Mother's Day marks sad anniversary for Janesville couple
JANESVILLE—Beverly Geske makes a quiet visit to Milton East Cemetery every Mother's Day.
She and her husband, Tom, park their car and walk to the headstone, where the name of a child and a model airplane are etched in granite.
They whisper their heartfelt prayers, feel their loss anew and remember the spirit of their oldest son, Jeffrey.
The child died 46 years ago on Mother's Day.
“It's supposed to be such a happy time,” Beverly says. “But I am anxious leading up to the day.”
Beverly knows she is not the only one who has lost a child on Mother's Day, even though it sometimes feels like it. By sharing their story, she and Tom of Janesville hope to let other grieving parents know that they are not alone in their sadness.
“For so many, there are losses that shadow the celebration,” Tom said. “It's not all happy times. Things like this happen, and you live on. But the experience always is in the background.”
Tom, formerly of the Wisconsin State Patrol, retired 20 years ago. Beverly worked 26 years for the former Farmer's Bank of Milton. She recalls with cruel clarity the events leading up to and on May 12, 1968.
One in particular haunts her.
The day before Mother's Day, 11-year-old Jeffrey perched on a chair at the kitchen table and happily played with a model airplane.
“Look, mom,” he said, holding it up proudly. “Look what I built.”
He clutched a replica of a Lockheed P-38 Lightning, a U.S. fighter plane from World War II.
His aunt was visiting the Geskes, who lived in Milton then. When she offered to drive Jeffrey to an open house at the Rock County Airport, something happened that Beverly still cannot explain.
“A voice told me that my sister was going to have an accident,” Beverly recalls. “I froze. I wanted the voice to go away.”
At first, she listened to the premonition and told Jeffrey that he could not go. But Jeffrey, who was in love with aviation, pleaded.
“I'll be OK, Mom,” he insisted.
Beverly did not want to disappoint the child and gave in.
The next day, Beverly was guest organist at Milton Congregational Church. Before leaving the house, she told Jeffrey to enjoy his visit to the airport. He was still in bed, with his arm over his face and sniffling. Beverly asked if something was wrong. In a soft voice, he replied, “No.”
About half an hour into the church service, Beverly played the soothing notes of a Chopin piece. Her sheet music appeared to rustle, and the strangest feeling came over her.
A second later, an usher placed his hand on her shoulder.
“Your son has been in an accident,” he told her.
A tragic thought raced through Beverly's head: “I had my warning yesterday, but I didn't listen.”
She and Tom jumped into the car and raced down Highway 26 to Janesville's Mercy Hospital.
They arrived too late.
The boy who adored airplanes died moments earlier from a skull fracture.
Details of his passing seemed so unfair. Jeffrey, his aunt and a friend were southbound on Highway 26, when a rear tire in their car blew out.
About two miles south of Milton, the car skidded off the right side of the road and overturned at least twice. In the days before seat belts, the violent impact threw Jeffrey out the back window.
The fifth-grader who had a new coat for the occasion, was supposed to go on a field trip the next day with his classmates at Milton East Elementary.
Jeffrey's aunt and her friend survived their wounds.
“For three years, we could see the gouges in the concrete when we drove by the place where the accident happened,” Beverly said.
She struggled with the profound loss.
“The hardest part is we did not know whether to leave the door to Jeffrey's room open or to close it,” Beverly said.
She remembers asking God why her son had to die on Mother's Day.
“Then I thought about how Jesus suffered,” she said. “It calmed me down and gave me perspective. Suffering is a part of life.”
At the time, she and Tom also had two daughters, Susan, 9, and Jill, 5. A few weeks later, Beverly found out she was pregnant with her second son, Brian.
“The pregnancy was something to pour my love on,” she said. “It took the focus off our grief.”
Tom and Beverly began looking to the future, but they knew nothing could fill the void left by Jeffrey's death. To survive, they stayed strong in their faith and gave thanks for their other children.
Decades later, their loss is timeless.
“It seems like it just happened yesterday,” Beverly said. “Every Mother's Day I am a wreck. Yet there have been times when God is so profoundly present because a part of us is in heaven with Jeffrey.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.