Personal: A Letter to My Nephew in Heaven
Dear Jay Jay,
I don't remember the exact day I met you, but I do remember the sparsely furnished apartment I was in, filled with teenagers. I remember your mom walking in the door with you and setting you down. And I remember how you ran around and crawled and climbed all over the place, always smiling. I thought you were the cutest little thing I had ever seen. I didn't know at the time that your mom would come to be my very best friend, or that I was meeting the boy who would become the child of my heart.
We were so young when you were young, babies ourselves really. Still in high school, you were our little group mascot. We would all go on to have children of our own, but you were everyone's first baby.
As you grew, you became such a big part of my life. Everyone who knew me, knew you. I hauled you around everywhere with me! Family gatherings, church functions, trips to the lake. You were a part of my family. Here you are with my parents, my sister, brother-in-law and I after dinner one night. You were their “first grandchild” too.
Your mom was raising you on her own, working a lot of hours as your sole provider, and it was the joy of my life to step in and help her care for you. Some of my favorite memories were when your mom and I were roommates, and you would wake up in the middle of the night and come snuggle into bed with me. When you were about seven, I took an interest in photography, and of course, you were one of my first models! Your mom was gracious enough to hire me for your family photos, even though I had zero experience, expertise, or even professional equipment. As you and your siblings grew, my skills and abilities in photography grew leaps and bounds as well.
This last spring, you all came up to our farm for another family photo shoot. We had such a good time that day! You were being so ornery, making the silliest faces. I was ready to bop you on the head by the time we were done!
If only I would have known how that memory, and those silly pictures, would comfort us all just seven months later... I would have smiled and laughed a little more; I would have stopped and enjoyed your antics a little longer; I would have hugged you and never let go.
October 21, 2017 was a really awful and emotional day for many reasons. It was the second anniversary of the passing of your grandpa. It was the 3rd birthday of the baby girl that my husband and I had until she was 14 months old, whom we wanted to adopt, but the system failed us. After having a short visit with our son, it was the day that we had to take him back to the residential facility he had been living in. And, it was the day that I found out you had been in a terrible car accident, had been life flighted to the hospital, and were in extremely critical condition.
For the next ten days, I was there, as much as I possibly could be. Despite living an hour away, and working an hour and a half away, I didn't miss a day. It was so important to me that I didn't miss a day. Did you know I was there? Did you know how much I loved you? I sat by your side and watched your chest rise and fall with each breath the machines were helping you take. I sat in the waiting room with your family and hugged your mom when she cried. I dozed off next to your grandma and tried to keep your siblings entertained. I read scripture and prayed- prayed like I've never prayed in my life. I printed out every picture I had ever taken of you (over 300, ha!) to share with visitors in the waiting room, pass the time, and hopefully lift some spirits. (It's what I do, I'm the picture lady). I showed every single one of your doctors and nurses your picture, let them see how even more handsome you were, without all of the tubes and wires.
I thought of all of the milestones, big and small, in your life that I had the honor of being a part of so far - mostly birthdays and holidays, some sports and school functions. I thought about the milestones in my life that you had been there for. My high school graduation. When I adopted my boys. My wedding day (you were the first face that I saw when the doors opened for me to walk down the aisle). And then I thought about your future milestones. The ones that I'd always just taken for granted would happen. When you would meet and marry the girl of your dreams. When you'd have children of your own. I'd been your personal historian and documentarian for the majority of your life, and I had every intention of being there to celebrate with you and capture these events as well! And I knew that when you woke up, when we ALL woke up from this nightmare, I still would.
But you didn't wake up, sweet boy. You didn't. Your brain was so badly damaged in the wreck, and then it began hemorrhaging in the hospital. You had so many other injuries, from a collapsed lung, damaged colon, bruised heart and ruptured spleen, to broken ribs, femur and jaw, but all of those injuries would have and could have healed. But the damage to your brain, Jay, it was irreversible. You had an amazing team of doctors and nurses, the best in the area. You had so many people who loved you there at the hospital to support you and your momma (seriously, at times the crowd was giving me anxiety!). You had hundreds, if not thousands, of people, stretching from coast to coast, praying for you fervently and continuously. But despite all of that, your brain just wasn't going to get better. You were suffering. You were suffering so much. It was so difficult to witness you in that state. You wouldn't have wanted to be in that condition. Then, through the sense of peace that you gave your mom by letting her feel your presence and hear the sound of your voice, she did the most unselfish thing any parent could ever do. She took all of your pain and suffering, and placed it on top of her own shoulders to carry for the rest of her life, and she let you peacefully go on to be with your Heavenly Father, where there is no pain, no suffering and no sadness.
Like I said, October 21, 2017 was an awful day, but October 31, 2017 was the most difficult day of my life. It was the day I watched you go to Heaven.
At church on New Year's Day 2017, I committed to praying for you every day. I wrote your name in permanent marker on the wall. Please forgive me, Jay Jay, that some days I forgot. I tried, but I didn't fulfill my promise to you. I will always regret that.
Not a day goes by that I do not feel the shocking pierce in my heart at the realization that you're gone. The pain is sudden, unexpected, and as sharp as a knife to my soul. Many, MANY days l have called Mamaw, or Uncle Brent, and begged them to tell me that it didn’t really happen. That the nightmare of seeing “my baby” lying in a casket was just that - a nightmare.
It is unfathomable to me that I will not be seeing you on the other side of my camera lens again. Oh, your brothers and sisters will still be there, and I will do for them just like I had planned to do for you. I'll be there with my camera when Kameron graduates, when Keylin gets married, and when Keyonna has her first baby. And each time I snap the shutter of my camera, I will do so in your honor, and I will know that you are right there with me. We might not be able to see you in the photographs, but oh, there is no doubt, you will be there.
For so many years, Jay Jay, you were there in my lens.
Then, now, and for the rest of my life, you will be here in my heart.
UPDATE: On August 30th, 2018, Jay Jay’s family and friends gathered in a small Kansas courtroom to beg the judge for justice. His parents, grandmothers, aunt and I each read a victim impact statement. I chose to express my feelings in a poem. Thankfully, the judge invoked the maximum possible sentence under Kansas law for the individual who selfishly and recklessly took Jay Jay’s life. Unfortunately, that sentence was a mere 18-month conviction. Below is the poem that I read to the judge, the young person responsible for Jay Jay’s death, and everyone present that day.
Oh, you couldn’t possibly imagine, just how it is we feel,
Each morning when we wake, the piercing heart ache, so very real.
Before we open our eyes, we give ourselves a moment to hope,
To pretend it was just a bad dream, it’s all we can do to try and cope.
But then we have to open our eyes, start our day and accept what’s true.
He’s really gone, it really happened, he’s not coming back, no matter what we do.
Seventeen years is not enough, there’s no way it could ever be.
Not for someone who meant so much, to so many, including me.
He was my little buddy, my handsome nephew, he was and IS the child of my heart,
He grew up while we grew up-- sweet, silly, ornery and smart.
A loyal friend, a ladies man, a son, and grandson, uncle, and brother.
With deep brown eyes, hair always styled, a smile like no other.
Oh, you can’t understand, what we’re all going through,
He was the light of our lives, and maybe just “some kid” to you.
But he was our glue, our common thread, the one to hold us all together.
He was our light, he was our life, and our sunshine in some very stormy weather.
Oh, you don’t know what its like, to watch your baby slip away.
To fight so hard, to hope so much, to beg and plead and pray,
For God to fix this awful mess, and bring that baby back somehow,
Oh, you don’t understand. Neither did we, ‘til now.
His mama fell to the ground, you know, when it was time to take him away.
Oh, you couldn’t possibly imagine, unless you had been there that day.
“My baby”, she screamed, a sound too heartbreaking to ever explain,
You’ll never truly comprehend, this never-ending, soul-crushing pain.
Oh you don’t know how it feels, to look his little siblings in the eye,
To see their sadness, feel their anger, watch helplessly as they cry.
He wasn’t just their big brother, he was their hero, protector and friend.
And now he’s gone, and now they’ve lost him, their wounds will never fully mend.
Oh you don’t know, but that’s okay, I really don’t want anyone to.
That would mean this very same thing, would have also happened to you.
And while it’s easy to hate, and hard to forgive, that’s not what we’ve been called to do.
If Christ suffered on the cross, and died for my sins, than I can find the strength to forgive you too.
Now I ask that you give us our justice, let our family start healing today.
To know his life mattered, and it always will, and what happened was not okay.
Take responsibility for what you’ve done, go and face the time that you receive,
If you don’t know Christ yet, find Him some-how. Turn to him and believe.