Oh my Reader, you have no idea how sweet you are to the ole soul. You stick with me even when life gets all lifey and my brain won’t allow me to put words to paper for weeks on end. Your encouragement never fails to amaze and overwhelm my little heart. You get me and I love ya for it, mean it. I got permission from my sweet daddy to share the chapter I wrote for his newest book Losing Cooper: Finding Hope to Grieve Well. Uncut, unedited. This is my heart.
February 24th 2004. Thinking back I can almost smell the rubbery sterile hospital air of NMMC Women’s Hospital. I can almost feel the coldness of the wooden door pressed against my 8-year-old ear as I strained to hear what was going on just beyond it. Being the oldest of three girls at the time, I had become a professional hospital-door-sitter-out-in-fronter, complete with an I’m the Big Sister uniform. I guess somewhere between my denial-fed daydream that I would walk in and find the usual- another blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby girl, I had missed all the excitement beyond the door. Finally, it opened to a sight I will not soon forget, the tiniest little human, hands folded, wrapped in some space age yellow paper and foil. I remember immediately wanting to change its diaper before I could confidently call him a him, but even more than that, I had never felt so much love for something that looked so much like a potato. His eyes had that jelly stuff on them, but I was sure they were blue. Staring at this just seconds old wrinkly little creature, I knew something special had just been born, and little did I know- a best friend.
Oh yeah, his name was Samuel, Samuel Cooper, and me? I was hooked.
Being only five and six when the girls were born, I have a much less vivid remembering of their babyhood. But of course, being the mature and sophisticated second-grader that I was now had a much better understanding of what was going on in the life of Cooper. Not that much was going on though, other than smelling quite frequently and putting Old Faithful to shame. He was squishy too, so that was cool. If there was a baby Olympics the kid was a shoe in for a gold in fulfilling baby-duties.
Fast-forward. For whatever reasons my parents, mainly my dad, after forty and some odd years of life, decided he was a farmer. Naturally, we did what all normal people do and bought a farm. To the outside world this may have seemed more than a tad off-the-wall, but for us it was just another day in the life with J.J. Jasper.
The story behind my chapter, though, begins in June of 2009. My mom, Cooper, the girls and I were meeting my aunt and grandmother at Cracker Barrel in Meridian, Mississippi to drop me off for my annual visit to the coast. I remember this day as if it were just yesterday. Sunny and seventy-five, a little breeze in the air, but not too much; it was lunchtime, but of course I ordered breakfast and of course a certain towheaded little boy (accompanied by Batman, of course) sat right beside me. As brunch came to an end and we were just about to go our separate ways, I remember a little hand tugging at my shirt with urgency. “Lala, take this to remember me,” Coop said handing me a small Spiderman flip-book filled with Cooper-drawn pictures of every superhero- ever. Yes, even Paul Blart. Remember you? Okay little dude, whatever you say. In retrospect, this typical family outing on a typical summer day will forever be some of my sweetest, most cherished memories.
You see, on this day, I saw my best friend for the last time.
On this particular trip I would be attending my first ever church-camp as a high schooler- which in the world of youth groups is kind of a coming of age thing. My aunt and uncle, Kasie and Jeremy Ulmer, had been the youth pastors of a church in Biloxi for some time and had invited me to go with their group to Student Life @ the Beach. Student Life was the crème de la crème of all church camps and this girl was excited. Finally the day to leave for Gulf Shores came, the vans were loaded and we were off! The anticipation for the week to come was brutal; some of my best friends, the beach and Jesus- I didn’t think my 14-year-old life could get any better.
The theme of this year’s camp was Flip; our lives can be flipped upside down with one phone call. Tragedy will strike. It’s not if but it’s when. For a week our hearts were being prepared and readied to be able to give Christ the glory when we encounter the trials of this world. The speaker, Matt Chandler, urged this message almost as if it had been placed on his heart just for my ears. The feeling that his teachings all week were directed specifically towards me was nearly haunting, but being that all was well in the invincible life of Lauren, I wrote off the sick feeling for bad seafood. I’ve never felt so much like a sponge in my life, but at the same time the teenager in me felt as untouchable as ever.
We hear of death and disaster almost daily, but until we experience the wake and the aftermath personally, the pain is incomprehensible. As Christians we are called to glorify the name of Jesus in every walk of life, be it the valley or the mountaintop.
The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Job 1:21
On the morning of Friday, July 17 two thousand and nine I was on the mountaintop. That evening was the last worship session of camp. I was so sad for this sweet experience to be over but so excited about Jesus and life. My little heart was so full I could barely stand it.
Little did I know the phone had just rang.
As worship was just about to begin I felt a hand grab me out of my isle-seat. My eyes locked with a blue, bloodshot pair. Kasie’s mouth was moving but my ears just couldn’t keep up. There had been an accident with the family Dunebuggie. It was Cooper and he was being rushed to the emergency room and we had to go- now. Please understand, in the Jasper household someone breaking an arm or getting thrown off of a horse was nothing new, but even then something was off, different. I packed my things as if nothing were wrong trying to convince myself more than anything. I remember walking into a room full of big weeping men and their heavy-hearted wives and my uncle; my sweet uncle Jeremy, in a very broken sentence telling me my dad was on the phone and he needed to talk to me. Everything inside of me screamed RUN! I already knew I just didn’t want to hear it, because if I heard it, it became real and reality was exactly the place I did not want to be. “Lauren, I’m going to need you to hold on to everything you’ve learned this week.” No Dad, wait. Please stop, don’t say it.
“Cooper isn’t with us anymore.”
Selfishly, as I fell to the floor, I couldn’t help but think of the outside world with carefree toes in the sand, while just beyond sliding glass doors a family’s world was crumbling under their feet. What did we ever do to deserve this? Look at them, life so uninterrupted. Why couldn’t HER little brother die? Why MY family? Why my Cooper? Deserve. Die. Why. My brain was like a living Mad-Lib puzzle, in overdrive trying to make sense of this story. In that moment I felt that I was an ant that had just been caught by some snotty-nosed kid’s magnifying glass- burning and there was nothing I could do about it. A crumpled up pile of myself, an overwhelming torrent of memories washing over me. Every hair, every pore, every breath that left my lungs, ached for me to wake up, but the knots in my stomach kept reminding me of how conscious I was. I longed for just on more look at that contagious smile; one more I love you.
One more anything.
Being a newly teenaged girl, emotions running rampant was just part of life, but for the next few weeks I was numb, completely void of any emotion. The tears, though, seemed to come almost involuntarily. The steady trickle of people in and out of our home was like morphine for the soul, but one day without warning it all stopped.
And then there were five.
The numbness began to wear off and the suffocating stench of pain and death crept in. What now? We were a broken unit, a team lacking a player, but we had each other and that’s all we knew. We also had the simple beauty of a hope and promise of joy and new mercies in the morning to cling to- which is what we did, oh so tightly. Hand in hand, step-by-weak-kneed-step we walked through the valley for what seemed like an eternity. We endured the darkest of nights.
Slowly, this tsunami of pain and emotion became gently violent waves, the kind that will crash into you and knock you on your face, but not the kind that can keep you down.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2