Like millions of other Minnesotans and Midwesterners, I spent much of last weekend in tears. When I wasn’t crying, I spent the rest of my time on my knees praying for the family of Jacob Wetterling. Much like other moments in history, I remember exactly where I was when I learned of his disappearance. I was a college junior in North Dakota, eating supper with my family. We prayed then and we pray now for his family. At the time, my sister was just a month shy of her seventh birthday. Around that time a little girl went missing from our neighborhood. Unlike Jacob’s story, hers had a happy ending. She, at three years old, decided to ride her tricycle to the Dairy Queen about 8 blocks away. I stayed behind with the neighborhood kids while the adults formed a search party. Long before the advent of the cellular era, word finally came back that she had been found. After all the kids had gone to their respective homes, I held my baby sister really tight and made her promise she would never, never, NOT EVER, do something like that. In her naivete, she responded with I don’t even know how to get to the Dairy Queen. Through my tears, I laughed, but the reality was the carefree days of letting your children play and run about the neighborhood were gone.
Because of the actions of one, the innocence of a child, a family, and an entire region were stolen. We sang along to the Jacob’s Hope song, we looked at every child’s face hoping he would be Jacob, but mostly we cried and we prayed. Jacob’s story and his beautiful full-of-life face were burned into our collective psyche.
It would be many years before I would be married and have a son of my own, and through all this time, I have admired the quiet, displayed strength of Jacob’s mom, Patty. I would shake my head and wonder how she could go on each and every day with such a gigantic hole in her heart. To me, and I am certain to countless other moms, she was a pillar of strength, although I am equally certain she never wanted to have that label.
Every time a new “break in the case” would occur, I would pray for peace and for answers, knowing both had to be in short supply for the Wetterling family. At some point in time, Patty’s face became as iconic to me as Jacob’s. She was the face of every mom’s worst nightmare, and, selfishly, I thanked God that I wasn’t her because I never wanted to walk in her shoes.
This isn’t a message about being careful what you wish for, but I now know what that prayer of thanks looks like on the countenance of other people. While my story and Patty’s are not at all similar, I know the deep grief of losing a son under tragic circumstances, and I know grief is never comparable. I know what it is like to be today’s news story, and I know what it is like to have news media camped out on my lawn and at the hospital where my other son was fighting to live. I know what it is like to lose friends because they just can’t stand to think that their children might die too, and I know the pain of someone asking “Aren’t you over that yet?”. I know all the wrong things people say when they are trying to comfort grieving people.
I recall the days where if someone said, “You’re so strong,” to me one more time, I was going to punch them because what they don’t see (and probably what we don’t see of Patty’s life) are the days where tears are all I have to offer the world. There are plenty of days where getting out of bed seems like an insurmountable task. But, just as I hope is true for Patty, there are days I can physically feel the prayers and well wishes sent our way, and I go on.
With a huge hole in my heart and with scars of pain that sear deeply, I go on. We go on.
I am sure Patty saw our news story of four children dying in a school bus crash and thought about us too. She just strikes me as that kind of mom and dynamo in this world. And even though she and I have never met and quite possibly never will, when I was crying or praying this weekend, I had a burning desire to want to protect her from all the things I know are coming her way. While I cannot do that, nor would I want to disrupt their private grieving, I can do one thing.
That one thing is to be the antithesis to Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign. My message today is all about don’t. As the news broke about the possible discovery of sweet Jacob, social media and news media went bonkers. With each posting and reposting, my heart broke for Jacob, for Patty, for his brother and his friend, for his dad Jerry, for his sisters, and for all the rest of his family. In my own quiet momma corner of the world, I wanted everyone to just stop saying one word.
Don’t. Just don’t.
This word was used often after the trial and conviction of the woman at fault in our story, but let me tell you there was absolutely not one ounce, not even a scintilla, of closure. My son has been gone for 8 ½ years now, and I am NEVER going to have closure. Neither is my husband or our kids or families. Patty and Jerry won’t either.
We will all go on, but this side of heaven we won’t find this elusive closure.
Just don’t say it. Don’t post it. Just don’t. The Wetterlings have endured more than what most people could and they have done so with grace, going on to fight to save and protect all of our children. Let’s not diminish their courage and fortitude with the word closure.
We can close on a house. We can close the door, literally and figuratively. We close on business deals. But we don’t ever CLOSE on our children. The love a mother has for children is a love so deep that it doesn’t have an ending. Ever. Period. Amen.
Closure – Stop saying it. Refrain from posting it. Don’t think it. Don’t utter it. Do not even breathe it around grieving people. Remove it from the vernacular. Don’t. Just don’t.
I know I am not the only one who has cried and prayed for the Wetterlings this weekend. I also know I am not the only one who has bristled at the flagrant use of that awful word. I believe a small educational lesson can go a long way to help all grieving people, and I am simply sorry it has to be for Jacob.
Yet, his mother has taught us so much about grace and dignity and hope. So, even though I will most likely never meet her, I had to smile when I saw her message for us all as her words echoed the message I gave shortly after the bus crash. I shared a statement that was read on my behalf about the amazingness known as my son, Reed, and asked everyone to go home and hug their children.
As much as I desire for people to “not say the word closure,” we can all DO something. Patty’s message to all of us is something we can and should do for the Wetterlings, but mostly to honor the boy we have all grown to love.
As for me and my house, we are going to hug the mess out of our kids and believe in the good in the world.