My Dad died in a car crash the day after Thanksgiving, November 26, 1971.
I flew home from my mission in Canada the next day and was released from missionary service that evening, November 27, 1971 (about six weeks earlier than my “official” release date).
This was the greatest tragedy of my life, up until this point. My father was dead, my mother was in critical condition and my two youngest brothers (Harry and Paul Jeffrey) were pretty banged up, injured and scarred (physically and emotionally).
I stepped right from missionary service into a world of doctors, funeral directors, lawyers, insurance adjustors, Social Security Adminstration officials, financial advisors and immersed myself into trying to do the right thing for the immediate survival and, also, the future of our family. I’m not sure that I ever had any time to really grieve.
I found it easy to step right back into a relationship that I had with my long-time girlfriend, Mary Ellen Myers. When I left for my mission almost two years earlier, we had promised each other that we would marry when I returned; but upon the counsel of my Mission President I “suspended” our long-distance romance and was not sure that it would ever resume. However, our Bishop, Richard Wickel, decided to ask Mary to accompany him to the San Francisco Airport the evening that I returned from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He took us to dinner at Emil Villa’s on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland. He sincerely expressed his condolences and offered help and resources from the Church. From the restaurant, we went to the home of our Stake President, Elmo Smith, where I was interviewed and released from my missionary calling and duties.
For two days, I had been walking and moving through my life dazed and shocked. I had wept and cried out to God, our Heavenly Father, asking over and over again…Why, why, WHY? After leaving President Smith’s home, Bishop Wickel tood me to our family home. No one was there. The house was dark. I do not remember how I got in. I think I may have climbed up onto the roof and entered through an open window of what had been my room (prior to leaving for my mission). The house felt eerie…and it felt strange for me to be alone. I am sure that was the first time in almost two years I had not had a missionary companion by my side. Bishop Wickel had driven Mary to her parents’ house, a few blocks away. I called her and asked her to come be with me. I think I spent some time calling family members, learning about the physical condition of my younger brothers and my mother, and trying to ascertain the whereabouts of my brothers Michael and John and my sister Marilyn. Soon, Mary arrived in “our” 1967 Chevy Malibu. We talked, we cried, we embraced and then we slept together, actually upon my parents’ bed, in each other’s arms. The next day, we drove together to Porterville, where my family had spent Thanksgiving, with my maternal grandmother and my Aunt Vivian and her family.
The following weeks were almost storm-like; every day I had to deal with a strong wind blowing from different directions: highway patrol investigations and reports, insurance forms, consultations with lawyers, arrangements for my father’s funerals (one in Oakland, California and one in Gilmer, Texas), doctor’s, nurses, seeking advice from financial advisors, tending to my father’s affairs at his workplace, union, pension offices…and trying to deal with the responsibilities of being a surrogate “dad” to my siblings. There was all of those “temporal affairs” and seemingly never enough time for me to address my own spiritual needs, to seek answers from God about His reasons for this awful tragedy.
Christmas came and I tried to make is as pleasant as possible for my bedridden mother and my siblings (that were all injured and hurting in their own ways).
Mary and I were in each other’s company often. It felt “comfortable” in ways that seemed familiar, like the way it had been before my mission began. I don’t know why. I think I felt it was expected. We began to talk about marriage. Somehow, we set a marriage date for March 11th.
My Mother’s siblings and longtime friends from our Church were very supportive and attentive to her needs. It seemed like there was always a family member or fellow church member visiting our home; consoling, helping, ministering, offering their services.
I felt like I was suffocating and my life, the life that I wanted, was slipping away from me. And during that time, I never grieved as I should have. I never did what was necessary for me. So, I went along with Mary’s suggestion of a March 11th wedding date. We threw ourselves into the planning and arrangments. I felt that many loved ones were watching out for my mother and for our family. I began to realize during that time and came to a much fuller realization later, that I was ANGRY during all of that time. I was angry that God had answered my devotion to Him and His church by taking our father from us…taking him from me! There are still remants of that anger in my heart, even now. For years they felt like shards of broken glass…now, they feel like a grain of sand that abrades the eye. Annoying, distracting and still painful, but not as bad as before…five decades ago.
105 days following my release date from my mission, Mary and I married in the Oakland Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint. Tomorrow (as I write this) will be FIFTY years since our marriage. We were married, sealed together, to be companions for all TIME and for all ETERNITY. We haven’t come close to making anything like that. We were divorced on April 4, 1977; only five years and 24 days later.
We had two sons born to us. Clinton Wade was born on February 14, 1973. Jonathan Jared was born on February 24, 1975. Clinton committed suicide on Easter Sunday 1996, by hanging himself from an oak tree in the Mountain View Cemetery. He parked his truck in front of the house where we last spent anytime together as a family; then walked across the Claremont Country Club golf course until crossing into the grounds of the Mountain View Cemetery.
Instead of celebrating “fifty wonderful years”, a half century of love and romance…like some of our friends have done…we find ourselves in much the same circumstances as those experienced by the “Prodigal Son” before he returned home to humbly sue for his father’s forgiveness.
We do have much to be grateful for and for which we can actually rejoice in the life of our younger son, Jonathan Jared. I think our younger son studied our mistakes, along with those of his older brother, and resolved to do life differently, better. His life is actually an inspiration.
I am confident that our older son, Clint, enjoys rich blessings (along with other family members) in Paradise. I am grateful that he was, for much of his life, centered upon Christ and the teachings of Christ.
But, I suspect that what blessings Mary and I were promised will be of no efficacy when we are called before the Judgement Bar of God. There were some bright days that showed promise. But, we have both turned away from that, seemingly content to “settle” for less. Much less.