Here & there: Christmas, loss and last words

The December 2013 inset photo inludes Jonathan Dayton's uncles breaking to warm by a fire during their search for him after the plane he was in went down. River of No Return Wilderness Area, Idaho. December 8, 2013 | Photo courtesy of Alan Dayton, St. George News

OPINION — Dec. 1 marked the second anniversary of a major family tragedy in our home, the day our 24-year-old nephew died in a small plane crash in the River of No Return Wilderness Area of northern Idaho. He and his fiancé had been coming home in a plane piloted by her father after spending Thanksgiving with her family.

This December 2013 photo shows the "Jonny angel" that tops the Dayton family Christmas tree. Salt Lake City, Utah, December 2013 | Photo by Kat Dayton, St. George News
This December 2013 photo shows the “Jonny angel” that tops the Dayton family Christmas tree. Salt Lake City, Utah, December 2013 | Photo by Kat Dayton, St. George News

We didn’t know that fateful day that our beloved Jonny was already gone. What we did know was that the plane crashed. Early on we hoped for many days that they all were still alive.

Government agencies, crowd sourcing and local volunteers all mobilized to help.

When my husband and his brothers joined the search and rescue efforts, we knew. They wore snowshoes and geared up from head to toe in Gore-Tex. And the intensity of the terrain and the bitterness of the cold made it clear – no one could have survived.

Even with the premium winter gear, which no one on the plane was wearing, it was so cold my husband and his brothers had to break from the search to build fires … when, that is, they could even get the fire started. Their hands immobilized in seconds when they ungloved to light a match.

The plane and crash site, wreckage completely covered in snow, wouldn’t be discovered until many weeks later through a series of miraculous events. With the discovery, we learned officially that all five souls died. Without suffering. Together.

We laid them to rest the next month. Together.

Recently my sister-in-law shared her very last conversation with her son, Jonathan. He called before leaving for Thanksgiving to ask her something important: how to read a dipstick.

She explained to him that you pull the stick out, wipe the end off, put it back in all the way then pull it out again. If the oil mark is somewhere in the flattened part of the stick, she said, you’re good to go.

Jonny thanked her and went to hang up but, she said, she gave him that maternal “whoa,” asking a few more questions. It was a big weekend for him. He was meeting his future in-laws.

He was nervous, he confided in her, and she reassured him, “Just be yourself.”

Jonny’s mom didn’t know it was the last time she’d be talking to her boy. She didn’t know what awaited him – and his family – on Dec. 1st. But she did know that she loved him and she ended the conversation by telling him as much.

Those last words were kind and ordinary, the kind you might expect between mother and son.

My sister-in-law should and does have a certain peace with it; a peace that she imparted knowledge to him, a peace that she spoke with love.

Of course, she probably would have tried to make it more meaningful if she’d been forewarned, but that’s usually not how it works.

You can’t go around trying to make every conversation profound as if it might be your last. People would probably start avoiding you or rolling their eyes at you like my boys sometimes do when I start making a “mom speech.”

But you can choose to generally speak with love, or light, so you’ll reduce your chances of being left with regret.

I’ve heard my dad often say something to the effect that the only words you don’t have to take back are the words you never say.

That first Christmas after the plane crash, my little family made a tribute to our lost nephew and cousin: a new angel to top our tree – a “Jonny angel” made of paper and glitter with Jonathan’s smiling face.

From then until now, it has served as a reminder of the young man we lost. It now also serves as a reminder to always speak with love, even when it’s something ordinary. No wait, especially when it’s something ordinary.

Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News, any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.

Email: katdayton@gmail.com | news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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1 Comment

  • Wolverine December 12, 2016 at 8:49 am

    Such a great story and so true. There is so much hate out there, and a kind word to a loved one, co worker or a stranger that “may just really need it”, is so important. Thank you for sharing this story. Be kind out there people.

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