Taking the Plunge to Honor Son

It has been a well over a year now since my life suddenly plunged into despair.

Losing my son was devastating on every level, and life continues to spiral out of control. Every day, I fall a little further from the height of my elation. From those glorious days when I was on top of the world. Now, I struggle just to maintain my composure.

There are days when I feel that I am regaining some stability, and moments when I plummet into a boundless despair. Everything seems so distant and distorted. I can’t look to the past or ponder the future. When my mind begins to wander, my emotions tumble out of control.

I have often heard grief described as roller coaster. To me, that implies a series of peaks and valleys. But, from my perspective, life has been traveling in one direction, down. An experience I had over the summer is seemingly more analogous to the shocking plunge into deaths bleak oblivion.

On May 24th, what should have been Brandon’s 18th birthday, we found a unique way to celebrate. We wanted to do something monumental, not only to honor our son, but also to fulfill one of his long-held plans. So, that is what our family, as well as a large group of his friends, set out to do.

We all met about an hour away from our homes, in a small grassy field. On that narrow strip, we remembered Brandon’s life and prepared to face our own deaths. You see, that little field serves as a runway to one of Michigan’s leading skydive facilities, Midwest Freefall. Brandon always talked about jumping on his 18th birthday. Because he wasn’t able to do it himself, we felt compelled to do it for him.

Eight of us took to the skies, and made the slow climb to 14,500 feet. It takes about fifteen minutes to reach that altitude, which is plenty of time to reflect and ponder. As I looked out the window, I couldn’t help but think about how fearless Brandon was. And, how anxious I was becoming.

But, my trepidation faded when I remembered something he used to say. “To fear is to fail.” That expression calmed me completely. Even when the door rolled open, and I stood on the threshold looking down at the tiny squares of indistinguishable real estate.

When I leapt out, I was instantly reminded of just how powerless I am. Initially, the blast from the propeller flips you around and there is nothing you can do.

As gravity takes over, you quickly regain your stability. Even though you’re plummeting towards the ground at 120 mph, you begin to feel as if your floating on the wind. Your mind goes blank and you can only think about the skydive.

It is an amazingly freeing experience. For that 60 seconds, I forgot all my pain, I was above the torment and outside of my skin. It was almost as if I was hovering between life and death.

When my chute opened and the world went silent, I hung for a moment on heaven’s horizon, before descending again into the depths of my own living hell. Since that time, I have continued to live in limbo. I completed my skydive training, and made a total of eight solo jumps.

But, the free fall of grief does not end. As soon as my feet hit the ground, my thoughts get all twisted. And, I have the dreadful realization that life isn’t unfolding the way that I expected.

~~The Plunge~~
Seen have I the world on high.
And, awe struck held my breath.
I’ve leapt into eternal skies,
and Plunged towards certain death.
I’ve tumbled out, and peeled away.
I’ve been humbled by gravity; and i have seen it at play.
I’ve flipped around, been upside down and flown a seamless track.
I’ve fallen in perfect symmetry, with the world beneath my back.
It is not a frantic flailing fall.
In fact, it is tranquil and sublime.
I control my fate, and accelerate beyond the speed of time.
I chase a peaceful inner space,
I glide atop the wind.
I pierce the clouds and wispy shrouds,
at free falls bottom end.

John French

More Articles Written by John

My name is John French. I was born in January of 1968. I own and operate a small remodeling company in Highland, MI. My wife Michelle and I married very young and we celebrated our 20th anniversary in May of 2009. We had two amazing children: Veronica, who is 20, and Brandon, who was 17. We worked very hard to build a life that would afford us the luxury of giving them all the things we never had, including a stable home, committed loving parents and every material thing imaginable (within the means of a middle class family, I should add). Over the last few years, it seemed we had finally arrived, and living was easy. Then Brandon passed away in August of 2009 from an undiagnosed heart condition. The devastation of that one single moment has crushed our view of reality and cast us down into a state of perpetual winter. I’ve been writing all my life, though not publically. Brandon’s death has so overwhelmed me that I can no longer contain my thoughts. Although my stance is undermined by despair, and frosted by the bitterness that follows the loss of my son, I will labor to plant some seeds of promise in the barren future that I'm so unexpectedly tilling. Perhaps something beneficial will stem from my mourning. If you can gather even a grain of hope from my reaping, it may help to sustain you through your own emotional storm. Reach John at j0hn_french@hotmail.com or through his website http://j0hn-french.webs.com/.

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  • tracey antcliffe says:

    everything you wrote is just what my life is like,my 16 year old son died in his sleep from sads,just when things seam to be ok i sink back into my grief.its been nearly 2 years but its like it was yesterday,i miss him so much sometimes it feels like life is not worth living.

  • Mette says:

    I like the skydiving idea. After all, what do we have to loose… And then I DO know that I have so much to be here for. There would be that little thought in me that maybe the parachute wouldn’t open. And that would be okay. Better not jump out of a plane anytime soon! It’s been 4 months since I walked in one morning and found my 10½ week old baby boy dead and cold. Love you and miss you Micah.

  • heather says:

    Mette, I am so sorry for your pain. The loss of your baby is so painful. Please find a Compassionate Friends group in your area; there are people there who can help and support you. Take care of yourself don’t forget there are people here who love and need you. Sit quietly, close your eyes and count your breath.

  • Sacha says:

    I understand what you said about your son not being able to skydive, which is what he wanted to do for his 18th birthday, so you all did it for him. My son should have enrolled in college this Fall, he would have been 18. Since he couldn’t, I did it for him, I enrolled myself. It’s something I always wanted to do.

  • Skurt says:

    My son should be in school today in his kindergarten class. He died just this December, like you and your wife we had two children and work hard to provide a solid middle class life style, his sudden dead is tragic, like yours.

    It is good to see you continue to honor him and do what he wanted to do. I right now, just want to smile again, time.

  • janet says:

    I lost my 29 year old son on August 4th 2010. One of the most painful moments is when I speak of my children or I am asked how many children I have and immediately I start to say 4 then a knife of pain pierces my heart and I have to answer 3 now and the reality of David’s absence sends me off the edge again! I miss him so much! I miss his voice, and smile and his jokes and his hugs, and emails and texts and songs and pics……….Now I just have silence! It’s ripping my heart out as I hold on to my pain inside and try to be strong for my kids and husband…..He has only been gone for 5 months and already we have had to endure a Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and next will be his 30th birthday! Oh my God how will I ever celebrate that! Thank you for sharing your wonderful story of how you honored your son! Please pray that I can come up with the strength and a special way to honor my son with my family in a way that we can celebrate his life not his death!

  • Alicia says:

    Hi Janet. My 20 year old son passed on 5/3/10. I have decided to answer the question of how many children I have to still include Dylan because I will always be his Mom. It was hard the first time and less so the next time. His 21 st birthday was the day before Thanksgiving Day. It was as brutal as every day is. The anticipation was harded than the actual day. The pain is constant, as I think yours is. I honored Dylan by writing him a birthday card that only I read and by hosting a pizza party at a residence for adolescents in need. It felt good to do something for someone else. I’m just trying to live day by day and trying to ignite a desire to live. Other parents have survived but they say it takes a very long time. Janet, I am sorry for your loss and hope that you have the support from loved ones to live one day at a time, Alicia

    • Alex says:

      Let us know if you have any petitions. By supporting each other, we can make a di&ference!If#39;m glad your job is willing to work with you. When my teen was being diagnosed with ADHD in the first grade, I had to take a lot of time off to go to school and various doctor appts. Even though he was my son, I got lectured by my boss for using my sick days on my child. I couldn't imagine how bad it would have been if it was a different family member.

  • Regina says:

    Hi…I lost my son 19 year old son Anthony on 7/5/10. I experienced the same pain when asked how many children I have. It feels like a a sharp knife cutting right through me. I remember when I could respond without a thought. I know now that question will always hurt. Like Alicia, I decided to include Anthony. I made it through Anthony’s birthday in November, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. It was very diffucult as I felt little urge to celebrate at all. I am trying my best to be strong for my daughter and husband, it is a constant struggle. I have to force myself to keep going. I cry so much right now and most of the time I feel like I want to be alone. I am hopeful I will learn to cope with my sons death but for now it still hurts very much. My son was a music producers and he left so much music for me to manage. I founded a non-profit organization to help kids interested in pursing a music career and I plan to release some of his music soon.

  • sue says:

    Oh, my heart aches as I read all of these comments……. My son died tragicallly in 2008 shortly after his 21st birthday. He had a sudden dulusion and from what we learned he had an initial rare bipolar incident. We adopted him from Korea and really never knew his history…. Our hearts still 2 years later feel so much pain… each layer peels away and our minds are left to deal with accepting pieces of what happened.. I read what you say and am so aware that I am not alone in this pain but have so many questions on how to deal with this. I have written in journals the length of a book which has been helpful but find we are still rare in our groups of friends and contacts… Death is inevitible for all but the pain is not explainable….

  • Jeri says:

    I lost my only son 8/8/84,…and my heart STILL ACHES! The pain doesn’t get any easier I’ve just lived with way to long.

  • Jo says:

    Jeri….I lost my only daughter last year. My heart aches and I don’t want to live 17 yrs or more with this heart ache. Bless you and I hope some day you will find some rest from the pain. I spent time today at the cemetary, I go there every week. Today I cleaned her marker and put our 4th of July flowers. Who will take care of this when I am gone? I don’t care I guess because it will mean I’m with my daughter again.

  • maria victoria says:

    jeri…I lost my 24 yrs old son three weeks ago in a car accident…I feel so guilty even if I do not hava nothing to do with the cause… and the pain?…terrible!!! comes and go like a wave…I do not want to live anymore

  • Michele Duvalois says:

    I lost my son on October 22,2010, Joseph just turned 10. He was diagonosed with luekemia about 6 months before. He fought and was very couragous. Watching him suffer and be in so much pain was hard, I wanted to take his place and suffer for him. I miss him terribly and life will never be the same. I am suffering now,but he is not and that gets me through sometimes.

  • Cassie says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE my beautiful photos!!! Thank you sooo much to Paul, his lovely wife Louise and to Scott for making my photos unbbilevaely beautiful. Cant wait to see more!!!!