Well I guess I better get one more blog post in before November gets away from me. It is going on four months now since we lost Jesse and I have still not fully comprehended the magnitude of the loss. It’s still hard to believe he is gone and we buried his body that horrible day in August and yet it is the first thing I remember every morning when I awake from a restless sleep of fragmented dreams, usually about him. Right before the recent U.S. presidential election I dreamed Jesse had been sentenced to death for accidentally emailing one classified document and I woke up saying over and over, “There must be something we can do!” Then I remembered he had already received the death penalty for an even more innocent accident: taking the wrong two prescription drugs too close together. At least based on the autopsy reports that is our best guess.
As the holiday approaches I have taken several proactive actions to help me live through the season. I often feel like all my routines and proactive actions are braces to keep my ragged body from collapsing to messy puddle of grief on the floor. One of my proactive actions is to drive to the mountains. We have taken a couple of trips westward: one for Thanksgiving with my sister and her husband and one to the Blue Ridge Parkway just for the hell of it, and are planning another trip for Christmas.
I am looking forward to Christmas with family and have already done way more frantic shopping than I usually do this far before the 25th. Christmas shopping is something that props me up – gathering pretty new things for other people. I am simple that way. But I nearly lost it at Kohl’s when I had to choose just one set of flannel pajamas instead of two. It was always a tradition of mine to get my sons new jammies for Christmas, whether they wanted them or not.
As I mentioned we are going away for Christmas, something we have never done. I guess I thought it might be a little less painful that way. I could not face putting up the big real Christmas tree and seeing all those ornaments I bought over the years at craft shows with Jesse’s name on them: the four teddy bears, the four stockings, the elves. And then there are all those “Jesse’s First Christmas” baby ones. My hands tremble at the very thought of touching those.
We have decided to put up a small tree instead this year, to start a new “angel tree” tradition in Jesse’s memory. Even that will be hard, but I still love Christmas and want to celebrate it as well as we can. Over the years I have gone through many different Christmas stages: loving it more than anything else in the world, dreading it, getting stressed out over it, having a love/hate relationship with it, wanting to love it more than I did, and many times, trying to simplify it and make it less materialistic and commercial. But this year more than ever, pagan origins or not, it is the celebration of the incarnation of the my only source of true comfort. There are many things that give me temporary relief from the pain of grief – shopping, work, writing, reading, going to lunch with friends – but these are like calamine lotion on raging poison ivy. The relief is superficial and brief.
Only when I turn to the Lord Jesus in concentrated prayer to do I begin to detect anything deeper that the most superficial relief of the pain. This is why I believe: because He is true and Real with a capital “R.” When you suffer the loss of a child you know what is Real and what is not. Only He can relieve the pain and solve the problem of death. Only in His promise of eternal life is there hope of a permanent solution to the problem: resurrection and the eventual reunion with the beloved.
Like a 19th-century American pioneer who has traversed the Great Plains and is now into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains with the skies threatening a blizzard, I now face the roughest terrain on my journey of grief: the dreaded holidays. My main concern is that I do not cast a pallor on the holidays for those others who are still living in a grief-free world.
One thing I have realized is that when your child dies you no longer live in the same reality you used to live in. You have entered a parallel universe, slightly askew from the old one. However, you find that in your new reality you have lots of company. You realize that people have been suffering this grief the whole time you have been alive but you have been oblivious, dressing your children in their feet jammies and hanging stockings and anticipating their faces on Christmas morning and assuming you would be enjoying their presence for the rest of your earthly life. I have been reading other blogs written by mothers who have lost children and have been to my first meeting of Compassionate friends.
Jesse was the most magical of children and seeing his bright face full of reverent wonder on a Christmas Eve was heaven on earth to me. No child fully lived that Christmas magic more than he did and no one expressed more joy on Christmas morning and no child (except Aaron) looked cuter in feet jammies. Now all those memories and pictures feel like a dagger in my heart. I don’t fully understand why. That child was long gone before he died. But the young adult Jesse was his continuation, the one who embodied the memories. His adult self was a satisfying replacement for the child who used to be. But now that embodiment is gone.
Well it is what it is and was what it was, and I am learning to live in the present. When I can let go of the past and live in the present, I can feel Jesse’s presence and can begin to appreciate his new kind of life and to look forward to being with him in that new life soon enough. We are doing some good things to help us get through the rough terrain of the December. We are going to celebrate his birthday on December 10th with a small gathering of family and friends – a potluck and cake and a slide show and maybe a candlelight trip to his grave, but I am really having second thoughts about the trip to the grave. I don’t think I want to do that. We are going to go away for Christmas to my sister’s house in the mountains – a big change in the way we have always celebrated Christmas. We are going to start a new tradition at home: an angel tree in Jesse’s memory and also to remember all the loved ones we have lost. Tom’s mother used to an angel tree and I always loved the idea.
This is my prayer for help during the holidays:
Dear Lord Jesus,
Out of all the millions of egg and sperm cells in his parents’ bodies You created wonderful one-of-a-kind Jesse, a beautiful child. His flame burned bright but short-lived on this earth and we are left broken-hearted, but not in despair as if we believed him gone forever. We live in the happy knowledge that he is alive and that the light he lit here on earth continues to shine and grow in the next stage of his existence.
I would like to stop looking back and what is lost and stop grieving for the kind of future that will never be. I ask Your help in living now in the new reality l, that You will help me to know and feel and experience the love and joy of what is now, and to be able to know and feel and talk to Jesse just as he is now. Tell him how much I love him. Amen.
Wes’ post was touching. I remember that day well. Reading that made me want to write about Jesse running for mayor and how it started.
Like Wes said, for the majority of the time Jesse stayed quiet at work. He was even quiet when hanging out outside of work. If he said something, it was worth saying and worth listening to. Jesse didn’t waste his breath on much chit chat but I remember one night he got this idea, and he lit up taking about it.
It was a Saturday night and Chris (our boss & owner of Shiny Computers) wasn’t there. This is when both Jesse and I would sort of come out of our shells. It was incredibly slow and Jesse and I were discussing music (my love for it and how he absolutely despised it). I kept coming up with different genres and he kept telling me “it doesn’t matter what you say, you’ll still get the same answer”.
An older gentlemen came in to the store and we were glad to have a possible customer. I started talking to the guy and he made it clear that he was not a customer but was running for mayor. He proceeds to tell me his plans and basically his life story. Jesse must have overheard him talking because he came from behind the work bench. At first I thought “that was really nice of Jesse, saving me from hearing this guy go on and on” because honestly, I wasn’t interested in it. I was wrong though, Jesse wasn’t just being nice, he was really interested in what this guy was saying and listened to him for at least 30 minutes.
When the gentleman left Jesse returned to his work bench and was silent for a few minutes but it wasn’t his normal silence where he would be quiet and concentrating on his work. He was sitting there deep in thought. After a few minutes he said “I am going to run for mayor and I want you to help with my campaign.” Jesse had an amazing dry sense of humor and I thought he was joking at first. (I actually wasn’t 100% if he was just messing with me or not for a few days.) For the last hour and a half before closing time (it was unusually slow this night) Jesse told me the guy who had come in’s plans and then why his plans were better and why he would make a better mayor.
It took Jesse all of 10 minutes to start making plans for how he would better Portsmouth and help the residents and small business owners. It was great seeing him get excited about something and quite amazing how quickly his mind worked. Within a few days we had made a Facebook page along with a website (www.jesseapplewill.win). Jesse was really taking it seriously and I was too because Jesse had helped me so much at work, I wanted to help him. I also thought of how he could help the city of Portsmouth. He realized his chances were slim but thought he could possibly upset the vote.
I really think whether or not Jesse had become Mayor, he would have made a difference in this world regardless. I know he made a big impact on my life and taught me so many different things.
There have been a few times when I have said or done something that only Jesse would get and I have heard his laughter. A sound I really miss. I know there will never be another Jesse Apple but I am going to take all of the things he taught me and be a better person because of having him in my life.
Hello everyone. My name is Wesley. I used to work with Jesse at Shiny Computers. I thought I’d take a little bit of my time to write about my experiences and interactions with Jesse as a friend and coworker. I’ll try to keep this as short and sweet as I can.
When Jesse first came over to Shiny, he was very quiet and to himself. Day after day, Jesse would come into work and not really talk much. He was constantly focused on his work and he just wanted to do it right. At the time, I was the iPhone and iPad technician and he did a bunch of the computer side of things. I would teach Jesse how to do the iPads because he had already mastered the phone repairs from his previous job at Phone Home.
As time went on, Jesse eventually started to become very well rounded in all things “Apple” due to our boss, Chris, showing him the ropes. Chris and Jesse worked really well together. Both of these gentlemen were very intelligent and had an absolute love for technology. Jesse quickly worked his way into a management position at the shop. His know-how, fast-paced repair times, attention to detail, and many other skills made this an easy decision. He did a lot for the Shiny Computers and helped set the foundation for how technicians should be.
He answered any ridiculous question I would have (there were a lot), and he never got annoyed with it. All in all, Jesse was the epitome of an fantastic employee/coworker. The one thing I loved about Jesse was his humor. Especially at work. His dry humor was so hilarious and would make you laugh for a few minutes. He just knew when to chime in to make us all burst into laughter and you could still see his smirk as he quietly went back to work.
There are so many great things about Jesse that I could write about, but maybe I can write a few more of these another time. I miss him. This was the first passing of a friend that I was close to. It hit me hard. It hit us all hard. I catch myself thinking about him a lot. Jesse was such an amazingly talented and brilliant person. There was so much hidden underneath his quiet demeanor that I wish I could have learned more of! I have plenty of memories with Jesse that I will cherish forever. The world could use more of him… Until next time, Jesse. I love you, man.”
Two months ago today I found out my son had died. I don’t know if it is this anniversary or the fact that it is a dreary rainy day when it should be a sunny autumn day or if it is just another sad day like each of the last 60 days, but today I am unbearably sad. I cannot reason myself out of it and today even prayer hardly makes a dent in this dark night of my soul.
Jesse is in heaven – I have no doubt of that. God has a purpose that will be clearer to me some day. I am sure of that. I will see Him again, and mourning will be to turned to joy. Yes I am sure of that too. But today, in this moment, my precious baby, the one I gave my heart and soul to, the warm little boy I held so many nights, who I read to and laughed with and labored over homework with, who I drove to school so many rushed mornings, for whom I screamed “Go Jesse!” at so many track meets, is dead. That my son, a young man with so much promise and so many ideas and plans, should have died for no apparent reason is still incomprehensible.
Many friends have reached out to comfort me these two months, and I have appreciated every one of them. And our talks and lunches have helped, and I am profoundly touched by anyone whom has made the least attempt to offer comfort. It is not an easy thing to do. If there is anything this life is about it is offering love and comfort to people who need it and right now I need it. I hope to be able to do the same for someone else at some point.
I try to cheer myself up by thinking of ways, even the simplest ways, I can make the rest of my life mean something. Even if the rest of my life were not going to be very long, I’d want the minutes and hours to be as full and meaningful as they could be. Aaron and I have decided to start trying to cook Indian food and I have bought our basic starter spices. We made chana masala last night with mixed results. Little things.
The problem is the life seemed to be sucked out of me. The things that so recently were important to me like improving my art and writing good essays and stories seem very near devoid of meaning now. I have tried to draw a little but the spirit for it is not there. I am able to write but only about Jesse and grief. My other blogs are sadly neglected.
In half-hearted anticipation that I might want to eventually start anew, I am thinking of approaching The College of William and Mary and asking if it would be in the realm of possibility to finish my Masters degree. I did all the coursework before Jesse was born. That gives you an idea of how long ago it was. But they still have the transcript with my 3.8 GPA and maybe they would consider that I have continued my literature studies all my life and let me take the comprehensive exam or write the thesis to get the Masters. Can’t hurt to ask I suppose.
I have also ordered a whole bunch of books on tutoring reading and writing. I am somewhat qualified for this kind of work. I did teach Jesse to read when he was in first grade and I homeschooled Aaron for 8th, 11th, and 12th grade. Also long ago I did some tutoring. I don’t think I’d want to do classroom teaching but working one-on-one might be a way I can do something meaningful. The ache in my heart should not stop me from doing what I can with my life. I don’t think I could do any of this right this minute because I still keep crying at inopportune moments and I don’t want to make people sad or uncomfortable. But maybe someday. And I can at least start preparing for that someday.
These verses, Colossians 3:23-24, have been seeping into my mind today: “And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for you serve the Lord Christ.”
I understand the need to do things as unto the Lord and totally want to do that. It’s the “heartily” part I am having trouble mustering right now.
One day this past week I could not stop thinking “I should have known. Something must have been wrong. I should have seen.” Which day was that? It doesn’t matter because I have this same day again and again. I have other kinds of days too. The “Jesse would want me to be happy” kind of day is one of the better ones. But every so often the “I should have known” day rolls around. What should I have known? I don’t know exactly but my mind says, “I should have been quicker or more observant. There must have been signs and I was not quick enough or observant enough to see them.”
Just for the record, it is now two months after the event and we still do not have a cause of death. We have lots of maddening conjectures and theories but we really don’t know anything except that my son went to bed one night and did not wake up. He had some prescription medications. No other drugs were found in his room.
The previous Sunday, July 31st, I experienced a very intense and horrible premonition. I have gone over that day in my mind a hundred times, and I have told the story to several people who, bless their hearts, have listened sympathetically. But I need to write it down. Maybe that way I will begin to get it out of my system. I feel like there is a clue in that day that I am missing. Here’s what happened Sunday July 31st, one week before Jesse died:
He always came over for Sunday dinner because Sunday was his only day off from work. He also was in the habit of sleeping most of the day Sunday, “to catch up.” All his life, literally from birth, Jesse had sleep problems – problems getting to sleep and problems waking up. I talked to his pediatrician about it when he was little. I got lot of advice. One suggestion was when all else fails, there’s always Benadryl. I may have resorted to that once or twice, but did not like to depend of drugs to get him to sleep. As he got older he developed coping mechanisms to deal with his sleep issues, but it was always a struggle, especially school mornings. With 20/20 hindsight I now wish I had thought to have a sleep study done.
That Sunday morning I texted Jesse about dinner plans, as I always did. I didn’t get a response. Later I called, but he didn’t answer the phone. I tried texting and calling periodically throughout the day, becoming increasingly concerned. By the time he was supposed to be at our house for dinner I felt panic rising, an ominous feeling that things were not right. Just before 7 pm, I decided to drive to his apartment at Churchland Square, about 20 minutes from our house, thinking I might even pass him on the way. When I got to the apartment I saw his car in the parking lot. It was pouring rain that night, one of those Biblical deluges we keep getting around here. I banged on his apartment door.
He lived on the second floor and the outer door opened to a staircase leading to the inner door, so I don’t know how he would ever hear anyone knocking on that door. No one knocks anymore anyway. You just text that you are at the door. But I had already done that and called too and had gotten no answer. All my texts and phones calls seemed to be getting swallowed by black hole of silence. Then I sat in my car for 30 minutes in tears. “Dear Lord,” I prayed, “I just want to know that he’s okay. Just let me see that he’s okay. That’s all I ask.” I had never felt such a sense of fear before and had never prayed so hard and so directly in my life. Tom called and said I should just come home. Dinner was getting cold and anyway Jesse’s roommate would be home soon and he said he would check on him and call us.
A few minutes later Jesse’s roommate Kyle called Aaron, who was on a camping trip, and Aaron called Tom to tell him Kyle said Jesse was sleeping. It seemed a long chain to go through to get information, and I still didn’t feel sure all was well. Around 8:00 Jesse finally called. He said he was sorry, he just overslept. He would be over shortly. I collapsed into a chair in utter relief. “Thank you God!” I said. Everything was fine. I was just crazy. Thank God it was just me being crazy.
A little while later Jesse came over and when I saw him standing in the doorway I felt that same gush of grateful desperate relief I had been feeling all year every time I saw him, except this time more so. I told him I had been worried but didn’t tell him how worried. After all, my worry, I thought, was an unreasonable overreaction. Jesse was a healthy young adult after all. He had just had a thorough checkup in July.
“Jesse,” I said, “Did you take any substance that might have made you sleep extra hard?” “All I took was half a five-milligram melatonin,” he said. “I always sleep hard and I turn my phone off when I’m sleeping.” I felt relieved all over again and let myself be reassured. Then he sat down and we had a long pleasant conversation about this and that – work, his plans for taking online classes, his new campaign for Portsmouth mayor (a little shocking), and things going on in downtown Portsmouth. He showed us the mayor website his friend at work had just created. He seemed happy and enjoying his life.
Before he left he asked to borrow $100. Since moving out on his own a little more than a year ago, he had never asked to borrow money before and seemed a little uncomfortable about it. His rent, he said, was higher than usual for some reason, maybe because they had gone on a month-to-month lease recently. I gave him $150 and he said he’d pay it back on payday. I said we always help each other when we can and suggested he consider moving back home for a few months to save some money, especially if he was going back to school. He got a strange look in his eye – surprised and, I think, kind of pleased. “I’ll think about that,” he said. Tom said if he ever got short on money not to skimp on food because he could always come to us for help if he needed it. “You’re looking a little thin,” he said.
I spent that week doing the usual things, feeling good about life. A couple times I drove by Shiny Computers on my home from work and saw his car in the parking lot. All was well. Thursday, August 4th, I texted him that we were planning a trip to see his aunt and uncle in the mountains the weekend of the 26th if he wanted to come. He texted back that he’d see if he could get off work that weekend. That was the last time I heard from my son on this earth.
Sunday morning, August 7th, I texted him about dinner plans and did not get a reply. I texted and called several times throughout the day. “We’re having a repeat of last week,” I thought. But every time I started to feel the panic rising I would take a breath and calm myself, remembering how last week I had gotten myself all in a tizzy for nothing.
Tom grilled burgers and he, Aaron, and I sat down for dinner. Jesse didn’t show up. “Should I go over there?” I thought. “No,” I decided. He is an adult. He overslept again. But by the next morning I had not heard from him, and I knew in my heart something was wrong. Later that morning, while I was at work, I called Shiny Computers. The guy who answered said, “Jesse’s around here somewhere. I’ll have him call ya.” Then I “heard” the words – the silent but clear voice that seemed to come from my chest. “Carol,” said the voice. “It was time for him to go home.” The tone was compassionate but firm. My body reacted by melting into a quivering gelatinous mess. My mind went numb to the words.
I called Tom but didn’t tell him about the voice. “I’m going over to Shiny Computers right now,” I said. “I have not heard from Jesse and I need to see him.” Tom said he was heading that way anyway so he would go there and call me as soon as he got there. Thirty minutes later he called. “Jesse never showed up for work today,” he said. “I’m heading over to his apartment.” I was shaking. My body already knew what my mind was denying. A few minutes later the phone rang again and I got the news. That was the single most awful moment of my life. It plays over and over in my head. “Carol (ragged breath), Jesse is dead….” How does one take that in? I had heard that voice – “Carol it was time for him to go home” and this was the confirmation.
It is now two months later and I know it is not fair to Aaron to have a miserable mother. Aaron fills my heart with joy, just like Jesse always did, and I am so grateful for him. He is a wonderful, compassionate, resourceful, talented young man. But we are all sad. I feel the loss of Jesse as a crushing weight. I am quite functional, going about my life, working, writing, cooking, cleaning, only with a leaden weight in my chest that frequently swells and sends stabbing pains all over my body. I have read several books and blogs on grieving and losing a child but I can’t read them long. The gist seems to be that people do not recover from this kind of loss. Five, fifteen, twenty years later they are still sad and a lot of times their lives and families are impacted negatively.
These books are depressing. Most of them will say, rather weakly, that there can be some recovery, a “new normal”, a new way to live with some sense of happiness. One book (Beyond Endurance: When a Child Dies by Ronald J. Knapp, PhD) says that the death of a child is much like a diagnosis of terminal illness. Well that’s a cheery thought. Most experts define a “child” as a young person into the early twenties, but I imagine the trauma is the same for parents who outlive a child of any age. I have about decided that these books are just not helpful to me.
On the hopeful side, I have an appointment with a psychotherapist/grief counselor on Monday and will see where that goes. I owe it to Aaron, Tom, and the rest of the world to do anything I can to live a productive life for whatever time I have left. Tom and I met with our wonderful accountant yesterday about setting up a charitable foundation in Jesse’s name and honor. That gives me a tiny glimmer of joy. I’ll have more information about that soon.
Jesse has gotten a lot of attention since he died. I have certainly given him a great deal of thought and I’ve also heard quite a bit about him from others as they recall memories and impressions. It’s a little ironic because Jesse was never one to seek attention. I have mentioned that he needed a lot of my attention as a small child, but that’s different. Once he started school he tended to be on the quiet side. The older he got, the quieter he got. In the few final years of his life he was soft-spoken, tended to dress in muted colors, and never talked about himself unless specifically asked about something.
About four years ago I was putting laundry away in his room and I came across a stack of some drawings. He had obviously spent hours and hours on these works of art but I had never seen them before. I was stunned by their intricacy and beauty. Later I told him I had found his artwork and how incredible I thought it was. “Oh thanks,” he said casually. “I get hyper-focused.” I asked if I could show them to people, maybe share them of Facebook. He shrugged and said, “I guess. If you want to.” He did most of these beautiful drawings on notebook paper with Sharpie markers. He never took himself too seriously.
I thought I knew my son fairly well, but he was always surprising me with new facets of his personality. There was so much going on in his head and he revealed so little of it at any one time. Then all of sudden he’d start talking about something he had been thinking about or researching or making and it was like a tree suddenly popped out of the ground and you never saw the intermediate stages between seed and fully grown tree with fruit ripe for picking. For example, he had been working at Zero’s Subs and taking classes at TCC for a long time, and then one day he came downstairs and asked me to proofread his resume. The resume was very nicely written. It said he could repair all kinds of smart phones and that he had a perfect record of positive feedback selling refurbished phones on eBay. Shortly after that he got a job repairing smart phones.
It was like that with learning to read. He had trouble reading in first grade, so much that though he was in a “gifted kid” class the school put him in the remedial program for slow readers. I was a mere rookie back then in dealing with school stuff but it didn’t make sense to me to call a kid a “slow” reader before he had learned to read at all. It seemed to me they were using experimental techniques that were not working, at least not for my kid. He would come home upset and tell me they were making him do stupid stuff like jump onto big word squares on the floor. I bought Hooked-on-Phonics and taught him to read myself. But I couldn’t seem to get him to love reading books on his own. I felt frustrated but kept reading with him or to him.
By second grade he could read fine and by the end of fifth grade his standardized test showed he had the reading comprehension level of a 22-year-old. “How is it you read so well when you don’t read books?” I asked him. “Because I know how to read,” he said. It was like that with violin too. “You won’t improve if you don’t practice,” I’d say. He would not practice. But when he went to his lesson he would take out the violin and play the music very well. “How do you do that when you don’t practice?” I’d ask. “I can read the music and press the strings,” he’d say. The violin lessons did not go far, because though he could technically play the instrument he did not love music and he wanted to do what he loved.
That was a another strange thing about Jesse. He preferred silence to music. I recently said to him, “You are the only person I know who doesn’t like music.” “I know,” he said. “People at work are always trying to get me to listen to music, and I really don’t like it.” “That is an unusual trait,” I said.
The most shocking surprise Jesse ever gave me was suddenly leaving this world at age 23. I am still reeling from that one. But given the general pattern in his life it almost fits. I don’t mean he had a death wish or seemed “doomed” or anything like that. In fact, he seemed bursting with life, hope, ideas, plans, and potential. It’s just… I think of that strange pattern he had of sudden fruition. If he suddenly woke up in the next world, another dimension I imagine, and say he saw wide-open possibilities for discovery and learning….. and even if he had the opportunity to come back to this life where everything is so slow and primitive and you can’t get the equipment and resources you need, and the cars don’t even have artificial intelligence and you can’t get where you want to go by just thinking it, well, knowing what I know of Jesse, I can’t imagine he would turn back.
As well as I thought I knew him, there are several things I’ve learned about Jesse since his departure — from comments people have made and things I have found. Nothing bad. It is all just information that makes me understand what a unique and special human being he was and still is.
Four Things I’ve Learned About Jesse Since He Left This World
He was charming and social. I knew what a wonderful person he was but I didn’t know how much he interacted with other people and what a pleasant impression he made. I have found out that he was very friendly with both friends and strangers. The receptionist at his doctor’s office knew he was looking into getting a nano-degree and the pharmacist at Walgreens commented on what a warm friendly personality he had. There was no fakery in Jesse, he made no great effort to impress anybody, so I feel like any conversation he had with anyone was a sincere one. If he talked to you, he cared about talking to you.
He was proud of his family. I had felt that lately he was trying to distance himself from us to establish his independence. I think this was probably me projecting on him the way I was at his age. But I assumed he wasn’t really thinking much about his family at this particular stage of his life. Not true. A friend and co-worker of his told me he often talked about his Mom, Dad, and brother and made us sound wonderful.
He valued family history. I knew he was into genetics because he had his DNA analyzed by a company called “23 and Me” and bought DNA analysis kits for me and his Dad for Christmas in 2014. But I did not know that his interest in family history extended to more personal things. In a box of his most important papers I found a story that was written my father. My Dad, who Jesse always remembered as “Pop-Pop”, died when Jesse was 2-1/2 years old. Apparently at some point – it must have been 2010 or before because my Mom died in 2010 – Jesse found these several sheets of paper that contained the start of a science fiction novel written in the small precise print of my Dad. And he kept that story with him in a special place.
He identified with Jewish heritage. Now this may seem strange, but Jesse always told me growing up that he felt like he was Jewish. I grew up Catholic and his Dad is Baptist and Jesse was a sincere believer in Christ. In fact on his 18th birthday he had an eight-inch Christian fish tattooed on his chest. When we saw it he said, “This is the one thing that will never change.” But he was always intrigued by family rumors that he might have some Jewish in this DNA. His 2014 DNA analysis revealed that he did indeed have .5 percent Ashkenazi Jewish DNA which, as he explained, was significant given the tiny size of that population when compared to world population throughout the thousands of years that the analysis traces. I did not know quite how much this meant to him, until I discovered that at the tail of the fish tattoo he had gotten another tattoo – a tiny Star of David. I found this out from a photograph.