Monday, June 8, 2015

Circle of Life...

Cue the Lion King music.  Or my other thought for a title was Dicken's "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...."

I'd like something more clever, but I'm far too exhausted after the last five days.  We've experienced glorious highs, devastating lows, and everything in between.  Jess and Rusty got married.  Alex had chemo.  A friend died tragically.

First, the wedding.  It was glorious - absolutely perfect.  When the daughter you adore is about the marry the man you think is perfect for her in every way, how can it be anything but perfect?  The venue was the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, WI.  That location was chosen before the groom was even on the radar.  Jessica was never the little girl making tons of future wedding plans except for one thing - sometime long ago, I don't even remember when, it was decided that her "someday" wedding would be at the museum.  She's been visiting this museum since her daddy pushed her in a stroller, an she hasn't missed attending AirVenture since she was seven.  This little girl who grew up to be a pilot and an aeronautical engineer.  Where else could she get married?  So when Rusty proposed and wedding planning began in earnest, we never considered another venue.  Rusty is not a pilot, but he is a history buff, a museum buff, and adores his Jessica, so he was on board right away.

Wedding Photo by Jenna Kutcher:

Like every wedding, the last months have been filled with many details.  We planned an entire "wedding weekend" to celebrate since many guests were traveling long distances. A Welcome BBQ was planned - a Wisconsin spanferkel.  John's band agreed to play at the BBQ, and they practiced a few songs with Jess so she could sing at the party.  The theme of WWII Aviation was carried out in every detail - from the gift card box, to table decor, to the clothing and everything in between.  Jess spent hours and hours making sure everything was just right.  Each guest table also had a QR code with a link to the history of their airplane or code-breaking location.  They married on Rusty's grandparents' 62nd wedding anniversary (also the anniversary of D-Day),  our musical group, Relativity, sang the same processional and recessional that was sung for our wedding, she wore her mother-in-law's veil, the groomsman wore special cuff links (Dr. Who for dad, Harry Potter for Alex, super heros for Rusty and the groomsmen), and on and on.

It was magical.

A particular highlight was Alex's involvement in the day.  We always knew Alex participating in his sister's wedding would be a challenge.  Crowds and big events are challenging for him, even under the best of circumstances.  But now he's sick.  We had already planned to have someone from his group home bring him to the events.  Then we realized that wedding week was also chemo week.  We considered altering his chemo schedule, but two doctors (without knowing anything about the wedding) advised us to not interfere with the chemo schedule, no matter what.  It is not hyperbole to say his life is on the line.  So we had chemo on Thursday, and Alex attended the BBQ Friday and the wedding Saturday.  Typically, he would have spent those two days after chemo in bed.  He did well at the BBQ, but he was pretty anxious.  He stayed about an hour, and wasn't interested in eating and didn't do a lot of mingling.  But he came, and he hugged his sister and seemed pretty happy.

Saturday he came and we did family pictures before the ceremony.  We wanted to make sure we got some photos in case he couldn't stay.  He ended up staying until after dinner.  He smiled, enjoyed himself, and was relaxed.  He ate three plates of spaghetti at dinner.  (We had a buffet of multiple stations.  The pasta station was selected with Alex in mind.)  As he finished that last bite, he looked like he hit a wall.  His color faded, and he looked exhausted.  It was time to go.  We were hoping he would stay for an hour, maybe two.  He lasted four hours, and made it through the important events.

The day before the BBQ was chemo day.  Jess and Rusty came along to chemo.  Jessica held her brother's hand and spoke soothingly to him while it took an hour and seven tries to get his IV started.  (Once they got it going, the rest of the day went pretty smoothly.  It usually only takes one or two picks; Alex's veins would just not cooperate this week.) We hung out as a family for the day in the tiny exam room we use for each chemo.  Jess and I filled out the escort cards for the table assignments.  Rusty got more bonding time with this crazy family he's married in to.  Part of me feels sad that it was a chemo week, but part of me is actually grateful because it has been so difficult for Jessica to be far away during this time.  It felt good to be together at a time we needed each other.

In addition to all of these things going on, we lost a friend on Tuesday.  I got a text alert to my phone that a small plane has crashed at Oshkosh.  My heart stopped.  We have so many friends that fly at that airport.  Moments later, the next alert said it might be a Sonex.  John and I were on our way to do some wedding preparations.  We both felt sick.  The names of all our friends that it could be started going through our minds.  I sent a couple of texts; I got responses, but didn't know yet any details.  The aviation world is a close knit one, and the connections keeping loop around in amazing ways.  Sonex is based in Oshkosh, yet Jessica works with one of the designers of the aircraft out in California.  So, while we were waiting for word here, the call came from Jessica with the news we were dreading.  She called to tell us Jeremy had died in the crash.  It wasn't until the next morning that we learned the name of the second fatality.  The passenger, Mike, was someone we knew from our flying club.

Jeremy Monnett was the type of charismatic man who had friends far and wide.  Jeremy and his wife Kate were planning to attend Jessica's wedding.  We found out after the accident that Jeremy had planned to do a surprise fly-over of Jessica's BBQ, flying his Sonex with his four year old son, Miles, as a special tribute to the bride and groom.  He was going to give a tour of Sonex to all of Jessica's Lockheed friends who were in town for the wedding.  Jess and Rusty were getting married in the very same space where Kate and Jeremy had been married.  In the midst of all of our joy, our hearts were breaking for Kate, for Miles and Brooks, and for Jeremy's parents.

Kate showed up at the BBQ to give Rusty and Jess her congratulations.  "Jeremy would want me to."  She told them about the planned surprise.  She told them to cherish each other, and to love each other.  We hugged, and cried, and said I love you.  She didn't stay long.  She spoke to Jess and Rusty and John and me, and to a few other people she needed to see and speak to, and then she was gone.  The fact that she came, during the darkest days of her life, means so much.

Sunday was the celebration of Jeremy's life.  It was held at the EAA Museum, in the same space where Jeremy and Kate had been married, and the same space that Jess and Rusty had celebrated their wedding the day before.  We were back, to pay our respects and to show our love and support to the Monnett family.  I heard that they estimate 2,000 people attended.  Kate also told Jess and Rusty that getting married in that amazing space is something that they will always share with her and Jeremy.

Jeremy is gone far too soon.  He leaves behind an amazing wife, two sons, and a fantastic family.  Kate's message is one we take to heart - cherish every moment.  I remember when we saw Jeremy a day or two after Alex's cancer diagnosis.  He hugged us and told us he and Kate were thinking of us and pulling for us.  We talked about how your whole life can change, unexpectedly, in the blink of an eye.

Life is too short to waste a moment.

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