The Unthinkable

On Friday morning, just before my husband and I left for Seattle, our next door neighbor's son Jack was killed in a car accident. He was seventeen.

I haven't written about this because it's still so inconceivable that he is gone, and also because it's not my story to tell and his parents are very, very private people. Here is the obituary that was in today's paper. His family wrote it.

Tonight, I went to a memorial service in the park, at the invitation of the family. I took the girls because I thought they needed some sense of saying goodbye to someone they'd idolized for all the seven years we've lived here. It was possibly the most heroic and heartbreaking event I've ever attended (including my own father's funeral.) It's just so wrong when a child goes before a parent. I've always felt that losing a child is something no reasonable person could be expected to survive.

The parents did this amazing job of putting the thing together in such a non-maudlin and inclusive way--she's a psychologist and he's a district judge --and they both spoke at the end. They were so utterly heartbroken and yet so determined to carry forward Jack's message of love. And to never ever forget him or the lessons they learned from having had him for seventeen years. A lot of his friends spoke and since he was a champion debater, you can just imagine the nature of the speeches --really exceptional, moving, heartrending stuff. I hope that my girls will take away the idea that a life is measured by the relationships with those around you --and not the number of years on the planet or the amount of stuff a person accumulates.

I'll never forget this: His mom said that when Jack was born, he was the sweetest, sweetest baby. And ALMOST perfect. Almost. That he had this one ear that was a little bent and she was so glad of it because it was a reassurance that he was bound to our imperfect world.

I guess maybe his ear wasn't bent anymore.

This life... it's precious and fragile and tenacious and fleeting. It's only love that endures, though. Hug your babies if you've got them.


Candy said…
Damn. Just damn.

My heart goes out to the family - and to you, I'm sure it's been hard on you too.
Anonymous said…
Oh, Barb, this is just so tragic. I followed the link to the obituary and it sounds like he was an amazing young man. I'm sorry that your girls have had to go through this sad experience as well. It's hard enough for grown-ups to make sense of it, let alone the kids.
jeanie said…
Oh how sad. A friend of mine lost her daughter at that age and her grief is still profound.
Suna Kendall said…
This one really hit me hard, too (you may recall that I live in the same general vicinity as you, just out in the cheapo suburbs). My son is in debate, so I know he has at least seen Jack, and probably been judged by his dad. My son, the one who just got his driver's license. Argh.

I also have a friend whose son died similarly year before last--went the same school, and his younger sister will be a senior this year--my heart aches for her, too--this will be like a repeat.

I hate having to "let" my kids drive here. This is a really scary town to drive in.

Hug your children, everyone. I am glad you are there for Jack's family.
Barb Matijevich said…
It's just so... unthinkable. And these parents... I wish I could sum up how they parent their kids. Kid, now. They are the kind of parents to whom you would give your own children to raise. The connection they kept to their kids --it's an amazing thing to witness.

Ah, the waste of it. That's what gets me --the senseless nature of such a tragedy. I can't make any sense of it--it's just not how things were meant to work. I told my kids last night that the worst thing I could imagine is if they died before me.

When I put Jane to bed last night, I read her the obituary --because in some ways it was so uplifting and because she was trying so hard to remember things about Jack. (The image that sticks in my mind is from when Jane was about 2 and Ana was 4 and they would pull up their Little Tykes chairs and sit watching Jack play basketball, like a little audience. As soon as they heard the ball start bouncing, they'd come running.)

And I turned out Jane's light and stroked her eyebrows, as I've done almost every night of her life, and she said, "Mom, this is too sad. I'm going to try to get over it until tomorrow morning."

I wish life had an undo button.
Anonymous said…
I rarely respond to stuff like this (like your email yesterday) - I never know what to say. I even read this post early this morning but couldn't find any response in my brain. It's just so f'ing unfair, but no matter what we say (or type) or how many times we swear or stamp our feet or how many tears we shed, he isn't coming back.

It just makes me feel so useless.
Barb Matijevich said…
That's how I feel, too. No food I bring or assurances that I will be here for them will bring his parents one iota of comfort.

I'm knitting them some socks. And I'll bring food and mow their lawn when the rest of the world goes back home or to work again.

I just wish...

Well. I just wish.
Anonymous said…
So tragic and senseless, feel their's and your pain. Been there too many times with loved one's and dear friends.
May you all in some way find some comfort and peace.
Suna Kendall said…
I am glad you are knitting socks. It will help--you'll be surprised--I still think of the sender every time I look at a plant I got when I had a death in my family.

Life just doesn't make sense. That's what these things are here to tell us. And we aren't in control, no matter how much we try. So we treasure our children and loved ones and hold them tight. And know the only certainty is change.

"Fair" doesn't come into it, sigh.

Thanks for this nice dialog in the comments!