I realize that it's been almost 2 weeks, and I have not updated or expanded upon what happened. Hopefully, you all understand. Partially, the silence has been due to lack of desire to post on the topic. Partially, it has been due to lack of time. But now here I am. I'm not exactly sure how disjointed this post will be . . . please bear with me.
Last July, my sister decided to celebrate her 40th birthday with a rush, and went skydiving for the first time. Of course, it was a tandem jump. But it was such an exhilarating experience that she convinced myself
, my brother, and a couple friends to also do it. She quickly developed a passion, and loved the freedom and joy of the sky. She chose to pursue her solo license.
On January 31, 2009, at around 2:00pm, while on her 17th jump, she encountered a problem. I'm not quite sure how else to describe it, since we do not yet know precisely the cause. There are a few theories, but nothing truly concrete. And so I will not mention them. The FAA is involved in the investigation of the incident, and hopefully their report (whenever it may come out) will shed some light on it. Here is what we do know: Her primary chute deployed and fully opened. At some point after deployment, Jen went into a spin. The cause of the spin is the unknown. Also unknown is why she did not pull her tear-away (releasing the main chute and deploying her secondary). The spin caused her to descend much more rapidly than intended, and she hit the ground at approximately 40 mph. On that same jump happened to be a few medical personnel, including a physician, so she received medical attention literally within minutes. She was airlifted to a trauma center in San Jose. Upon arrival, slightly after 3:00pm, she was conscious and responsive. Doctors put her under, and took her to surgery in order to repair damage to her shoulder area. A tear in her aorta (major artery coming off of the heart) was discovered, and despite efforts, she bled out on the operating table. She passed away at about 5:45pm.
At 7:43pm I received a call from my mom, stating that Jen had been in an accident and was in critical condition at the hospital. Due to faulty communication (another issue that I will not discuss further at this time), we were not told of the accident until 7:30pm, and were unaware at that time of the end result. When I received the call, it just so happened that I was hanging out with some friends in San Jose--about 10 minutes from the hospital. So, I was the first of my family to arrive. I have to take a moment here to mention that I am extremely blessed to have the friends in my life that I do. I have known these 3 friends since high school, but even still I was a little amazed at how quickly and instinctively they gave their support. All three (along with one's wife, who was also with us) dropped everything and came to the hospital with me. They waited until my folks & brother arrived, stayed for quite a while after we got the news, offered to get us any food/drink we needed, a place to stay in case we didn't want to drive the 60 miles back home that night, and even the jacket off their back. We could not have asked for better support if we tried.
The following Monday, I went to work. I know, that may surprise many people, that I chose to do that. But the reality is, I needed
it. Having something else to focus on for a little while really helped. That day, I told very few people what had happened--my supervisor, in order to give her a heads up that I would require time off that week; and 2 friends who work there. Again, I can not express how thankful and fortunate I am for my friends. I know that people protected me that day . . . steering problems and people away from me, making sure I had my space, while at the same time protecting my privacy by not explaining why. By Tuesday, word had spread, and as more people began offering their condolences, I found that my refuge was disappearing. For that reason, and more importantly in order to be there for my family, I took the remainder of the week off.
In the week that followed, I learned many things about my sister. Things that, really, I should have known already. But one of those things I learned is just how humble she truly was. Seven years ago, she moved to California's Central Valley (about a 3.5 hour drive from here). While she had some bumps at first, we knew she had adapted and that she had become well liked by her co-workers, friends, and community. But we had no idea just how big an impact she had made. News of her passing spread throughout California. It was reported in parts of Nevada & Arizona. I found an article on-line from South Carolina. We began receiving letters, e-mails, and phone calls from people in Texas & Florida, and even as far away as Australia (she had organized a trade mission and sister-city program there). Her office received calls from the Governor's office, as well as members of not only the state congress, but from the US Congress as well. The "standard" investigation of the incident, normally handled by the safety officer at the jump facility, was taken over directly by the FAA. Her office became overwhelmed with flowers & stuffed animals from members of the community. I wish I had known more of this before . . . my level of pride in my sister is something that should have been present during her life.
My family is coping about as well as can be expected. Truthfully, it still seems a little surreal to me. It's hard conceptualizing that she is gone. It may sink in and hit me later, which is something I dread. Though I know how great my friends are, and how strong my family is, so know that I will pull through things fine. We are somewhat consoled in the knowledge that she left doing something she loved . . . she was more alive up there than ever. And she did teach me one more lesson, as communicated through my uncle in his eulogy--paraphrased: We must learn to live life in the now, and take chances. Do the things we love, and have no regrets.
And while there will be no more jumping out of planes for me, I hope that I can follow through with my intent to follow that advice.
Posted at 2/13/2009 6:35:03 pm by PhilM