15 years. Sounds like a long time, doesn’t it? It is and isn’t all at the same time.
I remember it so clearly. 15 years ago I was finishing up my last class at the University of Sioux Falls. I had just moved into an apartment off campus with two of my friends. Our phone had yet to be hooked up and it was before cell phones were in everyone’s pockets.
I headed to the campus, parked and went inside Jeschke Hall, where my art class was. I was almost finished with college. A great feeling! Then I saw my pastor, Steve Miller, in the hallway. Steve wasn’t typically at the campus, we had a weekly group that met at church but I was always happy to see him. His face was grim as he delivered the news: my cousin, Jay, had been killed in a car accident.
When news like that is delivered, it’s hard to take in. You want to ask if the person is joking but you know they aren’t. Jay was young, just 18. It was his first year in college, he had a girlfriend and his adult life was just beginning. He was a ornery guy, always playing jokes, always a smile on his face. There were five cousins on our side at the time so we all were more like siblings than cousins.
All I could think was that I had to tell my brother. My parents hadn’t been able to get a hold of him so I was the one who went to the campus radio station, where I was manager, picked up the phone and delivered the news. Not news that you want to deliver to anyone, much less your brother.
So you go through the stages of grief and try to heal but there are still things that bring Jay to mind. I took pictures of a senior guy a few years ago and he reminded me of Jay. Frogs remind me of Jay (yes, there is a story there). Hunting reminds me of Jay and his love of the outdoors.
And every year at this time I have a feeling of sadness wash over me as the anniversary approaches. The thing that consoles me is that I have happy memories of our time on earth, fond memories of Christmases and family gatherings. Most of all, I cherish the fact that someday I will see his mischievous grin again.
By the way, the photo below was taken at my high school graduation. I am in the back with my brother, Scott, and our cousins (from L-R) are Sara, Lisa and Jay. RIP Jay, you are always missed.