Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Moonrise Over Bear Lake

For Elyse Fink Jones

I opened my eyes and saw the moon. It was late, or early . . . about 1 am. Instantly I felt her spirit, and it was strong. My cousin, Elyse Jones, had died less than three days earlier. The moon, which was rising over Bear Lake in northern Utah, connected me to her.

Elyse was my mom’s first cousin, making her my first cousin once removed. In 1985, Elyse’s uncle, and my mom’s father, died. His name was John Lammert Morley and he was the patriarch of my family. He was the first of the three siblings in his family to go. His sister, Elise Morley Fink, was a favorite aunt of my mom’s and by extension of mine (his other sister Tony, was another favorite aunt!). When John died, Elise encouraged my mom, Adelle, and her daughter Elyse, to start spending more time together and to get to know one another better. And they did, building a connection between the two branches of our family.

Elyse Jones
Adelle and Elyse began spending a week together every year at a sort of women’s retreat, a place called the Kerr House in Grand Rapids, Ohio, near Toledo. It was something of a mini-spa but with a dedication to wellness through exercise and nutrition. For women of the midwest in those days it was a progressive place, though I am not sure they would have used that word. Year after year they met there and their friendship blossomed. They also visited each other’s homes. Elyse lived near Detroit, Adelle lived outside of Mansfield, Ohio. They also vacationed together in Florida in the winter and at Elyse’s cottage on Lake Huron, in Canada, in the summer. Especially on the Canadian trips, my mom got to know many friends and other relatives of Elyse’s.

Their special bond came as they both graduated past their respective many years of married life--each getting divorced in the early 1990s.

I knew Elyse as a gentle soul, a kind matriarch for her family. She had four children. I got to know her son Peter in the 1990s when he and I both lived in the Baltimore-Washington area. He was a successful entrepreneur. When I met him he’d recently sold a business, a computer consulting company I believe, and seemed to be doing well, not just financially, but in being very engaged with life. He and his wife Mary Ann had moved to Maryland from Texas (if I recall correctly). Peter died suddenly of a heart attack about 15 years ago. His brother Christopher also died around that time of the same cause--taking away two of Elyse’s four adult children.

That had to be brutal for her.

As I stared at the moon, rising over Bear Lake, I felt Elyse’s presence and thought of her life. I also thought of my friends Jay and Mark who died in 1988. These two died a stupid death. We were on an 80-day wilderness trip together and it was about day 72. We were in the town of Joshua Tree, California, in the Mojave Desert, taking a break from rock climbing in the nearby Joshua Tree National Monument.

A bunch of us were drinking beer. When it was time to go, Jay and Mark had the brilliant idea that they’d steal a truck. Apparently after drinking more and going for a drunken joy ride, they wrapped the truck around a Joshua Tree, making their deaths both stupid and poetic. Having spent 72 days with these guys it was a traumatic event for me, the first deaths of peers that really touched me. Ever since then, seeing the moon often reconnects me with them as well as others who have left this world.

With some moisture in my eye, light from the moon appeared to be coming at me as a collection of crossing laser beams, going straight to my heart. As I lay there, I felt energized by Elyse, Jay, Mark, and others.

I’m grateful I had the chance to know her. This past Sunday at her service on the shore of Lake Saint Clair, just north of Detroit, I had the privilege of getting to know her a little better and meeting her friends and family, including her two surviving children--my second cousins--one of whom I met for the first time.

I also had the honor of helping my mom get to the service from Ohio. At 81, my mom’s in great shape overall, but she was in pretty rough shape this past weekend. I think she was shaken by the loss of her cousin and she’d messed up her back that week, putting her in about the most pain I’ve ever seen her in. So I am glad I was able to get to Ohio and help her get to Michigan, to properly say goodbye to Elyse.

The moon became muted by some clouds, but Elyse’s presence remained strong that night at Bear Lake, and it will live on in the hearts of the many people whose lives she touched.
Bear Lake, Utah

Read more about Elyse here.

PS--I also visited Utah for the first time on that 1988 trip--a trip that changed the course of my life. That summer, on a visit to Michigan, I shared with Elyse Jones, Elise Fink, and Ann (Elyse's daughter in law), my slides from my great western adventure. The images from Utah's redrock country got the most buzz that day.


Unknown said...

Fabulous Jim...thank you for sharing this poetic experience about my mother...truly appreciated and also your comments about Peter...a man very engaged in life...love it! And what an effort your mother made...

Elise Ann Daniel said...

Your souls connected at Bear Lake, how very beautiful.