Two weeks ago, I woke up to a text from my friend Karen—well, really her eldest son Alec who had taken over her cell phone at her request. He wanted to let me know that his dad, Jim, had suffered a serious accident and was in the hospital in New Jersey.
We’ve known Jim and Karen for 23 years, meeting through our daughters who were in preschool together in Glencoe, a suburb north of Chicago.
I remember my husband Peter and I going to the movies in Highland Park one night, shortly after our move to Glencoe, and recognizing Jim, who was sitting by himself a few rows in front of us. We whisper-yelled “John! John!” wondering why he wasn’t turning around, until he finally did, probably annoyed. When he saw us, he smiled from ear to ear and reminded us his name was Jim. Walking out together, we had a good laugh over this.
Over time, Jim and Karen grew into wonderful friends, as we raised our kids, socialized, and celebrated milestones together. More recently, we’ve continued deepening our friendship as we’ve shared life’s continued ups and downs, all moved back to the city of Chicago, and spent winters in Florida (on different coasts).
After learning of Jim’s accident, I reached Karen briefly but it was clear Alec needed to take charge. Family members had gathered overnight in New Jersey and were trying to understand what was happening and to remain strong and hopeful.
Peter and another friend quickly flew out to New Jersey to assist the family and be with Jim. Unfortunately, they learned, the outlook was bleak…
Jim had been hit crossing the street from his hotel to a restaurant during a business trip to Hackensack, NJ, on a rainy night. A car plowed into him at 40-60mph and sent him flying. Jim had major brain damage and was in a coma, on a ventilator.
The family gave Peter the ok to meet with the neurologist, who told him Jim’s injuries were too severe for any hope of recovery. The nurse said they’d communicated this to the family, but that it often takes a while for such a sudden tragedy to sink in with loved ones. Out of an abundance of caution, Peter offered to send the brain scan to his friend Martin, an experienced neurologist. Martin concurred with the hospital team’s bleak assessment.
Jim was taken off the ventilator and passed away on his favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, surrounded by his family. The announcement was made on CaringBridge, a wonderful site that allows family and friends near and far to get updates and express their remembrances and condolences.
Jim was only 64. He had a huge heart and the most infectious smile. He loved his family and was so proud of his three beautiful children. He was insanely warm and inquisitive of all. As Peter points out, no one invested in his friends like Jim did, calling and spending time on a regular basis. It’s no wonder he had so many friends, with 3,000+ people checking for news on CaringBridge.
Jim radiated joy and made me laugh, gently poking fun at me when I got a little self-serious but equally self-deprecating. I can count on one hand the male spouses of my girlfriends I would enjoy a 1-on-1 meal with, and Jim was on top of that list. I will miss him.
How does one process this senseless death, a loved one taken too soon? I have shed tears over losing Jim, and cannot imagine the shocking, all-encompassing grief that Karen and the “kids” are experiencing.
Alec has had to take charge of a situation no 26-year-old should have to. We are so proud of his leadership in the midst of his pain. It reminds me of my dad, who at 21 had to support his mother and 10-years-younger brother when his dad dropped dead of a heart attack.
We are attending Jim’s funeral later this week in West Palm Beach and his Celebration of Life in early January in Chicago. We will all make sure his memory lives on.
Life is unpredictable, filled with so much joy, yet so much sorrow too. Please hug your loved ones a little tighter today.
YOUR TURN: Have you experienced the sudden loss of a beloved friend? Please share your memories in the comments.