May 26, 2013, The day my world stopped — The Day Jamil died

The day started like any other day. May 26, 2013. I got up that morning with the goal of completing work projects & enjoying some quiet time. Jamil was up north with family, for an annual Memorial Day vacation. I could have went, but I was trying to keep the busy that my wife at the time, Jackie, and I had started. A little background, Jackie and I were separated in December of 2012. Our marriage had effectively ended in September 2011, actually it really ended in May of 2009, prior to our wedding, but that’s another story. We had started a business together, Foster McCollum White & Associates in 2009 & by this time, it was on life support. We had also endured the difficult journey of getting full custody of Jamil from his abusive mother, my first ex-wife. The battle & resulting damage it caused on all of us, including Xavier (my step-son), finished off any chance of Jackie & I building a stable family relationship. One great blessing out of it was the relationship Jackie built with Jamil, taking the active loving role of his mother, guardian & protector in chief. With our separation, I lost our home in Troy (it was a beautiful 4 bedroom home, with a finished basement) and was in difficult financial straits. Fortunately, my Cousins Chastity & Darrell let Jamil & I move in with them and their children. Jamil bonded with his younger cousins and continued to prosper in school in spite of the turmoil that engulfed our life. Most days I felt that I failed him, Jackie & Xavier by not being able to keep our family together. One thing I learned is that despite my best efforts, I sucked at being a husband. Jamil & Xavier, however, continued to encourage me and Jamil was my spiritual rock during this time. He gave me the same level of positive reinforcement that I provided to him and Xavier. He also was having a tremendous effect on his classmates, cousins, parents of classmates & general Troy community. In a nutshell, he was a world leader wrapped into a 14 year old person.

So, looking at all of the resulting things that were going on, the ability to get away for the weekend with part of his family was exciting to him. Unfortunately, with the weekend coming up, we found out that my Grandmother, his & Xavier’s Great-Grandmother Walta White, died that Wednesday. The funeral was scheduled for Saturday May 25, 2013. Jamil wanted to go to the funeral, he was very close to Grandma White, as was I. I decided for him to go on the vacation instead of the funeral because it would be fun. He was moving into the last 3 weeks of school, had the City-wide Track championship that Tuesday (He was running in 4 events with a strong medal chance in 3, unlike his slow father who ran track in High School, just very slowly). Everything seemed fine and I fully expected to see him at home on Monday, when everyone was returning.

When I got up & dressed that day, I had one meeting scheduled, with David & Leslie Nathan. David was a State Representative & was running for the State Senate seat held by my great friend & term limited Senator, Tupac Hunter. David became a client earlier that year & as small as the world is, our sons played in the same little league, along with Tupac’s oldest son. I included the boys in everything I did and all of the officials, politicians, civic and business leaders I worked with knew Jamil & Xavier. It was a source of pride to share my world with my sons. I went to Kinko’s in Lathrup Village around 2pm, to make copies for the meeting with David & Leslie, when I got a call from my cousin Chastity. She asked me to go back to the house & meet Darrell. She said it was urgent, but didn’t tell me why. I told her that I had a meeting and couldn’t, but she implored me to go meet him. I left Kinko’s & went back to the house. Darrell was pulling up. Now Darrell is a cool & confident person, never displays a rattled nature, except for this day. It seemed out of character. He implored me to get in the car with him & go up north to meet with everyone. I’m still a little slow on processing everything, but I started to feel that something was wrong with Jamil. I asked Darrell to tell me what was happening, he kept saying we have to go. As soon as I got in the car, I started calling Jamil’s cell phone. It rang & went to voicemail. I called multiple times, now starting to panic. I kept asking Darrell to tell me what was going on. He wouldn’t go into any details other than something happen to Jamil, but he’s strong & will be ok. Now, I’m really panicking and worrying about my son. Jamil is my only son through birth, Xavier is my son through Marriage. I had been Jamil’s protector, parent and travel buddy since his birth. Starting to process anything bad happening to him just didn’t make any sense. Jamil is fearless, a natural at everything & has a level of self-confidence that I have only achieved in my professional environment. He had it in all environments. To think that something could happen to him was unfathomable, yet a fear I had since his birth. I was always a little overprotective because I had a fear of something happening & my not being able to stop it. I sometimes, in my prayer life, asked God to take my life immediately if Jamil was in any danger, so that he could live and continue his life journey. When Xavier came along, I added him into my prayers because these two young men were going to be a light to a troubled world. I didn’t want that to be interrupted.

So, here I am, in the car, nervous and frantic about my son. I called him 3 more times before I called Chastity again. By this point, she was at the hospital with Jamil and the rest of the family. She was in an significant level of pain and distress on the phone, but I did get the hospital’s name. I called them directly & asked to speak to the attending physician, to find out what was going on. He was a nice man, & initially didn’t want to go into details over the phone. I couldn’t wait for answers, because now my mind had went to a dark place and started processing the impossible, that my son was dead. I demanded the doctor to tell me if my son was alive, it felt like I was outside of myself in asking that type of question. I couldn’t believe the words were coming out of my mouth. The doctor, being a professional, informed me that they lost Jamil, he is no longer with us. I think every day of hearing those words and understand the difficulty in delivery. I never expected to hear this about one of my sons. I don’t know how people in the medical field can delivery this type of news. It seems foreign to me, to have to delivery this on a daily or weekly basis. I couldn’t do it, less known now receiving this information from the Doctor. At that moment, I let out as loud of a scream as possible. My son, my light, Xavier’s brother, was dead. I felt that I failed him. Why was I not there with them? Why did I decide to work instead of staying with him? Why didn’t I call up to find out what they were doing, why didn’t I keep him here, why wasn’t it me. It should have been me, not Jamil. How did I fail so horribly in protecting him? Nothing made sense.

I respectfully thanked the Doctor for his patience and candor with me. I told him I was on the way and asked them to make Jamil comfortable, as possible. None of this made any sense. It’s 3:30pm and my son is dead. I sank back in the seat, Darrell was tearing up, not sure what to say. It wasn’t anything that a father wants to be prepared for. It’s not supposed to happen. I started the difficult process of calling people, first Jackie, second Katrina (Jamil’s biological mother), my father, my mom Crystal and a few other family members. I was sick, numb & wanted to die right then. If I could trade my life for Jamil’s, show God that Jamil was needed now in this world and that I was expendable. Nothing made sense, nothing made sense. Katrina & Jackie both blamed me for this. Katrina hadn’t seen Jamil in over a year, but blamed myself and Jackie for turning him down a path where this accident could happen. Jackie blamed my failings as a husband and for not being with everyone in Tawas, so that I could have intervened in the incident. Jackie also blamed herself. She had planned to get Jamil & take him & Xavier to Kalahari resorts for the Memorial Day weekend. She didn’t call due to what was going on between us. Jamil was more of her son than Katrina’s by then. Jackie’s anger and blame felt valid and yet different than Katrina’s. Jackie’s anger was of a mom, who wanted to have her son back. Katrina’s anger was towards me, as being her enemy in her battle for control of Jamil. You see, from Jamil’s birth, Katrina & I had different perspectives on parenting. Jamil was more of a possession than a child of hers. To Jackie, however, Jamil was as much her son as Xavier was. That variance was comforting because my world & existence was never going to be the same.

We arrived at the hospital in Tawas City MI., St. Joseph’s Mercy Memorial, Chastity, Monique, Marla, David and Gary were all standing outside. Everyone was devastated. We hugged, but at this point, I wanted to know two things; how did my son die and where was he. As it was told and I believe, Jamil didn’t want to wear a life preserver while canoeing. Everyone was going canoeing & he wanted to be like his adult cousins. Chastity argued with him, to get him to wear it, but three things took place:

1. The canoe company didn’t have enough life jackets available & Jamil gave the one designated for him, after his persuasive arguments, to his cousin Megan.

2. Megan’s canoe tipped over early in the journey & without the life jacket, she may have perished. She wasn’t as good of a swimmer as Jamil.

3. Jamil was canoeing with one of his younger cousins when they hit a sandbar. Jamil took charge to try & get them off of the bar by getting out of the canoe, tipping the canoe over & sending them into the water. He was caught in the current & despite efforts to save him by his other cousins, he went under and wasn’t found for another 30 minutes, by the County Sheriff’s dive team.

The water conditions were extremely terrible that day, water temps were around 50 degrees & the river had experienced a significant amount of ice thawing, which lead to extreme currents that weekend. No one should have been out on the water. I’m paraphrasing because to this day, I have still only looked at the police report once. Obsessing over the details, how long he was under water, etc. are still extremely difficult for me to personally process. I can talk about it from a general sense, but still haven’t gotten there fully yet. Once I got a sense of what happened, I wanted to see him. I was mad at him for putting himself in this type of situation, mad at my adult family members for not making him wear his life jacket & lastly, mad at myself for not being there. Chastity, Darrell & I went into the ER room where Jamil was, he looked at peace, as if he was sleeping. Nothing about him looked any different. I yelled at him, to wake up, for being dead, for not asking my permission to go canoeing, etc. He looked like he could just wake up at any minute. He was so peaceful. I have never felt such loss and pain as I did at that moment. I held his hand, but didn’t want to hug him, that would have made it more real. Nothing would ever be the same. Jamil was the one who would change the world. He and Xavier had planned to go to college out west, Jamil to Stanford & Xavier to USC. Jamil was the one who would achieve what I didn’t, be the better man, husband & father than could ever achieve. I had committed myself to Jamil & then when Xavier came into our life, both of them. None of this made any sense. When he was born, I vowed to protect and keep him from harm. Now, he was gone. Darrell & Chastity, everyone was crying, supportive & heartbroken. Jamil made a positive impact in everyone’s life. His spirit, his heart and his compassion was amazing. No one was ever going to be the same without Jamil and no one has been. Most of the rest of the evening was a blur, I was just extremely sick & praying for God to reverse this & take me instead. The one thing that I remember is that Jackie, his mother & I decided to donate his organs (this still hurts to say) to help others in need. Jamil’s faith in Jesus was strong, he expected to be able to help people even after his death. He was an advocate of organ donation.

Jamil was just someone amazing. Jamil is still the reason why I get up every day, after my faith in Jesus. It’s what he would want. That being said, my life changed that day & never has been the same.

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Eric Foster

Eric Foster

I'm a Father, 10th generation American (family roots to South Carolina, 1725 roughly), Political, Public Policy, Economic Theory & Data Analytics SME.