Five days after my birthday this year I got a message at dinner time in my facebook messages to call my cousin immediately. It was a life-stopping message because I instantly knew someone in our family had died, but nothing could have prepared me for the outcome of that conversation. I called her from the privacy of the bathroom and I gripped the sink with white knuckles while she delivered the shocking news. I tried not to let my voice crack too much because my cousin had already had a VERY long day retelling the horrific news over and over to our extended family and I didn’t want to start her crying all over again. A VERY bright light had been extinguished from amongst us. Every single one of us in the family had been hit hard in the center of our beings with a Jason-size cannon. It couldn’t be true of course; Jason, the second youngest child of my third youngest cousin, wasn’t gone-my cousin had been misinformed. He was in his early 20’s. He was larger than life. He was stronger than an ox (or at least most modern mechanized farm equipment) and he was living and working for an oil company in Oklahoma (but not doing anything dangerous, so it just couldn’t be true, my mind rationalized). My heart reeled. The room began to spin and I hung on harder to the sink. But of course it was true; the news had been delivered to Jason’s parents (one of my other cousins) early that morning from emergency workers and first responders where Jason lived and worked in Oklahoma, and from there the gut wrenching word quickly spread from sibling to sibling, from cousin to cousin, from aunt and uncle to aunt and uncle, until all of us, far and wide across the country and even into India, where my dad was, were doubled over with wracking sobs, each of us wishing it were US who had left and NOT JASON, anyone BUT Jason.
Jason was born the year I graduated from college and because I left home after high school to go away to college, I never really knew him until my family and I “accidentally” moved back “home” to WA a few years ago. We moved there in the Spring just in time to see his older brother, David, graduate from high school and get ready for college. We were relieved to learn that David would be attending a university literally just down the street from my dad’s house, where we had begun “accidentally” living in his guest room (ya, the head count would be four people living in a 10’x10′ room), because we really wanted to get to know my “nephews” (I’m an only child, but my seven cousins had generously let me be an “aunt” to their kids–a moniker that probably doesn’t hold much meaning in itself, but I’ve always loved it because I’ve always loved each and every one of my cousins like they were my sisters and brother….which probably sounds so silly to people who actually have brothers and sisters, but it’s true for me none the less).
But I digress……back to David and Jason. Jason was just finishing his junior year in high school and would be playing football in the fall and then begin wrestling in the winter. We didn’t know how long our “vacation” was going to be, but we knew that if it extended into September then we would be able to see some of Jason’s senior year football and David’s first year of college football. We were excited!! In our family when referring to the siblings David or Jason, we don’t often begin the sentence with just one name, it’s always “David and Jason did……..” or “David and Jason are going to…….” They were very much individuals and had very unique personalities, but they did lots of things together and were very close in age. They were still living at home, so it made sense that they did lots of stuff together. And because my dad lived across the street from his sister and her husband (my aunt and uncle, David & Jason’s grandma and grandpa), I felt like I had gotten to know them through my dad via phone conversations and the various stories of what the “boys” had been up to. So I was privy to tales of the many trips to the ocean with the boys where my dad had property, a few mission trips to Mexico with my dad where they served families who live in giant dumps there, and of all the hard work they did for my aunt and uncle across the street. My dad thought the WORLD of both of them and loved them like they were his.
As it turns out, everyone thought Jason was their’s because, I think he was. If by some form of magic every single person who had ever worked with, or befriended Jason, or had the opportunity to spend time with him could have been at his funeral, maybe eventually (after six weeks or so) we would have grownn tired of hearing the same thing hour after hour after hour, but I doubt it. There were accounts of Jason paying for people’s groceries, paying their rent, taking friends of friends to the hospital, fixing people’s cars, and showing up to a friend’s apartment out of the blue just to cheer them up. I think what broke me up more than anything (aside from the sheer magnitude of the loss) was the sadness that someone truly GOOD had left us. Person after person, coach after coach (coaches from OPPOSING high schools came and spoke), even an elementary school teacher who had heard the news came, and they ALL said the same thing, “Jason had the highest character, the strongest work ethic, was the friendliest, most affectionate and had the best attitude” of ANYONE they had ever taught, anyone they had ever coached, anyone who had EVER been in their youth group……of anyone they had EVER known. Period. End of conversation. And that’s just from the people who COULD talk. I was sitting in the back row next to some of Jason’s high school friends who were doubled over sobbing, so they couldn’t add much, and two of Jason’s closest mentor/father-figure/friends one row in front of us weren’t doing much better. Every single one of us who knew Jason were, ARE, walking around with Jason-size holes in us, and given that Jason was at least 6’0″ tall (I’m only 5′ 1″, so anyone over 5’5″ seems tall to me!) and probably tipped the scales at 300, we’ve been hit hard.
I don’t expect to ever “get over” losing Jason. Looking back I’ve known for quite awhile we didn’t “accidentally” move to WA back in ’05. God was SO GOOD to us to open our eyes to the possibility of doing this thing we call “life” in a different way, so it actually “made sense” to uproot our little family and completely impose ourselves into my dad’s very quiet and VERY ordered world, in order to get to know God a whole lot better (and His amazing plan for our lives). Once we realized that our lives were unfolding in that small guest room, we made it our mission to go to every one of Jason’s football games and every one of David’s college games we could attend. I don’t think we missed a wrestling match and very soon we were the loudest cheerleaders in the bleachers. We were SO blessed to get to truly know Jason and to have him be part of our lives. He loved our kids (even if he was a little intimidating for our daughter at the time) and he treated Hayden like the great little boy he was. Jason didn’t really know what a disability was so he didn’t treat Hayden like he was broken or something to be afraid of; he hugged him, wrestled with him and carried him around like he did with everyone who was smaller than him (which for Jason, was pretty much everybody). Jason probably didn’t do it consciously, but everywhere he went he gave a piece of himself to everyone he encountered.
Jason is forever imprinted on my soul at the very same place there’s a canyon full of tears.
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