Don’t let the subtitle of this book throw you off: A Mother’s Memories. It sounds a bit maudlin, I know, but this won’t be a book in which I’ll endeavor to make you sad. You might shed some tears, though, because of the loss of a talented young man at such an early age. Or your tears may come from funny incidents in his life, some of which, if you knew Jay, you might have lived through with him. And if you lived through the adventures personally, you probably know more than I do! I hope you smile as you read because he’d want you to do just that—smile and laugh and relish the adventures.
This will be a book of memories, mainly mine, but also some memories of others who loved Jay. When children die, the only thing parents have is memories, and all are precious, whether good or bad. Bereaved parents don’t want to forget anything. That’s why some of us write books about our children. Granted, some families throw away everything that belonged to their children. Some move to new houses, even to different cities. Some divorce. But those parents seldom write books. Those of us who want to remember every little detail are the authors.
Jay died on July 2, 1992, a quarter of a century ago. Soon after he died, I began to read books by parents whose children had passed away. My friend Martha Dickson, who worked in the library at First Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida, gathered all the books she could find addressing the grief of parents whose children had died. She had a stack a mile high waiting for me when we returned to church a couple of weeks after Jay died. They had no return date on them.
I also went to the Family Book Store at Cordova Mall every time I could find a few minutes, scouring their shelves for a new book by grieving parents. I devoured Andrew, You Died Too Soon by Corinne Chilstrom, who lamented the fact that she had waited eight years to write about her son. At the time I thought waiting that long was a shame. Do you see where I’m going with this? My shame is that I’ve waited much longer than she did, a quarter of a century. I hasten to say, however, that I began writing about Jay almost immediately after he died. Writing was a catharsis. It forced me to examine my feelings and to get them on paper. What I’ve waited so long for is collecting my journals and other writings into book form so that Jay’s friends would have a complete story about him.
This book is an assembling of many pieces that I’ve written about Jay and about my grief during these years. These are writings from my heart, from the heart of a mother who, after all these years, still cries when she writes about her boy and when she looks at certain pictures of him; who still cries when she views one more time the videos that Jack Canavan made at Seville Quarter, some of which are posted on YouTube; who even cries when she hears songs by Billy Joel, The Police, Crowded House, INXS, David Bowie—songs that Velvet Melon, Jay’s band, played. I’m not sure a parent ever quits grieving. After all these years, I still remember something Paul Newman said in an interview sometime after his son died. The person interviewing him asked him when the grief got better. Newman said it never got better; it just got different.
Though I’ve mentioned that I want to assemble the writing that I’ve done during the years since Jay died, I have another more deep-seated and just as important a reason for gathering together my feelings, emotions, and memories: If bereaved parents happen to read this book, I want this collection to be an encouragement to them. I want them to know that, indeed, there is life for them after that death. Will it be easy? Absolutely not! For my survival, I relied on God.
Sometime during the days immediately after Jay’s death, God gave me some words that I’ve used over and over again. I first used them at the funeral home at the viewing. I don’t know how many friends hugged me and asked, “How will you ever get over this?”—this referring to Jay’s death. My reply came straight from the Lord: “I’m calling it a lesson in prepositions. (Good thing for an English teacher!) I’ll never get over it; but I will get through it with the help of God, friends, and family.” And that’s exactly what has happened. God, friends, and family continue to help me today.
Each bereaved parent heals differently. The important thing is to find the way. As you read this collection of memories, I hope you can see my mother’s heart and my healing that is still in progress. I never want to “get over” Jay. That would mean that I’ve forgotten him. I want my memories to keep him alive forever!