Dear Patty and Jerry Wetterling:
The year your dear Jacob went missing, I was a 21-year-old college student rooming with three others in an off-campus apartment near Moorhead State University.
When the disconcerting news reached our little abode in the fall of 1989, we four young women were left aching with concern with the rest of the region.
Marriage was still a few years off then, not to mention motherhood, and yet we felt deeply connected with your pain. It all just seemed so close. A few years earlier, it could have been us. A few years later, it could have been our children.
The news left an indelible imprint on our hearts.
Hearing about Jacob and everything you went through in the ensuing years grieved us as it did many. We watched as you carried on the best you could, taking risks you never would have dreamed you’d have to, reordering so much of your lives, all with the hope that someday, Jacob would be found alive — and with the precious effect of helping others in the process.
You did great things that have made others’ lives more bearable and safer. And for that, we are all indebted — not only Minnesota but the whole United States. Thank you for giving so much of yourselves, out of your deep love for Jacob, to all of us.
When I spent several summers doing a short-term writing residency in your area, I couldn’t drive around without thinking of, and praying for, Jacob and all of you. You have drawn so many into your hearts.
Jacob’s mysterious exit never really left any of us. Though we can’t come close to comparing our feelings of fear, concern and lack of resolution with yours, we’ve all lived in wonder and worry on some level.
When my own children came into the picture and were of the age to bike down to the local convenience store, Jacob and all of you were in my sights as they tried to convince me that it really was “no big deal, Mom,” and I paused at length.
“But you don’t understand,” I’d start. “You see, there is this boy, Jacob, and …”
I could never get him — or you — out of my mind and heart. I tried not to let the fear grip me to the point of being immobilized as a mother, but I did become more guarded, hopefully in a good way, and it made my kids more thoughtful, too.
I was just having that conversation with my youngest, in fact, only a few days before they found Jacob. It’s hard for me not to look at Jacob’s photo and see my own children and wonder, Why? Why did this happen to this precious family? And how do they do this life without their Jacob?
Though I haven’t experienced what you have, as a parent I’ve grieved more than I would have thought possible, with friends who have lost their children, with the loss of our own in miscarriage, and through so many other losses that maybe have not taken away our children physically, but have robbed them of other experiences we’d hoped they might have and never will.
Cruel though the world can be, through faith, I believe a good and loving God stands ready to heal us and to bring us back to himself. Someday, all of the horrible things of this life will be put in their proper place, our “whys” will be satisfied and our hearts, fully mended.
For now, we all desire things that cannot yet be for one reason or another. And so we wait, together.
You’ve entered a new stage in your grieving now. Many of us celebrate that you can once again touch your son, even though it’s not how any of us had hoped it would be. But we will continue to ache for you, too, because this wasn’t God’s plan. Plain and simple, evil got its way, but it will not be the last word.
What will be instead, I believe, is love. Through your love for Jacob, you’ve reminded us that love endures through broken hearts, torment and pain. It keeps going through cases opened but unsolved, and those reopened and solved but not resolved. And when the dust settles once again, love will be the thing that remains.
Know that you are not alone. We have always been with you, quietly wiping away our own tears as we feel yours, and we will remain with you in spirit in the days and years to come.
Jacob is among a cloud of witnesses now, praying for you from the place where he dwells safe and held, until the time when you reunite with him, for good and forever.
Until then, know that many of us are praying for you and loving you in the best way we can from our small corners of this imperfect, oftentimes hard, but also beautiful world.
With love and in hope always,
Roxane and the faith community of Fargo-Moorhead
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Sept. 17, 2016.]