JoLee Catherine Cox, Our Sweetest Heart, September 15, 1986 to December 31, 2001

December 31, 2001

It was New Years Eve and the voice on the phone spoke earnestly “…this is the chaplain from Genesis East emergency room…”   What is that supposed to mean?  We have an 18-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter out on the town tonight.  My wife Mary, had picked up the phone first.  I did not recognize the voice I heard coming out of her.  She was bellowing “NO!  NO!…” as if a loud, pleading voice could alter reality, to make things the way they are supposed to be.  We both submerge into immediate shock and total denial.  I am numb and switch to autopilot.

I hear my wife speaking in a loud hysterical voice; I am not sure what she is saying.  My sister is calling my name; things are suddenly chaotic.  There is more going on around me than I can comprehend.

Whatever the voice on the telephone was saying, I yelled into the phone “I can’t hear you…What?…  Genesis East?  I’m coming right over.”  I am thinking ‘we are not going to jump to conclusions, we’ll go there and find out what is going on.’

My daughter JoLee had been around all day.  She had played some games with her mom and my sisters Pat and Lynn that afternoon.  In the early evening, she left with her friend.  Although, always apprehensive about our kids going out in their friends cars, especially on New Years Eve, we were happy that JoLee had some special plans for the evening and going out with a friend.   She returned about an hour later to grab a couple cokes and left again.  That was the last time I saw our JoLee alive.  Then the phone rang.

I had just prepared a large plate of Lynn’s potatoes with little slivers of fresh habenero peppers scattered on top; I was hungry.  We were going to watch a movie and eat supper.  I set the plate down somewhere and ran out of the kitchen, stopped to shut off the VCR,  grabbed my coat and raced to the Windstar.

Mary rushed out the front door without her coat and ran up the street towards the hospital only three blocks away.  She was already a block ahead of me crossing the street.   I pulled over and for a brief moment thought I might accidentally hit her with the car.  She got in.

I parked too far from the emergency entrance.  We ran in the cold air towards the emergency area.  I was at least 25 feet ahead of Mary.  I went to the reception area, short of breath, out of my mouth came words “JoLee Cox?”  The people behind the counter had a troubled look on their faces.  The chaplain, who had called us earlier, met us down the hall.  He is talking way to slow; he seems to beat around the bush with his staid demeanor.  I just want him to tell me what is happening.  My thoughts are racing.  Just tell us now what we already know and fear.

During the next few moments, Mary exercised a dichotomy between hysterics versus a seemingly controlled acceptance of the stark truth.    At first she stomped about, demanding to see her daughter, “I’m her mom,” plopping down on the floor in a corner by the emergency room door, holding her head in an overwrought fashion, she would not even let us help her up off the floor, then a veil of calm reception came over her.

The door to the emergency area is locked; I can’t get through.   Someone punches in a numeric code and I push through the door.  There are people standing around, nurses at their stations, paramedics moving about.  I could see the ambulance parked outside and I went through the door on my left.

The room is dimly lit.  There on the cart is my daughter, my sweetheart in a hospital gown.  Except for that single tube down her throat, there were no wires or other apparatus. All the machines had been disconnected and pushed to the side.  I spoke to her as if she had just fallen off her bike, ”oh, honey.”  Our first impulse is that she is going to be all right.   In a controlled motherly voice Mary said “JoLee, you’re going to be all right sweetheart…I guess God needed another angel.”  Her personal faith was kicking in, guiding her actions.

I sat in a chair next to JoLee with my hand on her head, at times I put my face next to hers.  I kissed her and talked to her.  I ran my finger down the curve of her little nose.  I always enjoyed the smell of JoLee’s perfume, tonight it intermingled with the tang of  vomit.  The attractive nurse standing off to the side brought me a styrofoam cup with ice water.  I can cry at a stranger’s funeral, I can cry at a stupid television show, but where are my tears now?

As Mary’s parents, brothers, sisters and their spouses began to arrive; they systematically succumbed to confusion and tears of disbelief.  Pat and Lynn had gone to get Bill, JoLee’s big brother.

When Bill arrived, he had the same inclination to believe JoLee was going to be all right.  She just lay there with that tube coming out of her mouth with pink ooze slowly coming out the end and dripping onto her neck.  Pink was her favorite color.  “Bill, she’s dead.”  His refusal to believe the truth matched our own.  Bill wanted everyone to leave the room so he could be with his sister, but I was not leaving.  He demanded to confront the driver of the vehicle.  I spoke softly when I told Bill “we do not need to lay blame, we need to face this situation and focus our energies toward a positive end.”  But how are we going to express our anger?  How can we be positive amidst the ensuing wave of anger and guilt that is going to surround us?

There was something missing from this scenario.  A doctor or nurse should have called to inform us that JoLee was in a bad accident and that she was badly banged up.  There should have been a day or two of intensive care, then a recuperation period, we would visit her everyday in the hospital, and before you know it, JoLee would be happy and healthy again, but that scene was rewritten.  JoLee was gone.  She bled to death from a torn heart and spleen.  My heart is broken. My heart is broken.

How could this possibly be?  She was wearing a seatbelt and the vehicle was only going 35 mph.  The passenger compartment was not crunched up, but by the looks of the damage to the front of the car, much of the impact should have been absorbed.  If there is some larger master plan, I can only think that this reality was meant to be.  But, that conclusion could be a  product of my upbringing, a self-serving thought not necessarily my own.

The hospital chaplain made a feeble attempt to assure me that he was there for me…I wanted to tell him to ”get out of my face.”  A sweater clad priest tried to lead us in prayer, interrupted by conversations and cell phones ringing…his words were empty and hollow.  The tube down JoLee’s throat was going to impede his delivering of the last rights.  He had been miscast for this scene.  I almost told him to get out.  I felt no desire for spiritual comfort from strangers.  The nurse standing off in the shadows was a far more comforting presence than either the priest or the chaplain.  The nurse knew who JoLee was.  She had a daughter the same age and lived in our neighborhood.  As I sat close, the nurse cleaned JoLee’s nose and wiped up the pink fluid dripping out of the tube onto her neck.

I just sat with my hand on JoLee’s head.   She seemed a little colder each time I kissed her.  I spoke softly in her ear.  I knew she was lifeless, but felt that she might still be in her body, not yet aware that she was free to move on.  If she did not float away directly after the accident, she might still be hearing sounds and seeing images. I could see her eyes even though her eyelids were partially closed.  I think she could still see everyone as they came close to look upon her.  I think she saw the bereaved look on everyone’s face as they approached.  I think she could still hear everyone speaking to her in tones and expressions unlike anything she had ever heard anyone say to her before.  I think JoLee was wondering why her dad was not calling her any pet names.  I could only call her JoLee, Sweetheart.

After we finally left the hospital that New Years Eve night, my son Bill had a dream…

As I sat in my first period class (Mr. Lopez’s US Cultural Tapestry I,) the morning announcement for JoLee’s death was about to come over the P.A.  As normal, there was a lot of commotion with talking, laughing, and a few cries.  Now, I knew what was about to come over the intercom, and of course it meant a lot to me, and as everyone in the room began to settle down, this one rather obnoxious black girl just would not stop her gabbing!  I arose and sternly told her to ‘shut your black mouth already, show some respect.’  At that point she did indeed stop her disrespect.  Over the PA came an unfamiliar voice announcing that before JoLee had passed, the week before winter break, she had created a movie for a class and that it would be shown to the whole school, (oddly enough, the movie was shown in all classes at once.)  The movie was as follows: JoLee came up kind of dancing/jiving in and sat in a school desk. Then she just rolled from one side of the seat right out of the other and proceeded to dance out.  JoLee was dressed in her rainbow suspenders and, strangely enough, a skirt and of course she had on her [non-prescription] glasses.  She was smiling.” 

When I was finally able to get a little sleep in the early morning after, I dreamt that I was back at work, there were new engineers working on their own computers, someone was having problems so I went to help.  Their computers were old, something boinged, a spring sprung and something popped out of this old machine.  I told the guy “you’ll have to excuse me, my daughter was just killed…” then I woke up and it was true.

I had another dream, that someone had stolen all the tires off my car.  First the two rear tires, then when I went to investigate, I came back and all four were gone.  But, I was the one who parked the car on the hydraulic lift and hoisted it up to begin with.  Then I woke up.  Nothing had changed;  my daughter was dead.

I dreamed that I was in the house we lived in, in Bushnell.  I came down to the kitchen; it was dark.  As I turned, I saw a shadow, a dark silhouette standing just inside the back door.  I called out in an attempt to identify the figure.  My voice was low, and coming out slower than it was supposed to; I could not get the words out.  The shadow went out the back door.  I knew I had to be protective; I called out again, trying hard to articulate my words, but they were coming out malformed and too low and too slow…I know what I was saying, “I am going to kill you”…In reality, this was the first time Mary had ever heard me talk in my sleep.  She could distinctly here me saying “I am going to kill you, I am going to kill you”, the second time being slightly garbled.  But in my dream, the shadow figure was at the garage door, trying to go up or climb the outside of the garage, as I tried to force these words out, Mary touched my face and I awoke to the dreaded, unflinching reality.

It was difficult for Mary or me to sleep.  The second night, Bill had some of his closest friends of many years visit.  Instead of going upstairs to bed, knowing it would be hard to sleep, Mary and I stayed downstairs on the recliner chair nestled up under blankets.  As the hour got late, Bill, Daniel, Tina, and Amanda sat on the couch.  Their talking and laughter lulled us into a much-needed warm and comfortable sleep.

We finally ventured into JoLee’s cluttered little bedroom where she rat-packed all of her specially selected items and belongings, practiced her guitars, wrote her poems, drew pictures, and listened to music.  JoLee had been preparing a new fish tank for her fish, so the fish were being kept in a small holding bowl for a couple days.  The fish died while awaiting their new home.  Mary took them to the bathroom, flushed them down the toilet and said “…well, at least JoLee will get a better funeral.”

The number of guests attending JoLee’s visitation the night before the funeral was tremendous.  Bill had prepared three CDs of JoLee’s favorite music to be played in the background including tunes by  No Doubt, Get Up Kids, Weezer, Stone Temple Pilots, Nirvana, Silver Chair, Nickelback, Tantric, Bleach, Third Eye Blind, Pink Floyd, and Creed.  There were flowers in the front and back of the room, little statues of angels people had given, a table with picture books of JoLee, samples of artwork from earlier ages,  her hot pink electric guitar was on a stand, and there was a large rendering of Alice In Wonderland characters JoLee had meticulously drawn for her brother as a Christmas present.  The casket was such that notations could be written anywhere on the surface and all of JoLee’s classmates and friends were encouraged to write a final message to our Sweetheart.  It was completely covered by the end of the evening.  Mary, Bill, and I were desensitized and exhausted from greeting the deluge of visitors and accepting condolences.

At the pre-funeral gathering Friday morning, family members gathered at the mortuary before the casket was finally sealed.  We were waiting for our priest for some final prayers.  We waited and waited, finally, Marcus the Funeral Director came into the room.  He is just a funny guy with his stereotypical funeral director demeanor and nomenclature.  I was caught off guard when he knelt down at the casket in respect.  I found it somewhat odd, as I did not expect the funeral director to kneel and pray at the casket.  Then he began leading us in the Lord’s Prayer.  He must have been following a catholic ritual because he said a few words and began the Lord’s Prayer a second time.  As we recited the prayer with him, he must’ve choked or something because he stopped mid prayer, we all stopped.  This struck me funny and I started to quietly laugh.  First of all, just the fact that Marcus went up and knelt at the casket seemed out of place to me.  It may as well have been the janitor or cleaning lady.  It just struck me as peculiar.  Then when he stumbled on the second Lord’s Prayer, I laughed out loud, it was more of a snort.   My son Bill started laughing with me now.  We began laughing so hard we were shaking, trying not to make noise.  Marcus said more words and began the Lord’s prayer a third time….that was it,  Bill and I tried to conceal our ill-gotten laughter, but you know how it is when you are trying to subdue uncontrollable laughter at a solemn occasion.  I am sure the guests behind us assumed we were sobbing uncontrollably.  The people beside us were leaning forward to see our faces.  Mary whispered loudly “now, stop it.”  There may not be that much difference between uncontrollable laughter and sobbing.

This is the world we live in.  Do things happen for a reason?  Or do they just happen?  There are any number of simple choices anyone of us could have made that would have altered this chain of events.  Could we have avoided this devastating end?

In a compassionate world, we forgive the driver of the car.  In a compassionate world, we accept the passing of our beloved daughter as God’s will and testament.  We want and need to get on with our significant lives.   But, in this world, this is just an excruciating blow to our minuscule existence.  In this world we are angry. This anger will manifest itself in ways we are not yet aware of.  We demand that a lesson be learned, a lesson about cause and effect, distractions and driving, responsibility for our actions.  A message needs to be sent.  In this world, if the neighbor kids were to accidentally set fire to my garage, I would be mad.  If someone sideswiped my parked car in the middle of the night, I would be very upset.  If someone killed my daughter…I would be heartbroken.

I am almost convinced that we achieve an elevated consciousness beyond death.  Perhaps JoLee fulfilled her requirements on this plane and has moved to the next level.  I wonder if we were to ask JoLee if she wanted to come back to us, she might pause and say “…um, no thanks, I like it better here.  See ya soon.”  Do we need to be strong in order to stay here, to live through and learn from the corporal experiences of this world, or must we be brave enough to leave this world and move on?

As these weeks have elapsed, most everyone around us has returned to the way they were.  I will just be the poor sap that lost his daughter.  I am concerned for my wife and son, will we feel better as time passes?  Our healing process could take months, years, or a lifetime to approach balance.  As I grow older, the years progress faster and faster.  Our lifetimes vanish in the blink of an eye in relationship to the vast unfolding of the universe, but when I think of JoLee, time moves very slowly.  The next 50 years will creep along in that respect.

JoLee’s brother Bill had another dream as follows…

Friday, February 1, 2002 (day before Gala) [Sadie Hawkins dance at the High School in which Bill was a King candidate] “JoLee appeared in my dreams twice last night.  I got a call from the parents telling me to go to Osco Drug and meet up with them.  I get into the car and begin a rather run-of-the-mill conversation.  Then, I realize that JoLee is indeed sitting next to me in the backseat.  Mom leans back from the front seat and asks me ‘I bet you are wondering why JoLee is with us?’  Well of course, I was going to say something, but then I thought maybe she had just died in my dreams and now i was really awake.  Mom then goes on to tell me, we buried her alive, some x-rays and further tests showed that we had made a mistake.  I was overwhelmed and woke up.  I fell back asleep rather quickly (dream #2 is a continuation of the first dream)

JoLee and I were walking around some office building (but something tells me it was more…It was in the shape of the Happy Joe’s parking lot… With little ‘go-carts’ which leads me to believe that it was the office to a golf course)… we were talking about what had happened since she had passed away…How I have been, and how the world had been.  We did not discuss New Years Eve and the accident… while walking around the parking lot of go carts, a guy pulled up in one and went into the building.  JoLee continued to walk, while I jokingly got into one of the go-carts and pulled up next to her.  I hopped out, and we gave each other a hug and laughed… the last thing I remember asking her (but not receiving an answer) was ‘I just never knew how to look at Carrie, I never knew what to think…what should I think?’ (not what should I think now that she is alive, but more of, what should I be thinking about her, with JoLee dead, —although I was talking with her, as if she were alive, undead, I guess I did know she was gone, and this may be my last and only time to talk with her.)

In both dreams JoLee seemed weak and frail… as if although she was ‘unburied’ and alive… she was to leave me/us again…”

It has been six weeks since the accident.  All I want to do is lay around, eat, sleep, and watch TV.   I have made an effort to get back into a normal routine.  I was back to work within seven days; I have gotten back into playing music.  But, most of the time throughout each day, my mind and thoughts inevitably return to the emergency room at the hospital.

I am gazing across the dimly lit room at my daughter lying on a cart.  I am sitting next to her, my hand on her head, peering into her still eyes, studying her features, knowing there would be no more expressions on her sweet face nor words from her lips.  I breathe in her scent.  I know I need to leave this place, but I am not sure I want to leave just yet.  I will be at that point in time for a long time, possibly forever.  I dread the thought that for some brief moments JoLee may have been very frightened and I unable to be with her and comfort her.  I am sitting next to that crash cart holding JoLee’s head, giving her occassional kisses and speaking to her.  The words from that phone call on New Years Eve keep playing over and over in my head, “… this is the chaplain from Genesis East emergency room…JoLee died in an car accident tonight.”  I said “…what?  …what…?”                   Kc

Jan28-2017 JoLee has been gone now for longer than she was alive.  I changed webhosts, so had to read our story to ensure that it is intact.  New tears.          Kc

Ellie (little girl, yellow shirt, below) emailed me in September 2019:

“I still think of Jolee fondly and I only lived Next door and knew her when I was that little 1st grader in the yellow shirt… she was so kind, and funny and silly. And In retrospect she was so sweet to have treated me like a friend instead of just the little neighbor girl she babysat from time to time. When I was pregnant last year Jolee was at the top of my ‘girl names’ list (before I knew I would have a boy) I still remember writing her notes and giving them to her in the rope and pulley basket she had hanging from her bedroom window. I remember drawing in her room with her and giggling as I slipped a silly drawing under Billy’s room door across the hall. She was a truly special soul I’m blessed and honored to have been in contact with.”

JoLee was at an age where dad never got hugs or kisses anymore.  Actually, this has been the norm for quite some time, even when JoLee was a youngster, a kiss from my sweetheart was hard to come by.  I remember one night though, JoLee was a little girl; I went to check on her after she had gone to bed.  I got close to peer into her little face while she slept, she woke up, reached up and kissed me right on the lips and went back to sleep.  She never remembered that incident and denies that it ever occurred.  But, it really did.

Now, I can only envision myself giving JoLee a big hug.  My arms wrapped tightly around her, my cheek against hers, I would kiss her on the forehead and stroke her hair, touch my nose against her nose, and then hold her head against my chest…a heartfelt demonstration of the unconditional love only a father can have for his daughter.  I can almost feel the warmth, the feeling of completeness and sense of Oneness.