A Collective Grief – Twenty-Seven Years of Searching for Jacob

CandleFlameI was surprised by the tears, and sense of profound grief which hit me, when I learned Jacob Wetterling’s remains had been found. Jacob, the eleven-year-old who was taken at gun point from his brother and best friend on an October night in 1989 has been in the background of life in Minnesota for twenty-seven years. I was living in a small rural town about 90 miles south of the Wetterling’s at the time Jacob was kidnapped. The story of his abduction had left us all with questions. We found inconceivable that three boys were accosted by a man with a gun, on a rural Minnesota road. That one of the boys had been taken, the others told to run, was beyond our ability to comprehend. We wondered at first if the story was true – and if true, how was this possible? Within a few months, the story of Jacob Wetterling’s disappearance was in the backdrop of Minnesota life. Emerging from time to time, was a story . . . A Reminder of a life disappeared, filled with continuing questions of how, why and who? By the end of 1989, Jacob had become the most popular boys’ name in Minnesota and would remain among the most popular five boys’ names for nearly two decades.

Through these twenty-seven years, my appreciation for Patty Wetterling, has only grown, as she took a tragic loss and turned it into a cause that would help other families. A fearless advocate, I often stumbled on an interview on local radio as I traveled to meetings, hospital calls and home visits. I came to recognize her voice as she talked about issues related to offenders, missing children, Amber alerts and always something about Jacob. Yesterday, the state was reeling, as news spread across the media, local stories first, then national news. This one lost child set off a chain of sequences which has changed the world for the better. In his disappearance, Jacob saved lives of other children.

Thinking about my sense of grief, my tears upon learning Jacob had been found, I realized that somewhere in those twenty-seven years the Wetterling family, had become part of our collective Minnesota family. Jacob became our child, our grandchild, our nephew, our brother. The Wetterling’s loss became our loss.

Patty Wetterling’s fierce mother’s love would not allow us to forget her son. News media regularly brought back the story asking for more tips and fresh leads. The hope of finding Jacob alive was ever in our hearts. As unlikely as that might be, Patty Wetterling’s work with missing children, only made it more plausible. The Wetterling’s became a symbol of what was possible. Long abducted children were found, the newly abducted rescued, parents and children reunited. You wanted, so deep in the heart, for that gift to be true for the Wetterling family.

Today, Patty Wetterling posted on the Jacob Wetterling Resource Facebook page:

“The Wetterlings are deeply grieving and are pulling our family together. We will be eager to talk to media as soon as we are able.
Everyone wants to know what they can do to help us.
Say a prayer.
Light a candle.
Be with friends.
Play with your children.
Hold Hands.
Eat ice cream.
Create joy.
Help your neighbor.
That is what will bring me comfort today.” -Patty Wetterling

Life does not always give us what we want. But, sometimes, it does give us what we need. A few days ago police were led to Jacob’s grave by a man long suspected in his disappearance. Scars, twenty-seven years in the making, were ripped off and raw grief poured out. The years of searching for Jacob are over. Along with all the questions remaining are our prayers. Prayers for healing, for joy to offset sorrow . . . Prayers for peace in finally knowing where Jacob is . . . Prayers that other lost children will be found.

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