Remembering My Son, Jeff— Sept 25, 1969-July 9, 2015

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Jeff died today. The emergency room doctor suspects a brain hemorrhage. Jeff was forty five years old. It’s strange writing those words. In a perfect world parents are supposed to precede their children in death.

Jeff led a troubled life. He had his first seizure when he was three months old. From infancy onward he was on medication for epilepsy. Later, in 1st grade they put him on Ritalin to calm him down, a prelude to a lifetime of drug cocktails.

As a teenager he discovered that cannabis soothed his racing mind. So began thirty years of self-medication, including fields of tobacco and mountainsides of coffee. In the 1990s Mayo Clinic performed brain surgery in an effort to alleviate his seizures—the result; seizures continued and he now had short-term memory loss.

It breaks a parent’s heart to watch their child suffer, regardless of his/her age. Many times in the past decade Jeff would lose his train of thought in the middle of a sentence and begin hitting himself on the side of the head trying to realign his words—but they’d be gone. After a moment I’d say a key word and he’d recall what he was saying.

I think now that as an infant, with those very early seizures—and there were many of them, he sustained brain damage. I recall how we’d rush his convulsing little body to the emergency room and they’d send us home with instructions to submerse him in ice water. Neuroscience today recognizes the exponential growth of the brain during the first three years of a child’s life. More than once I remember getting up in the morning to discover him in the throes of a seizure. And I wonder how those electrical storms crashing in his head impacted his baby brain growth.

From the time he was a little boy he loved mechanical things. When he was eight he completely disassembled and reassembled an old lawn mower engine—don’t worry about the rings left on the garage floor. This passion eventually led him to become a certified transmission specialist, auto electric specialist, and a certified welder. But with his seizures he could not hold a job.
Jeff married and had four children but the marriage didn’t work out. He did live to see four grandchildren.
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Myself, Jeff, and his first grandson, Aden

Jeff spent much of his adult life in southern Wisconsin. A few years ago I helped him move back to northern Minnesota. I like to think we reconnected. We’d often go to breakfast or lunch together. We did several work projects together. He’d call every few days to see how I was doing. About six months ago he got his driver’s license back and Patti and I helped him get a vehicle. That seemed to open a new world for him.

He was able to get out of his little house more and visit old friends. I think he became a happier person. This morning he stopped to visit for a few minutes and left with a “Love you,” and a smile on his face. Since he and his sisters were tiny we’ve always parted with a “Love you” even when it’s not a very lovable parting.

I’ve come to realize that we all have a burden to bear. About 18 months before Jeff was born I was serving on a gunboat in Vietnam. The riverbanks were heavily defoliated with Agent Orange. We bathed in the dioxin run-off polluted rivers and canals. Monsanto and Dow assured us it was safe. Our government assured us it was safe.

Within a decade of the war, returning veterans fathered thousands of children with new and abnormal birth defects. The Veterans Administration grudgingly acknowledged a few presumptive related defects. Each year the list grows. They say that no way epilepsy can be a result of exposure to dioxin. Monsanto and Dow paid a settlement—I’m sure the attorneys received a bigger payday than the veterans and their families who were poisoned.

In the end, we grieve and carry guilt for things we might have done differently. Just yesterday I told Patti I needed to take Jeff to breakfast—we hadn’t gone for a few weeks. But I’m too late.

24 Comments

  1. Laurel says:

    Windy,
    I love you. Jeff knew your love and kindness. He will be forever in our hearts.
    Peace be with you and your family.

  2. Larry Voltz says:

    Wendell and Patti,

    I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Our thoughts and prayers will be with you during this difficult time. Searching for the “how” or “why” is never easy in a loss like this. Know that your love, support and your re-connection with Jeff are the things best held onto in your hearts and memories as time passes on.

    Take Care,
    Larry

  3. Scott & Leslie Grover says:

    Our regrets are a validation that we deeply cared.. Regret with guilt is the lie that would try and steal our solace. The guilt is not for us to carry.You loved..Jeff knew..God knew.

  4. Trish says:

    Love you Dad. Thank you for everything you do. Jeff knew you were always there for him.

  5. GIlbert says:

    Sorry about your loss. Let me know if there is anything that I can do for you.

  6. Brian Collage says:

    I wish there were words to be said that would ease the pain of such a loss. Honestly, there are none. They will be with you the rest of your life, you will think of them every day. The consolation is that in time you will get used to it although you will never get over it. I wish you and your family strength during this hard time and hope that your memories will bring you joy all the days of your lives.

  7. Wayne and Diane says:

    This is a beautiful life story of your love for Jeff. Thank you for writing this. He will be remembered by those who have know him for his troubled past, but also for his wonderful happy smile, soft voice and gentle personality. Family is Everything!

  8. Melinda says:

    Wendell and Patti,
    I am sorry to hear of your loss. You are wonderful living parents. May god give your family peace. Melinda Petrowske

  9. Ivar says:

    Wendell and Patti,
    So sorry to learn of Jeff’s death.I pray that you will be filled with God’s spirit of love, and that it will sustain you through these next days. I also pray that our God wraps those big arms around Jeff and holds him tight.
    Love and miss you both,
    Ivar

  10. Don Scharfenorth says:

    We were shocked to learn of your loss. Larry Voltz’s thoughts are ours as well.

    Don & Bobbi

  11. Ranae Breyen says:

    Ranae Breyen – I have always remembered Jeff as a playful boy … I did not know how his life was so affected by seizures … Sad for your family to have to mourn his loss, but glad you had a smiling parting memory as a final one with your Love You ! Prayers for all

  12. Barry Yocom says:

    Betty and I embrace you and Patti in this time of grief. We are so sorry.

  13. Doug says:

    Wendell. I know very few men on a par or finer than you. I am so sorry. He was lucky to have you for a father.

  14. Derek Claypool says:

    Wendell, my eyes filled with tears as I read your blog about your son, it took me back to my mother sharing how my brother Dennis died of an epileptic seizure in her arms as they were rushing him to the hospital. Living in Pleasant Valley, made the hospital at times seem a million miles away. Looking forward with mixed emotions about the service on Wednesday, I am honored that your family has asked me to be a part of it. Your family is in our prayers!
    Sincerely, Derek

  15. Kath Molitor says:

    WENDELL AND FAMILY
    My prayers are with you as you grieve. I am here if you need anything. Love you both very much. KATH

  16. Lorraine says:

    Wendall and Patti, so sorry about your loss.

  17. Dewey Pollock says:

    There are no words, you are in my thoughts.

  18. Jessie Marianiello says:

    My heart is with you and the family–thoroughly, deeply, every step of the way. Praying for peace in your heart as you navigate this journey of loss. Much love to all of you.

  19. Ken and Judy Scharfenorth says:

    Windy, we just got home today and learned of Jeff’s passing. I can’t tell you how sad we are to hear. Parents are not supposed to outlive their children. Our condolences to you, Jan and Patti.

  20. Claude Sand says:

    I’m saddened for you and your family and so sorry for your loss. It is a sad day when we lose a loved one, but God intends for us to grow and love more because of it. Your son conjoined your family and made all of you better persons. Your exposure to Agent Orange may or may not have contributed to his health issues but please don’t blame yourself for that. After all you were a soldier doing his duty. Many of us are dealing with this issue just as you are. I don’t think your son would want you to get lost in that swill. It will only spiral down and take you with it. Celebrate Jeff as you knew him, a kind person, who was just trying to find his way. And along the way he touched many who will have good memories. That will be his legacy.

  21. Judy says:

    Thank you for sharing your heart. I am so sorry. My heart goes out to you. We live in WA state and do not know you, but we lost our son, Jim, at age 37 just 10 years ago now, totally unexpectedly, just like your Jeff. So I know you are not only dealing with the grief of the loss but from the absolute shock. Please know that others share your sorrow and I pray that that makes the load lighter.

  22. Vicky Allison says:

    Hi Patti and Wendell

    It has been awhile I haven’t seen you since Trish’s wedding. Sorry to hear about Jeff’s passing. I dated him in high school if you remember until he moved to Illinois
    keep in touch if you like

    Vicky

  23. Harry Settle says:

    FAIR WINDS, AND FOLLOWING SEAS, Shipmate.

  24. Sharon says:

    I knew your son back in the 80’s growing up in Antioch, IL. He was a good guy and a good friend, sadden to hear of his passing when I did a internet search for him, so sorry! Sharon

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