Love Beyond Tragedy

On September 15, 2018 we attended the wedding of Jenn, my brother’s granddaughter.  A few years earlier my sisters and I had been reunited with my brother Lyle and his family, following a long estrangement. When Lyle became ill, we were grateful to Jenn for contacting us and giving us the opportunity to spend some time with Lyle  and heal old wounds before his passing. When we heard of Jenn’s wedding, I wasn’t sure we would be invited because of the years of estrangement. We knew the wedding day would be bitter sweet because of the tragedies that had occurred in Jenn’s family in the last few years.

The wedding was beautiful, even though so many people who should have been there were no longer with us.  In 2014, shortly after we were  we were reconciled with the family,  Jenn’s mother, Janet, was killed in a lone vehicle accident while delivering newspapers during the early morning hours.  Reports say she fell asleep at the wheel and was killed instantly.  My sisters and I did not know the family well, but couldn’t help but feel the pain and loss they were experiencing.

Janet was a beautiful and devoted wife, a young mother and grandmother, who had just turned 47 years old.  The loss of Janet was unbearable to her family—her husband, Mike, daughter Jenn, and son Josh, plus four young grandchildren. The family pulled together and supported each other through anguished tears.  At the time, Jenn’s three children and Josh’s young daughter, Aaliyah, were unable to grasp the magnitude of the loss of their grandmother.  When I saw the family, I had no idea what to say to them—how do you get over such a shock.  Josh was in his twenties, still living at home with his father, and Aaliyah was often with him so they were a comfort to Mike. My brother, Lyle, who was in hospital and nearing the end of his life, was devastated by the loss of Janet.  We tried to offer the family as much support as we could under the circumstances.

But our time with my brother was short.  On January 31, 2015, just three short months after Janet passed, Lyle took his last breath.  My heart ached for all the lost time we would never recover.  This was another blow to the family—still raw from the death of their beloved Janet.

Following the death of my brother, we kept contact with the family, as my sisters and I wanted to be a part of their lives.  We went on a family camping trip and they were learning to live with their new normal.

Josh met a great girl and they found a house and moved in together.  Always was the adventurous type, Josh decided to buy a motorcycle.  He was beginning to enjoy life again and often out riding with his buddies.  Then the unthinkable happened.  On his way to work one morning he was involved in a collision.  He received massive head injuries and was rushed to the hospital.  Jenn and Mike and a group of Josh’s closest friends gathered together in the hospital waiting room sharing stories of Josh, all hopeful he would recover.When Mike and Jenn were called into a private room with the doctor, they both knew it wasn’t going to be good.  The doctor informed them that Josh had no chance of surviving and said it would be best to remove him from life support.  The pain was too familiar, less than two years after the death of Josh’s mother and grandfather, another loss.  A heroic decision was made, as Jenn knew her mother and Josh would have wanted to help others: Mike and Jenn made the decision to donate Josh’s organs.  Life support was removed on July 19, 2016 and the family had to say a tearful good bye to a young son, brother, and father.  Not wanting to intrude on their grief, my sisters and I kept a distance but offered support when possible.

Jenn carried on her daily life, while unable to ignore the tremendous loss of her mother and brother.  She cared for her three children, supported her dad and maintained a special relationship with Josh’s daughter Aaliyah.  Eventually I became aware from Facebook posts there was a new man in Jenn’s life.  Chad and Jenn seemed to be a good fit and we were happy there was finally some happiness in the family.  We believed the losses were over, until we were all on a camping trip and I received a call that my older sister was in the hospital with pneumonia.  One year after Josh’s passing my sister passed.  More pain, more loss, four deaths within four short years.  Our hearts were heavy with tears, but our choices are limited, we have to go on.

So, that September 15, 2018, that wedding day provided renewed hope for everyone.  Jenn and her new husband Chad had found each other.  Chad had been fighting his own demons and Jenn was able to rise up from the pain and loss in her own life to help Chad begin again.  The wedding was beautiful.  All those people who had gone in the years before were clearly represented at this wedding.  When Josh’s young daughter walked down the aisle with Jenn’s daughter, I felt the tears well up, as I’m sure most people did.  I believe Chad and Jenn were brought together to heal each other and create a beautiful life together.

No matter what life dishes out, we all have to make choices for our future.

More about Josh can be found in Josh’s Story, previously published in the April 28, 2017 edition of The Voice Magazine.