This blog is probably the hardest that I've written so far. There are not words to describe this event and my emotions. But God wouldn't leave me alone about writing this, even though it's not something I wanted to do. He started talking to me early this morning on the commute about His love and faithfulness. Then He started really pushing me to write this blog. I can't imagine why. This is something I mention only in passing and avoid talking about, because I don't know what to do with my still raw emotions and other people's sympathy. So, I don't get it, but I am going to be obedient and hope that for someone out there, this is meaningful beyond just understanding me. And yes, I'm still stalling. Okay, deep breath, just dive in, right? Here we go.......
17 years ago, on a beautiful sunny day in July, my family received a phone call that forever changed my life. I can mark that moment as the end of my childhood. I was napping in Mom's bed that afternoon when the phone rang. By the time Dad answered the phone, I was already standing at his elbow because my gut was screaming that something was wrong. I can't explain that, but I just knew. But it was much worse than anything I could have imagined. It was my uncle calling to say that his top employee, my brother Jon, was missing somewhere off the coast of Venezuela.
Jon was a research physicist. Extraordinarily brilliant man. 24. Married with two kids. If business was slow, my uncle would on occasion loan him out to the government or to other companies. And so, Jon was in Venezuela taking seismograph readings on one bridge to insure its structural integrity while some other guys blew up another nearby bridge. He had a lot of free time on this assignment during the time that the company was doing clean-up, before they began setting more charges. He and his wife Lori had eloped many years before, and had never had a big honeymoon. He loved the town where he was on the coast, and was constantly quizzing me on Spanish phrases he could try out. He was anxious to share it with his beautiful wife. So Lori flew to Venezuela to spend a few days relaxing and walking along the beach with her husband.
On a day off, he and Lori went to the local beach and went swimming. Jon wanted Lori to swim out to a small island with him, just off the coast. She was tired after a long day, and said no. Which probably saved her life. Jon decided to go without her. He swam out a little over halfway to the island and got in trouble. The details are little foggy at this point. Undertow or just tired, I don't really know. But Lori noticed he was having a hard time. She swam out to him to see what was going on. She wrapped him in her arms, but he fought her hard because of his panic. She could not rescue him. She did not have the strength to bring both of them back to shore. Lori was tempted to hold on until the end and die there with him. But she had two small children who needed a parent. She had to make the incredibly tough decision to open her arms, release the love of her life, watch him struggling and sinking, and swim back to shore alone. Becoming a widow at 25.
The waiting was hard for me. I hoped against hope that maybe, just maybe he had survived and drifted up on shore. It took divers several days to recover his body. Then it took several more days to make arrangements to get him back to the United States for his funeral. A lot of this time period is very foggy to me. I was in summer school trying to graduate early from high school, and that is also very vague. I think when your brain can't grasp the reality of something horrible, it just tucks it away until later.
The funeral was unbelievably horrid. Family night was done with an empty coffin because Jon's body was still in customs. The funeral was, of course, closed casket because of the time he had spent in the water and the deteroration that occurred. People were so nice, but they said the most awful things out of ignorance, "You know this is hard to understand, but it's all a part of God's plan." or "It will all work out for the best." or "This is God's will." As an unbeliever, this was not very encouraging for me. Jon was the only person on the planet that I absolutely knew without a doubt loved me. He understood me and accepted me and wanted to be with me just the way that I was. People wanted to offer me comfort, but there are times in life where there is no comfort to be found. And I could not understand why God let him die. And I certainly couldn't accept it as part of God's plan.
I am generally not a public griever, and this was no exception. I made it through the funeral with very few tears. I did my grieving alone, privately while the divers were still searching for him. And I continued to grieve many, many months afterwards. I finally made peace with this loss and though I do not understand how it furthers God's purposes, I accept that God is a good God and loves us, and so I am no longer angry.
Sometimes I still dream about him. But not often any more. And occasionally I wonder what if things were different. I don't have much contact with his children and wife any more. We love each other, but I moved far away many years ago and did not make the effort to stay in touch. Jon would be 40. His hairline was receding pretty hard at 24, so I would guess it would be pretty thin these days. And seeing my other brother Jeff's and my waistline, I'm guessing that his hair might have been the only thin thing about him. But I miss the could have beens almost as much as I miss what was.
I had thought I would share some of my favorite memories and stories about his influence on my life during my teen years. However, having made it through this choppy retelling of his death, I cannot bear to write anything else. Just know that I consider myself very lucky to have been loved by a great man. He played one of the largest roles in my teen years in helping find the woman I later became.
And I don't know why God has asked me to share this. Even after the writing, it does not make sense to me. But here it is - my darkest moment.