An Unexpected Reunion

Run Silent, Run Deep” was a Veteran’s Day homage of sorts to those who served and their families. Using the stories of my father and brother as examples, I hoped to raise awareness of the problems veterans and their families sometimes face.  Their stories played into that piece perfectly, and I thought that would be the last time they would appear together in An Old Cop’s Place.  It turned out, I was mistaken.

The problem was my failure to factor in the Jackson family phenomenon. We, past, present, and likely future, tend to complicate everything beyond the norm. For us, matters that are already confusing, divorce, new relationships, and building futures, can become ridiculously convoluted. Consider what should have been a rather ordinary ending for the first Jackson family.

Initially, it seemed to be a straightforward middle-aged crisis story.  A husband becomes infatuated with a younger woman and fantasizes about starting a new family.  One thing leads to another, a divorce ensues, and the middle-aged Romeo heads off to begin his new life. Sound familiar?  Well, that scenario was way too commonplace for the Jackson clan.

Technically and legally, the original Jackson family dissolved in the manner noted above.   The reality, however, was messy and confusing to all involved. Thankfully, the details of the saga are unimportant. I bring the matter up merely to lay a bit of groundwork for how the story played out. For example, when the dust settled, Mom and I were still in Texas, while my younger brother was in Indiana with Dad and his new wife.

In most families, the future relationships of the people involved follow fairly standard paths. The former spouses might have a somewhat cordial relationship, the children would remain connected, the new wife and new siblings would be integrated into the lineage in some fashion and life would go on.  Again, not for this family.

First, dear old Dad and the first Mrs. Jackson never wholly separated. They maintained an under-the-radar relationship for years. Dad kept mom informed about his life, his new kids, and just about everything else. He resisted any effort Mom made to move on, especially if another man was involved. Thank goodness they were separated by 900 or so miles.  Otherwise, the matter might have become even more complex and disturbing.

Looking back from today, the situation is somewhat amusing. In fact, it could be the basis for a heck of a sitcom on one of the subscription television services. Still, there was one aspect of it that was not in the least amusing, regardless of one’s sense of humor.  The day David, his new stepmother, and our father left Texas for Indiana was the last time I saw my brother alive, which brings me back to the primary reason for sharing this.

David Charles Marshall Jackson died on February 26, 1969, as the result of hostile action in Vietnam.  Our father, Ralph Marshall Jackson, died in McAllen, Texas of multiple health-related issues almost two decades later, on February 23, 1987. I cannot swear there is any significance to Dad passing nearly eighteen years to the day from David becoming a casualty of the war.  I can say my brothers from Ralph’s second family feel our dad never forgave himself for encouraging David to enlist in the army.  Perhaps his failed second marriage, his failing health, and survivor’s guilt finally got the best of him.  Whatever the reality, some might consider it more than a coincidence.

Coincidence or not, their deaths and the handling of their deaths relate back to what I said above. Jackson’s never do anything the easy way.  For example, David’s death in combat set the military’s notification protocols into motion.  Of course, good old Dad could not let things play out for us as they did for the tens of thousands of other families losing loved ones during Vietnam.  Somehow, he got a jump on the process, leading to an uncomfortable situation.

The usual process is for parents and other family members to be advised of a military death by members of the military. These men and women are trained, to a degree at least, to make such notifications.  Their job is to officially notify the family members, then advise them of options, plans, assistance available, and help the family deal with the shock of the moment. Again, that was not good enough for our crew.

Instead, my father called me at work. I knew immediately it was something unusual, as he and I never talked in those days.  He brought me up to speed and told me I needed to get to Mom before the notification team. He wanted me to tell her what happened, not a couple of soldiers.

I realize he was trying to make certain Mom was not alone with a couple of folks she did not know when she received horrific news.  Still, asking me to break the news to her was a bit much.  David was her baby! She’d lost him a few years earlier due to her husband’s infidelity and manipulative behavior. Now, he was dead!

Later in life, as a police officer, I notified many parents or other loved ones about a death. In “Ghosts of Christmas Past,” I told the tale of a family attempting to pick up grandma on the way to a family Christmas gathering.  When she did not answer the door, the fire department and I forced our way into the house to check on her.  If you think walking back outside and confirming to a family their grandma had passed was uncomfortable, imagine what it was like to walk into my mother’s home and drop the bombshell her baby was killed in Vietnam.  I would not wish that on my worst enemy.

Thankfully, that was the only unusual aspect of dealing with David’s death. His body made it safely home, and he received a property military funeral. Our dad, on the other hand, had anything but a routine transition from life to the afterlife.

His death was not totally unexpected.  He’d been in poor health for some time.  Then, he and my oldest younger brother almost died in a severe traffic accident.  Given his already poor health, I don’t know if Dad ever fully recovered from the wreck. If that were not enough, he’d lost his second wife and daughter to divorce, and his younger son had moved away to go to school. No, his death was not that unexpected or unusual. The aftermath, on the other hand, was vintage Jackson.

There was no service, at least as far as I know.  He was cremated, and as far as I could tell there were no plans on what to do with his ashes.  In fact, when I inquired about his cremains later, I was told they were misplaced.  I have no idea how this happened, but to me, it was merely another example of what one might call the Jackson phenomenon.  At some point in the process of moving on with their lives, someone packed the urn and stored it. To be fair the family was going in three different directions, and Dad apparently got lost in the shuffle.

I am happy to say the urn was relocated in a few years.  Unfortunately, all the paperwork relating to his death had disappeared, and it is not possible to legally bury someone’s cremains without the proper documentation.  Eventually, we secured the proper documentation through the Texas Department of Vital Statistics.

Monday, April 8, 2019, on the 99th anniversary of his birth, Ralph Marshall Jackson was finally laid to rest. Of course, in keeping with the Jackson phenomenon, his burial was not without its own head-scratching aspects.

First, Dad is sharing David’s gravesite. Second, he and David are immediately adjacent to the first Mrs. Jackson’s grave and I will eventually be buried in the next plot over. So, fifty years or so after bugging out, he is back with us. Second, some religious traditions hold one’s soul is trapped on earth or someplace between heaven and earth until the body is properly buried. I have no idea if there is any validity to such a claim.  If there is, however, Dad has or will check in somewhere in the afterlife. If mom is nearby, he may get an earful.

At some point in the future, perhaps I’ll be joining them. If so, I may have a couple of things to say, and I’ll be interested in knowing how the reunion went.

Until then, may they rest in peace.

© – 2019

About S. Eric Jackson

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