Monday, October 28, 2013

an open letter to the district attorney's office of rutherford county, nc

my mother tells me that the DA's office would like each of the surviving children to write a letter detailing how the loss of our father has impacted our lives. these letters would then be available to be read in court if and when the court date regarding his accident ever comes--right now it's been pushed out and is scheduled for november 5th, a day when none of us can go. i have thought long and hard about whether or not to comply with this request, and in the end, i decided that if it was to be a public declaration, then it deserves a place here on the blog.

To: The Office of the District Attorney, District 29A, Mr. David S. Norris, Jr., Assistant D.A.
From: Jackie Jones
RE: The death of Jerry M. Jones, June 13, 2013

Dear Mr. Norris,

Dealing with my father's death is an ongoing process. I have finished the paperwork dealing with the settlements of two insurance companies regarding the valuation of my father's property and his life. Both settlements are done and the money paid--money for a life, which could never be replaced, even for a hundred thousand times the amount. I wrote another letter for that settlement, in which i described the financial impact of his life, his health at the time of his death, and the expenses resulting from losing him. That one was hard, too.

The physical impact of my father's death is everything you would expect from any life cut short, and more, because he was simply tremendous. He was charismatic and a natural leader, and the holes he left with our family, in the Rutherford Country community, and in the organizations he cared about are unfillable. Talk to the people at Habitat for Humanity about the work he did for them--that place was my father's church and the calling of his retirement. They have not yet been able to replace him, through an entire building season.

Here's the thing--how can you say what the emotional impact of a person's death is? I feel so cheated. My father was in good health and could well have lived well into his nineties, like his mother and her father before him. Or not--cancer and heart disease can strike any of us at any time, with no warning. He could have lived through June 13th only to find out a week later he was going to die of a slow horrible cancer. There is no way to know, right? But he didn't live, and he didn't die of any natural cause. He died because another driver on the road made a mistake. Right after the accident, I went and looked at the road where he died. It was easy to see how it could have happened. There's a 4 inch drop off a shoulder that isn't wide enough for the curve--a tire goes off, you over-correct, pop back up over the shoulder, and before you know it, you are on the wrong side of a curve slamming into a motorcycle. I empathize with Caleb Owens and his family and what they must be going through. But it's hard to see through the rage of grief sometimes, too. My father is gone, and I miss him every single day.

I am angry that my young sons will barely remember their grandfather, if at all. I am angry that he will not get to impart to them his knowledge of the world or teach them his amazing work ethic. I am sad they will not get to hear the stories he told with such humor and enthusiasm. I am sad they will not learn to hone an argument as I did, with him as an opponent. I am sad that he will not get to teach them to give back to their community and take care of their families the way my father always did. 

I am mortified for my mother, who has lost her companion of 55 years. She is alone now in a house that she has always thought of as his, taking care of his dogs on her own, forced into a new level of independence that was utterly unwanted in her golden years. She's dealing with the day to day things that now remain undone because of my father's death: a new roof, oil changes for the car, yard work. Simple things, until they aren't. As his death becomes more and more real, she is ever more lonely. I worry about her every day.

I am sad for my sister who has lost so much financial and logistics support in losing our dad. As a single parent with an inflexible manufacturing job, she probably relied on my dad more than any of us for the day-to-day support that only family can bring. And my mother is stepping into that void, but she is not able to maintain the same pace and level of involvement as my father, and it's setting limits for both my sister and her daughter.

And maybe most of all, I am depressed for my brother. As long as I can remember, it's been the three of them, Jay, Doug, and Daddy. We lost Doug two years ago to kidney cancer, which is something from which our family, and especially Jay, is still recovering. When Doug died, I was holding his hand in one of mine, and Daddy's hand in my other. And now my father is gone, too. There are so many pictures of the three of them--it's hard to see those and know that only one remains. Jay's entire adult life has been modeled after our dad's. They worked together, played together, fought and laughed together. And now, Jay feels the weight of responsibility for our entire family with Daddy gone--he is the last man standing.

For me, I miss the security of knowing my father was there to help me if I needed him. I miss hugging him. I miss the sound of his voice. There are small reminders of him literally everywhere I go--I cry in the car a lot. I have trouble on the highway when I see anyone on a motorcycle, fearing for the unknown driver. The outgoing message on my mother's answering machine is still my father's voice--I downloaded software so I could call and record that message, feeling a bit foolish, but clinging to that sound all the same. I wear his watch on my arm for the comfort of his presence. I miss watching the blooming relationship between my father and my partner, Jason--they had just begun to find their way through a sometimes rocky friendship. And I am so very disappointed that if Jason and I decide to get married, my father will not be there to witness it.

We are entering a holiday season, our first without my dad--who will sit at the head of the table now?

Whatever happens, please consider that my father was a large presence, hugely impactful on everyone with whom he came into contact. His legacy is far-reaching and impossible to describe, much like the man himself. His loss is quite a hard weight to bear, for all of us.

Thank-you for your time,
Jackie Jones, youngest daughter of Jerry Jones

Wednesday, August 07, 2013


there is mud on my desk from photographing the boot my father was wearing when he died, for the insurance company. my heart is as heavy as his watch feels on my arm. it has been nearly two months since my father was killed in a motorcycle accident, and i have only just begun to believe it.

there is a staggering weight of paperwork associated with death, especially a death related to a traffic accident. it begins almost literally the moment that a person dies, and it feels very much like it may never end, even though it's only been two months, and i believe the finish line is close before us. in the case of my father, it has meant planning and executing a funeral, dealing with a cremation and the resulting ashes, obtaining death certificates, changing bank accounts, backing up and changing passwords for his computer, extracting contacts and photographs from his ruined phone, filing claims with two separate insurance companies related to the accident itself, talking to claims adjusters and handlers till i am blue in the face, and supporting my mother as she has dealt with the administration of his estate, the vehicles, the financial investments, the yard and the house, the dogs, the letters and the thank-you notes. we are not done. we are hip deep in liability and property settlements with the insurance companies. the boy who hit my father has a court date pending next week. each milestone brings me and my mother and brother and sister closer to the moment when we have to face that it is done and that my father is truly dead and gone.

my grandmother died last fall at 94. my great-grandfather lived to be 99, almost 100. my father was 76 and in fantastic health for his age. he was active and taking care of himself. he was still sharp as a tack. and i admit, i expected to have another 20 years of him with me on this earth. i feel robbed. i feel like at any second, someone could come in and tell me that this was a horrible mistake, and that really he is alive and well. i know this is all normal. it's odd how you can compartmentalize so much, and then be so utterly taken aback by some detail that you don't expect. i was helping my mother assess the blue book value of one of my father's trucks, and i went to the truck to get the manual. i opened the door, and it smelled like him. that was my worst moment so far, by a wide mile--like a punch in the gut.

my father was a strong man, seemingly invincible. he was often kinder and more generous with strangers than he was with his family. from us, he expected near-perfection, and was satisfied with no less. he was harsh sometimes, but all of us loved him in spite of that. his often gruff exterior hid, many times, a desire to help and take care of us all. sometimes not--sometimes it was more about control. it's been an interesting experience to see how my outward facing father was respected and loved, and it's been eye opening how different a person can be on the outside and the inside. i will miss the man forever, even though i often wanted to kill him myself. he and my mother raised me to be an independent thinker, and then i think maybe they regretted that when i turned out to disagree with so many of their beliefs about things, especially my dad's. and yet, he had my respect, always, even in the darkest of times. and my love, too.

no matter how it comes, losing a parent simply sucks. losing one so suddenly is a strange thing. i am happy for my father that his death was not a long, lingering illness that robbed him of his self or his dignity or his mind. i am happy that he had a good day the day he died, and that he died doing something he loved. and yet--i am so unprepared for it! there were no goodbyes. it had been too long since i had seen him. i have no idea what the last thing i said to him was, and i will never know. i hope i told him i loved him. but even if i didn't, i know that he knew. i am grateful beyond words that there was no unfinished business between us when he died.

i am sure this will not be the last i write about him--this is just the beginning of me processing everything after a summer of tumult. it is heavy on my soul today because of another sudden death. and in the end, as trite as it sounds, tell your people you love them. tell them over and over. give them hugs and kisses and caring. it ends too soon.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

where does it go?

it's almost the end of march, many months after my last post. i have no idea how time passes as quickly as it does. this has been a full, full year--some good and some less so. the children are thriving and growing, and i feel so very lucky to have the life i have, even though it's a chaotic mess most days.our family is (mostly) healthy, (mostly) happy, and (mostly) enjoying each other.

today is maudlin for me--i am thinking about the mad rush two years ago to get to my brother's side before he drew his last breath. tomorrow is the second anniversary of his death, and in many ways, it is still an open wound. as adults, we weren't close for many years, but there is something intangible about knowing that your brother is there that just can't be replaced when he is gone. when his second daughter and then my first son were born, we saw each other more, talked more, and gave each other more support. when he got sick, all i did was read and read and read and try to prepare him and my parents and myself for what lay ahead--for the waste that cancer brings. i can't express how much hate that awful disease. my knitting group has a young friend, a barrista at the cafe where we knit, who got sick last fall and recently died after a brief, intense battle with lukemia. he was not quite 21 years old. another friend has a girlfriend who just had a malignant tumor removed from her brain, and is facing the long road to recovery and a lifetime of monitoring. she is in her 30s and has 3 small boys at home, one with special needs. so many families i know are affected by this horrible disease in so many ways. it's an emotional roller coaster for the patient and for all those who care about them. sometimes even for those who know them only peripherally. but you have to keep the faith. there are always cases like the hippie's aunt, a walking miracle, who had clean scans after a 4-year battle with a glioblastoma, a terrible brain cancer that is almost always swiftly fatal. medical science is a wonder, literally uncovering new solutions every single day.

anyway. this is what i am thinking about today as i go through all the motions of my job and mothering my family. i am treasuring the moments in front of me, no matter how frustrating or mundane or beautiful. i am reminding myself that life is a gift. i am seeking ways to make mine matter more.