Jet boat in Hells Canyon

15 January, 2017            Jet boat in Hells Canyon

Trip my mom took to celebrate her 80th birthday.

Trip my mom took to celebrate her 80th birthday.

My mom was uninterested in material goods but cherished experiences. She turned eighty last October. My siblings and I treated her to an elegant catered dinner with her entire family. She loved every minute. Mom treated herself to a different celebration a week earlier. I got this voicemail from her the week before her birthday:  


“Hi Jay, no need to call back, we just got back from a fabulous all day trip on a jet boat in Hells Canyon on the Snake River, it was absolutely fabulous, so anyway talk to you later, love you, bye.”


Mom unexpectedly died in her sleep last week in her own house in her own bed. Two months and two weeks after her jet boat jaunt. You can read her obituary here: Jude B. McLaughlin

I don’t know if that is the actual boat mom rode in, but it’s a jet boat in Hells Canyon on the Snake River and I have no doubt her ride looked just like that. My mom was a competent cook (she fed her hungry family well) and loved to sew, but she was happiest when she was moving. Mom did not let any grass grow under her.

When I was growing up during the 1970’s, my dad’s mother, Elizabeth, had a white 1965 Dodge Dart. When she stopped driving she gave it to my mom. Mom told dad “I love it – what a generous gift – please get it painted the color of the front door of our house.” That was the color of this sweatshirt, only brighter:

Mom's favorite color

Mom’s favorite color

You can tell mom was never shy. Front door that color, car that color, the more clothes that color (preferably from Goodwill, her favorite clothing store) the better. Last week Ev brought home these fragrant yellow primroses. It’s been comforting to have them on our dining room table:

From last week's post:

From last week’s post:

 Before mom went to sleep Tuesday evening I stood next to her while we looked at pictures from the belated family Christmas celebration held only four days earlier. Mom talked about each of her five adult children and her six grandchildren. She never played favorites, but she couldn’t stop talking about – and looking at pictures of – her seventeen month old grandson Wesson. I’m sad he never got to know her better, but I am overjoyed she had the opportunity to hold him and love him and snuggle with him and kiss him. Nothing made her happier than Wesson did. Mom was petting Mackey and Turner with one hand and clicking the right-arrow key on the computer while she cycled through the pictures. She was under treatment for mild heart problems but her death was 100% unanticipated. I went to sleep in the guest room. Mom’s an early riser so I was surprised she wasn’t up the next morning when Mackey and Turner and I were. Suddenly the phone began to ring at an ear-splitting volume and didn’t stop. I walked into her room and she was lying peacefully in bed under the covers next to the phone. Not moving an inch. I let it ring while I called 911 on my phone. At that literal instant – while I’m holding the phone with the 911 call to my ear – an EMT friend of hers pulled up in front of the house to see if she was ok. I rushed out and told the woman what had happened and she rushed in with her medical bag. They figured she’d been dead for a few hours.

My first blog post was in March of 2011. This is my 270th blog post since then. Every time I posted – every single time – I’d get an email a few minutes later saying “loved the blog!” or “Great blog Jay” or “love it!” or “beautiful!” or some brief, encouraging sentence.  This will be the first time I ever don’t get a response from her. You cannot imagine what it feels like to type that sentence.


Mom and Dad retired and moved to Bridgewater, VA in 1990. This was only a couple of years after my accident and both quickly became EMTs on the Bridgewater Volunteer Rescue Squad. The whole reason they loved it up there was the small town values. From what I saw last week, those values have not eroded a whit in the quarter century they lived there. One of her EMT friends came to check in on her – just to check in on her – and that’s the one who arrived when I was there. Since mom’s was an “unattended death,” the EMTs are required by law to call a law enforcement officer. The sheriff walked in and walked up to me and shook my hand and said “Good afternoon Mr. McLaughlin, I’m sorry for your loss. See my car out there? I’ll be sitting in it filling out the paperwork. Please let me know if there’s any way I can assist you with this. I’ll be happy to make any calls for you.” I was moved again and again and again by the warmth and kindness and compassion of every person I met. Many of them knew mom quite well, and they grieved with me and felt the shock of our sudden loss.

I don’t know if you ever met my mom, but you’ve scarcely known a person as alive as she was, right up until the moment she said goodnight to me on her final evening. Mom had written her will years ago and kept it up to date; there was no confusion there. But even at eighty years old, neither she nor anyone else seriously considered life without her. I knew she wasn’t eternal but I always just had the sense that she’d outlive… everybody.

There is nothing – there is zero – that is better than having great parents. I have been fortunate to have the greatest ones ever. They’ll help me get through this with the values they instilled in me.

Mom’s funeral is being handled by Johnson’s Funeral Service in Bridgewater. Their web site has mom’s obituary on it. Here is a link to the obit on their site: Mom’s obituary at Johnson’s. This is the guest book on their site; people have already said far more kind and moving things about mom than I could ever write. Please read a few of them; they are lovely: Guestbook at Johnson’s. They also have a “Life Stories” section on the site. Only one person has submitted something so far; it is heartwarming. Please read it here: Life Story.   

Mom wasn’t a birder, but she always enjoyed the way I enjoy birds. I “got” another pair of Bald Eagles near the Willey Bridge yesterday. It’s not a great picture but it was a lucky find and mom knew that and loved it. It’s hard not to love a picture of Bald Eagles, even when the quality is sub-optimal:

Eagles yesterday

Eagles yesterday. It’s a privilege and a treat each time I see them. 

And here’s a little known fact about mom – when we were growing up, she didn’t like dogs! It was cats only until we met a dog named Cassie at the cabin in about 1978 and she  loved dogs for the rest of her life. She always enjoyed every dog I had. Here’s a picture of Mackey and Turner and Yuki at Pony Pasture this morning:

My personal therapy dog team.

My personal therapy dog team.

Have a great week. All best,


About Jay McLaughlin

I am a rehabilitation counselor. I have many friends with autism and traumatic brain injuries. They help me learn new things constantly. I hike with dogs at the James River in Richmond - a lot. I've completed an Iron distance triathlon a year for 11 years. My most recent was in Wilmington, NC in November, 2013. I currently compete in mid-distance triathlons. And work and hike and take pictures and write and eat.
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19 Responses to Jet boat in Hells Canyon

  1. Kara says:

    Dear Jay-
    What a beautiful tribute to your mom-I hear her voice in yours. I am so sorry for your loss and the fact that she is not the one typing her response to your post-but grateful for all her gifts-what a bright light and what a gift for you to have been with her during her final hours-I bet she orchestrated it that way!

    • Hi Kara,
      And thanks for the note. It was, perversely, a gift to me to be with her during her final hours. I hope it was a gift to her as well. I strongly suspect, as you do, that she orchestrated it that way. Thanks again for the note, have a great day, talk with you soon,


  2. Barbara says:

    Dear Jay, I didn’t know your mother, but I met her once and feel I got a very good idea of the bright spirit she was from your loving description; I know you and your family will miss her sorely. What a blessing that you were there in her home with her…

    • Hi Barbara,
      And thank you for your kind note and thoughtful words. I believe it was a blessing for both of us that we were together in her home on her final evening. Thank you again for your kind words and have a great day,


  3. David says:

    Jay, I’m sorry for your loss. Your stories brought me back to when we first meet. I believe we did a road trip north and I got to meet your parents for the first time. I recall them being very welcoming, joking and fun to be around. I’m sure your parents were very proud of you and your siblings.


    • Thanks David,
      Great to hear from you. My parents were both always positive, upbeat people – it was a treasure to be raised by those two. I hope they were proud of us; I know I was proud to have them as my parents. Thanks for the note and have a great day,


  4. Cris and Cathy Leonard says:

    What a treasure to read your blog.

    • Thanks Cris and Cathy,
      Great to hear from you. Writing my blog is a great release for me – it means a lot that you enjoy reading it. Thanks for your kind words and have a great day,


  5. ameiller says:

    Loved reading that! Well-done!

    • Glad you loved it my brother! Great talking with you the other day too. I swam 2,000 today after work to help me sleep better tonight. Best therapy there is! Thanks for the note and have a great day, much love,


  6. Jenny says:

    Jay, so sorry for your loss. What a blessing that you were able to spend that time with your mom. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

    p.s. I may not write often in response to your blogs, but please know that I (and my family!) read them each week.

    • Hi Jenny,
      Great to hear from you, and thank you for your kind words. It certainly was, perversely, a blessing that I was able to spend that time with my mom. I wouldn’t have chosen to be there in a million years and I wouldn’t have chosen to be absent in a million years. I was fortunate to be raised by her and dad.

      I’m glad to hear you read my blogs each week! Sometimes the content is dull and repetitive but I try to at least get one or two good pictures (or more) each week. Thank you again for your kind words and have a great day,


  7. 110Mabel says:

    Amazing ! Bucket list complete, RIP

  8. Becky says:

    Jay, Your mother lives on through you. I hear it in your writing! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog post and will look forward to many future ones. In the meantime, I think I shall enjoy going back and reading past entries. I hope we can manage to stay in touch. Take care. Hugs. Becky

    • Thank you Becky! I’m flattered that you can hear mom in my writing. I’m also happy that you enjoyed reading the blog post. It felt good to write. When you’re “going back and reading past entries”, I suggest you check the posts from late November and early December of 2012. There are two entries there about when dad died that you might enjoy reading. I’m looking forward to staying in touch! Thank yo so much for all you did on January 4 and for how much you’ve meant to mom and dad the entire time they knew you.

      Thanks again, I look forward to hearing from you again, have a great day,


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  10. Katie Avsec says:

    A lovely tribute, Jay. I agree that you McLaughlins had a couple of terrific parents. Those of us that got to meet them, as well as all you kids, are better off for it. I confess I may not read all your blogs but I always enjoy hearing your perspective and seeing the notifications pop up regularly. Keep sharing and your “equilibrium” will return much quicker than it would otherwise.
    — Katie

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