Say the name Cooper Jones and many people in the Inland Northwest recognize it, though Cooper died eight years ago when he was just 13. The Chase Middle School student was a bicyclist competing in time trials when he was hit by a car. His name is now synonymous with bike safety and education, thanks to the Cooper Jones Act passed by the Washington state Legislature in 1998.
David and Martha Jones are the model for parents who grieve well their child’s death. They are health care professionals who live on Spokane’s southeast side. Their marriage did not disintegrate after Cooper’s death, as some marriages do following the death of a child. They did not withdraw behind bitter walls of “what ifs” and “why us?” They lovingly raised their daughter, Carter, and continue to lobby, in Cooper’s name, for awareness of the rights of cyclists on the road.
I met David and Martha in person six weeks ago during a ceremony at Mission Park; a tree was planted in Cooper’s honor. His legacy continues to provide soothing shade to many. I talked to Cooper’s parents again last week, stirred by the recent death of another 13-year-old, Slade Groene. He was bludgeoned to death in his home near Idaho’s Wolf Lodge Bay.
My column vow to write about every child who dies in our community through violence, abuse or neglect led me to angry thoughts that Slade’s legacy will be forever tainted. He’ll be remembered as the son who died violently, alongside his mother and his mother’s boyfriend. He’ll be remembered as the younger brother of an older sibling who was languishing in jail when the killings happened. And Slade will be remembered as the brother of two younger siblings who are still missing and could end up dead or lost forever.
Slade’s death reminded me once again that children have zero choice when it comes to choosing their parents. Some children are born into homes with intact, loving parents – Cooper’s fate. And others are born and raised in chaos and dysfunction, as Slade appeared to be.
This was my judgmental point of view. Martha and David showed me another perspective.
They watched Slade’s father weeping on television. (He was divorced from Slade’s mother and has been ruled out as a suspect.) And they felt great compassion for him.
“Everyone is devastated by the loss of their child,” Martha said. “His pain will be the same as ours.”
On the dining room table of their cozy home, David and Martha spread out memories of Cooper. They showed me his Chase Middle School yearbooks and scrapbooks filled with Cooper’s writing.
Cooper wore glasses and a wiseacre grin. He was a boy of practical jokes and practical sense. He excelled at all he tried – cycling, Scouts, school. Adults opened up to him, sensing the wise adult maturing within the tall teen.
“My goals in life are to go to college at the University of Notre Dame, join the Air Force as a pilot, retire early and get a job as a pilot for a commercial airline,” Cooper wrote in an essay.
Cooper would be 21 now. David and Martha Jones cry freely while speaking of their son. They welcome the healing tears and never apologize for them. The latest Cooper Jones legacy is a “Share the Road” license plate, which will be sold to raise money for nonprofits that encourage bike safety.
Cooper’s parents truly no longer sweat the small stuff. And David says, “I don’t fear death anymore.” They cherish each other, their daughter, their friends and the moments that make up each day. They have learned much and given much. They would return all this personal growth to have Cooper back with them for one day.
Perhaps there will be people who will fashion scrapbooks to Slade’s memory, dedicate yearbooks to him, plant trees in his honor, name their baby boys after him. Slade was 13, just like Cooper, a boy on the cusp of becoming who he was meant to be, just like Cooper.
And because of this, Slade will not be forgotten by Martha and David, or by other parents who have lost children, who understand how the heart is wrenched from a family, a community, an entire world, when a 13-year-old boy dies among us.
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