every day. I dreaded going to bed at night for fear of the morning.
I became numb but with little ability to think or retain information. I had to pack a suitcase but I couldn’t seem to figure out what I would need for a trip to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and then back to Denver to bury my child. All of this being so foreign to me, I paced the floor adding items as they came to mind. It took four hours to complete a task that would normally be so simple. Throughout that first day and for the next week, the song, “Time in a bottle” repeated itself in my mind. It ran through my thoughts so persistently and without explanation that I felt annoyed, but it magically disappeared as soon as I chose to embrace it. Why this song? One that I had never known well and had not heard in so many years. Maybe it was a message for my sweet, fun, yellow-haired boy, or maybe a message from him promising more time together in the eternities.
Time In a Bottle (Jim Croce)
If I could save time in a bottle The first thing that I’d like to do Is to save every day ’til eternity passes away Just to spend them with you
If I could make days last forever If words could make wishes come true I’d save every day like a treasure and then Again, I would spend them with you
But there never seems to be enough time To do the things you want to do once you find them I’ve looked around enough to know That you’re the one I want to go through time with
If I had a box just for wishes And dreams that had never come true The box would be empty except for the memory Of how they were answered by you
But there never seems to be enough time To do the things you want to do once you find them I’ve looked around enough to know That you’re the one I want to go through time with
(I learned that Jim Croce wrote this song for his son. Quite appropriate)
A short time ago, my son, Jake was killed in Afghanistan. I started writing about this unwanted journey to therapeutically get my feelings and thoughts down on paper and as a way to remember my experiences. As I wrote I began thinking how much I would appreciate reading about another Gold Star parent’s journey. Eventhough we are all different and our experiences are not the same, we share this unique type of grief in our attempts to live in this world without our precious son or daughter.
My writings are personal and seem as scattered as our brains are at this time in our lives, but if they can help even one grieving survivor feel less frantic, broken, crazy or alone through the process, I am happy to share my son and myself.
You are not alone and your child will never be forgotten!