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Remembering Jim

Published on 11/30/2022

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.

HeleneTStelian Musing
I’m Hélène Stelian, the Midlife Mentor with a passion for facilitating personal development in women 40+. Through my THRIVE community, I help introspective, curious, action-oriented women 40+ deepen their journeys of self-discovery and growth—and create their next chapter with courage and intention.

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15 Comments

  1. Pennie Nichols

    The holidays will forever be marked by this loss for those in Jim’s circle. I hope you, Peter, and Jim’s family find peace and healing in the days to come.

    Reply
    • Hélène

      You are right Pennie. On Thanksgiving, we will think of Jim and his family, and be grateful for the lives he touched.

      Reply
  2. Laurie Stone

    Beyond sad. I’m so sorry for that family and isn’t Alec amazing? You can sense Jim’s warmth just by the picture. Why do these things happen? We’ll never know.

    Reply
    • Hélène

      Thanks Laurie! And yes, such an amazing young man and wonderful family.

      Reply
  3. Karen DeBonis

    I am so, so sorry, Helene. What a beautiful tribute you give here to Jim and his family.

    Reply
  4. Cathy Sikorski

    Oh Helene, this very similar thing happened to us on Veteran’s Day. Our dear friend of 40 years, just did not wake up. His wife called sobbing and I just could not process what was happening. He was a proud fighter pilot in Vietnam and continued those friendships since 1964. His funeral last weekend was well over 200 people from all over the country. I talk to his wife often and we are all not just hurting but astounded. It is overwhelming in so many ways. So I share your grief and I pray that all of us, but especially their widows and children will find grace and comfort sooner rather than later, because it is a long, hard road. My deepest condolences, my friend.

    Reply
    • Hélène

      I’m so sorry to hear about your dear friend, Cathy. What an amazing person who served his country and was a friend to so many. The shock is simply unbearable, yes, especially for the families. My condolences to you and your friend’s family as well.

      Reply
  5. Diane

    Trying to make sense of what seems so senseless. I pray his wife and family can find comfort in knowing their husband and father touched so many for such good. Yesterday, my very first boyfriend (more years ago than I can count) died of hypothermia while working in his garage. Another senseless tragedy for someone who was far too young. Still trying to come to terms with it!

    Reply
  6. Jen Rigley

    I read this while waiting to hear an update on my best friend (for over 50 years) who is in hospice. I feel like I (and most likely we) accumulate tragedies more and more as I grow older – I can say that it makes me appreciate every day with friends and family even more. Thanks for sharing this very personal story as it helps us all know that we are not alone with the challenges life sends our way. It’s beautiful and touching to hear the stories of what fabulous souls we’ve all had the good fortune to know.

    Reply
    • Hélène

      I’m so sorry to hear about your best friend being in hospice Jen. That is simply heartbreaking. I agree, it’s so important for us to know we are not alone in our grief. Thank you for sharing and big hugs to you.

      Reply
  7. Lauren

    This is so sad. A life cut short. My dad died two days before Thanksgiving and now what once was my favorite holiday is ruined. I am so sorry for your loss and what his poor family is going through. Condolences.

    Reply
    • Hélène

      Thanks Lauren. And I am so sorry you now associate your favorite holiday with your dad’s death.

      Reply
  8. CATHERINE SINEGAL

    There are no words. A similar accident happened to a friend of mine a few years ago. All my heart goes to Jim’s family and friends. Yes, every day we have is a gift to be treasured.

    Reply
    • Hélène

      Thanks Catherine. So tough for these families. Enjoy every day!

      Reply

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