Thursday, March 30, 2006

We miss you, Jackaroo

Click here for Jack's obituary.

So here's a little bit about Jack. Nat and I met Jack at the Bus Stop on the first day of Second Grade. We had just moved to a new house and Nat was going to a new school. Jack, we discovered, would be in her class. He lived just down the street from us, and as we got to know him, we saw how much they had in common.

Some kids play House, Nat and Jack played Magazine Editors. Stuff like that.

Their personalities, interests and strengths were similar enough to cement their friendship, and yet different enough that they were always learning from each other. I think Nat was a little jealous of how well Jack did in school, and how all the teachers adored him. And I think Jack longed to be as outgoing as Natalie is. He was reserved, but not shy. Sensitive, loyal, and always thinking on a whole different level. Even at age 8, you could see how much he loved to learn and how eager he was to find out the answers to every question in the universe. The kid got a Rolodex for his birthday, for cryin out loud. He totally had it in him to change the world, I really believe that. I even told his mom that I wanted to work for Jack someday.

Last year at about this time, he moved to another town not far away. He finished the school year at Nat's school, and would start at a new school in the fall. Jack's mom and I reassured the kids that they'd still have play dates and still see each other even if they were at different schools, so even though we were saying goodbye, it didn't really feel like goodbye.

We didn't find out until later that Jack was born with a heart defect and had a pacemaker put in when he was in Kindergarten. We knew he had heart surgery planned for the beginning of summer vacation, so when we were planning for Nat's birthday party in July we chose a party theme that Jack would be able to attend if he was still recovering (not a pool party or a gymnastics party). He went into the hospital and had one surgery that went well, then he came home to recover, and went back into the hospital a few days later when his heart stopped.

Nat wanted to go see him in the hospital, and I wasn't sure it was a good idea, so I said we'd see him when he got home. And now, I live with the guilt that we didn't go see him in the hospital when we could have. The last time we saw him was the last day of second grade last year. He was telling us about his upcoming surgery, and I said, "Oh, you'll be fine, and when you get home I'll teach you how to knit." He had asked me several times if I'd teach him to knit and this time I said "Yes, Jack, I promise I'll teach you to knit." I hate that I never taught him. And the last thing I said to him, as we were saying goodbye just for the summer, was "Jack, you are such an awesome guy. I don't know what we'd do without you. What would we do without our Jack?" Can you even believe I said that?

Anyway, I got the awful phone call from Jack's uncle 2 weeks before Nat's birthday. He hadn't survived the surgery. Telling Nat was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I told her that if she didn't want to go to the funeral, she didn't have to. But she did. She went to the visitation, funeral and was right up front at the cemetery. It was so sweet - Jack's relatives kept coming up to her and saying "Oh, you must be the famous Natalie! Jack talked about you all the time!" That really made her feel special.

The visitation was really difficult, as he lay there in his little argyle vest, the outfit he's wearing in the only picture I have of Nat and Jack together. His school picture, his artwork, his Neopets that he and Nat played all the time, the maps he made of just about every single country in the world, even his highlighted hymnal were all displayed. I don't think I've ever cried so hard in my whole life. Until I walked into the church for the funeral and saw all the little Boy Scouts sitting together in their uniforms. That is a heartbreaking image I'll never forget.

Anyway, I don't want to make everybody sad or anything, this is just what's been on my mind the last few days as Jack's birthday approached. Here's the note I sent to Jack's family after his passing:

I knew I wouldn’t find a card with enough room to write everything I wanted to say about our beloved Jack. We are so devastated at the loss of our dear friend. Natalie had never had a real “best friend” before Jack, and she couldn’t have chosen a better one. Jack embodied what a true and loyal friend should be. Despite their occasional differences of opinion, they always seemed to work things out in the most remarkably mature way, always respectful and sensitive to the other’s feelings.

What stands out in my memory especially is a time when I picked Natalie up after a weekly play date. Jack wouldn’t say goodbye to Natalie because they’d both hurt each other’s feelings that day. As moms, Lana and I knew without a doubt that they’d work it out as they always had. On the way home Natalie sobbed as she told me her version of the events, which led to one of those all-important teaching moments. She and I talked about how who was right and who was wrong wasn’t really important when she thought about how sad they would both be if they weren’t friends anymore. She decided to call and apologize as soon as we got home (even asked me to drive a little faster), and when we got in, a tearful, apologetic message from Jack was waiting for her on the answering machine. That message made Natalie feel so valued as a friend. Compromise, character, and forgiveness are concepts that even adults struggle to understand, and those two had all but mastered it in second grade. I will always be totally amazed and humbled by that.

She learned from him, and I can honestly say that I learned from him, too. He seemed to understand her implicitly and his creativity encouraged hers the way iron sharpens iron. Jack and Natalie were like kindred souls, what a rare and beautiful thing. Natalie will forever be able to recognize the qualities of a real friend because of Jack. His example of friendship was such an extraordinary gift to her, to us and to all of his friends. We feel indescribably blessed to have had Jack in our lives for even a short time. We thought of Jack as part of our family; we loved him as one of our own.

Natalie and I have been coping by sharing our Jack memories together, and while our hearts are still sad, every one of our memories of Jack is a happy one. Natalie has been able to find comfort in knowing that Jack knew just how much she loved him, and she knows that he loved her too. Trying to make sense of things, she told me that maybe her guardian angel needed a little help and God must have thought Jack would be perfect for the job. I had to smile at that, and I imagine that there is some project up in Heaven that Jack is in charge of right now. To say that he will be missed doesn’t come close to conveying the heartbreak that we feel in his passing. We know we’ll always see things that make us think of Jack, and we’ll smile through our tears every time we remember him. Thank you for sharing your son with us and with so many others. He truly and profoundly touched our hearts. What a sweet, precious little boy.

And this is what I sent to his mom as I was thinking about his birthday.

Hi Lana -

I wanted to let you know that we are thinking of you today. A couple of weeks ago, Natalie was helping me pack for our Spring Break trip to see my parents, and we were reminded of the day we left for Spring Break last year. I came to Westridge to pick Natalie up at lunchtime and she wanted to say goodbye to Jack before we left. Jack was in the cafeteria line with his back to us. I called his name and tapped him on the shoulder but he wouldn't turn around. He'd been crying and he didn't want us to see. I hugged him and promised him that Natalie would call him when we got to Texas that night. Nat and I remembered Jack's voicemail messages where he told us all about his surgery and how happy it made Nat to hear from him while we were away.

While we were packing, I got out my Super Gigantic Purse, the one I always take on trips since it's roughly the size of a Volkswagen. I hadn't unpacked it since the last trip, and inside it I found the little New Address card you sent out when you moved to Wildwood. I had put it in my purse so we could send Jack and Lily postcards from San Antonio. Inside the card was a little note from Jack that said, "Dear Natalie, thank you for being my friend and always caring about me." I also found a postcard Nat had written to Jack that we couldn't send because she had written over the place where you're supposed to write the address. She told him she missed him and that it was really warm in Texas. I showed both the note and the postcard to her, and of course we both cried and cried. But in a strange way, I was so comforted by it. It felt like he knew we'd been thinking about him.

We think about him all the time. Something always reminds Natalie of Jack. He still motivates her to do her best. When she does a good job on a spelling test or uses her neatest handwriting, she says, "Jack would be proud of me!" and I know he would. I think about you all every morning when I look out the kitchen window and see the house where you used to live. And I pray for you every day.

I know tomorrow is Jack's birthday and I just wanted to tell you that we'll be thinking of Jack and of you. We were thinking of planting some flowers in the backyard to remember him. We miss him so, so much.


And she wrote me back.

Thank you so much. I know you are thinking about Jack a lot. He will always be Natalie's guardian angel I think, all the way through her life. We had a special day for him at my Mom's house yesterday. We looked at all the photos and watched a video Westridge had made about the mural on the front of the school. Both Jack and Natalie were interviewed for it. It hurt to watch, but it made me happy too.

What a loving boy he was. How fond of Natalie! I have attached a note I found that he made for her last spring (I think it was during spring break). I hope it will bring a smile to your faces.

It did.


DomesticOverlord said...

Well, crap. That was, like, the saddest thing ever. You think that I'd stop reading it when I started balling my eyes out but no, I kept on going. I have to go hug my kids.

Jennifer said...

Jack sounds like he was a sweet, special little boy. What a loss.

Penny Karma said...

Seriously, I've cried a little bit every day for the last 8 months.

Trillian42 said...

What a beautiful soul Jack must have been, and how lucky Natalie was to have known him, even for such a short time.

Thank you for sharing him with us.

Bezzie said...

Aw geeze, you made me cry too. DO's on to something, I'm gonna go squeeze my little man.

turtlegirl76 said...

My turn to cry now. And I don't even have kids. What a beautiful, sad story. From beginning to end.

jessica o said...

Precious angels. I am so sorry Nat had to experience such a huge loss at such a young age.