Honoring Jerritt Van Es
(10/28/96 - 8/10/14)
A LIFE WELL LIVED - LIVED TO THE FULLEST!
On Saturday, August 23rd I drove to San Diego at about 4:00 PM to attend the 21st birthday party of my amazing niece. My kiddos and I had just left the funeral of Jerritt Van Es. As I navigated the freeway that gorgeous California afternoon, my heart was in shreds as the image of Gina (Mom) and Robert (Step-dad) Jacoy and Jeff (Dad) and Denise (Step-mom) Van Es; along with his sister Bree and other family sitting underneath at tent at the burial site; saying a final farewell to their amazing 17 year-old son, grandson and brother. It is incomprehensible to all of us, that a 17 year-old goes to sleep and never wakes up. I will share some words that his family used to describe him:
"Today we celebrate the life of Jerritt Van Es. He was pure energy from the moment his life began. His infectious personality allowed him to become friends with everyone he met. Jerritt was so full of life and fun. He approached every situation with a sense of adventure and expectation. He took chances, loved deeply and was accepting of everyone. Jerritt was wise beyond his years and lived to make others think, ponder and question the world as we know it. He was a philosopher of life and desired only to love others and make a profound difference in this world. In his short 17 years, he was able to accomplish this feat. Below is one of many of his writings...." [They had shared one of his beautiful writings called LIFE]
This family has been in my heart and prayers this entire week. I had written a note to Gina Jacoy, introducing my family to her as we had planned to attend Jerritt's funeral. I wanted her to know how much I'd appreciated Jerritt's kindness toward my son, Z who has moderate Autism. Not only did Gina respond to me saying she will take that hug from Z; she also had portions of my letter read during the Eulogy. We were honored that she had done so. After the service she'd personally invited us to her home. I understood from that kind personal gesture of this grieving Mom, why her son was so amazing. At any rate, I wanted to share with you the letter I sent to Gina Jacoy and ask all of you to remember this family at their time of loss. Also, don't forget to say a special "thank you" to those who show our kiddos kindness, despite our differences. I have edited names out of the letter...
"Hello Mrs. Jacoy,
My name is Nellie Valentine and I met Jerritt in 2011. My daughter and son both have Autism and your son spent some time with my family from 2011 - 2013. I just want to tell you how incredibly sorry we are for your loss.
You know, we saw Jerritt maybe a total of 4-5 times. Once he went to the Orange County Fair with my family along with... He also spent an afternoon at the park with us. I had to write to tell you what a beautiful human being you raised as a son.
Quite often when people meet my son or hear him speak - they stare. (Z is 6’2” and cognitively he is about 7 years old. He is speech delayed so his functional speech is oftentimes unintelligible). Jerritt was always so respectful and quiet and sat with our mutual friends and did not seem affected by Z’s disability in any way. He just blended in with us. It is a very high compliment to your son (and his upbringing) that he was so kind to my kids.
Thank you for having an open service. Z, S and I plan to attend. In order to prepare him for the funeral service, I had to show Z pictures of Jerritt and “prime” him about your loss and mourning. He processes visually. He also learns by life being modeled for him. He looked at Jerritt’s picture on Facebook and said, “I remember him, he is a nice friend.” S said, “What a sad way or us to learn about dying. His family had to lose Jerritt. Nothing is fair about that, Mom.” Z said, “His Mom’s heart must be in two and he made a sign with his finger drawing a line like splitting an object.” I replied to Z “His Mom’s and Dad's heart are broken in one million.” (Autistic Kids learn visually so that is a good imagery for him) Z got really sad and replied, “Are you sure he is gone to sleep forever? (He kept repeating that question)… Then he said, “Wow, Mom how terrible.” He continued, “She must need a hug, Mom. Can I hug her?” I told him that is complicated as we have never met Jerritt’s Mom and she will be very busy on Saturday, we cannot impose. He was adamant, “She needs a hug, Mom.” Then he rubbed his fist in a circular motion over his chest and said, “Mom, her heart needs fix.”
There is so much more I can tell you from an Autism point of view how profoundly beautiful this moment is for my kids, brought by us knowing Jerritt. I cannot begin to fathom how profoundly devastated you are. I am grateful we got to be in Jerritt’s presence if only for those short periods in his life. Our world is better because we met him. Z’s world is infinitely better. I am grateful that God allowed him to show my kids compassion and kindness and I will forever keep a prayer for him and your families in my heart. I am so very sorry for your loss."
Jerritt gave my kids a rare and profound gift. By his dying, they were able to process the death of a peer. Processing was tremendous and involved the support of several professionals, including BCBA's, [Board Certified Behavior Analyst] a BCBA-PhD (Dr. Kerr who was phenomenal), and the prayers of my entire family for both Jerritt's family and S and Z. In fact, it was my sister who suggested that I shared this with my followers in the event that someone could use any of it to help their child on the spectrum now or in the future.
As I was making that drive to San Diego, my recurring thought as I glanced in the rear-view mirror was one of profound gratitude that my kiddos were still with me. Gratitude that this amazing woman, Gina had embraced my family, much as her son had embraced my son. I was in awe of her generosity on such a day of unfathomable pain. I was filled with hope that all kids on the spectrum would always be treated with such kindness by others. Most of all, my overwhelming wish was that somehow I would have never met Gina Jacoy... as that would mean that she would have never suffered the loss of her only son at 17 years old. Yet... her amazing dignity, poise and generosity made me very grateful that Z, S & I did.