739 Days

My grade school friend Jacque Sue (Rawson) Waller will be buried tomorrow, June 8, 2013. This, after her family, friends and many complete strangers spent thousands of literal hours searching for her. Hoping against hope for a happier ending than Jacque received. Praying for one more chance to hold her hand and tell her any of the things that now fall in the category of If Only.

If you’re unfamiliar with Jacque’s story, you can read here, or here, or my own puny contribution here.

It all boils down to Jacque being a wonderful person in a situation turned bad, then worse and then finally horribly final.

But the culprit has spoken. I do not know what prosecutors or his own defense attorney said to Jacque’s estranged husband, but something finally got through to him. In the final days of May he broke his silence on where she’s been these last 105 weeks, and how he put her there. How he planned an island grave on the Mississippi River for the mother of his three children. How he subdued her, took her life and moved her body in a garbage can.

His plea agreement with the State of Missouri grants Waller a glimmer of hope for his own future. Twenty years (less one for time served) could allow him to walk out of the penitentiary before most of Jacque’s peers have reached retirement age. The children will only be in the second half of their twenties. Waller himself would still have many years of living ahead of him. I’m certain that seemed attractive. Twenty years is really not that long, even if it’s spent in prison. And it sure beats dying.

Hardly seems fair.

Many people have expressed powerful emotions over the sentencing this week, myself included. But we must all remember, this is not about us. We have to keep in mind many families in the Rawsons’ position are never granted the luxury of having their missing loved one returned to them. This arrangement and the details Waller has finally provided mean Jacque’s kids will grow up knowing where their mother rests. And we must continue to focus on this family. The triplets and the steadfast care they receive from her sisters and brother and in-laws and parents…her extended family of dear friends and colleagues…the lives Jacque touched without even realizing it. These are her legacy. This is what matters. “Fair” doesn’t enter into it.

I was thinking this morning about all the people who spent hours and hours searching, organizing canine rescue excursions and volunteering on horseback. All the people who donated weekends to choking on bug spray and guzzling water in outrageous heat indexes in hopes of finding a single clue as to her whereabouts. This is also Jacque’s legacy: that strangers would come together time and again to become friends with a common focus of helping a young woman get back to her babies. It’s a powerful force of influence in one tiny, feisty body that could inspire so many to these actions. This, too, is Jacque’s legacy. She was just a lovely person.

Stan Rawson, Jacque’s father, was quoted online saying it was his fault she was gone. That he didn’t do enough to protect her. Mr. Rawson acknowledged that Jacque had asked the family not to get involved, but…we all know a father won’t let that go. When the community gathers for the funeral tomorrow I’ll be grieving especially for the good and solid men in Jacque’s life. Men like her father, who will be clenching their fists, thinking “If only….” If only they’d been with her that last day. If only they’d have put the fear of God in Waller. If only….

But If Only is a quagmire. Stay there too long and risk getting trapped. There is no growth in that place. And truly, just one human is responsible for what happened to Jacque. That is the human who took the action against her. And it didn’t have to end as it did. He could have stopped his assault. He could have come to his senses and punched a wall. He could have done a hundred other things to show he was upset about the situation. Up until the very last instant her soul was in her body, there was ONLY ONE HUMAN responsible for the outcome, and that human elected to take the coward’s way out. He murdered his wife. Then he lied and lied and threatened and lied. And then he spun a deal to spend two decades living off Missouri tax payers’ dollars while other people adjust to the wreckage he’s caused. That’s Clay Waller’s legacy.

I’d rather we focus on Jacque’s legacy: her spirit, her generous smile and amazing tenacity. The way her story has spread beyond Waller’s reach like ripples on a lake. The family who will continue to grow knowing she loved them, and that she set the bar as high for herself as she did for them. That she fought to her end to make a safe and loving home. The family that, every day going forward, can set flowers and tears on her grave and know Jacque is lost no longer.

We honor her memory. We carry her legacy forward.

You are loved and missed, Jacque Sue. Now rest peacefully.


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