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.

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John French

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.

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