By Gail Devereaux
What do you do when you have been fighting cancer for six years and you know the countdown has begun for when you will be leaving for eternity?
My brother-in-law, Jack Atkinson, 75, decided he was going to go skydiving.
On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in August, Jack and Carol, who had been married for 50 years, headed for Geneseo, Ill., for a skydiving adventure with family and relatives.
Jack, seven of his eight kids, his nephew, Steve, and I all went skydiving. Jack’s son Justin, an experienced skydiver, went solo. Carol, my sister, didn’t jump because she’d recently had knee replacement surgery.
The rest of the group tandem jumped with help from members of the Quad-City Skydiving Club. All of us relatives live either in the Dubuque Archdiocese or Davenport Diocese. I decided to join the others because it was on Jack’s “bucket list” of things to do before he died.
I was grateful to God that I was able to go to Mass and confession in the morning before I went skydiving. When I was in the plane about 13,000 feet off the ground, the excitement was gone and all that was left was fear. I didn’t want to jump, but I didn’t want to back out. I had to pray to God for the courage to jump out of the plane.
It was neat to share that skydiving adventure with my brother in-law and his family. Carol is glad that Jack got a chance to fulfill this wish on his bucket
list and that their family and other relatives got to enjoy the day together.
I contemplated writing about this experience earlier, but Jack’s failing health motivated me to put my reflection into words. The article had been submitted to The Catholic Messenger before Jack died Nov. 9.
He was a giving person, having served in the U.S. Army and for 43 years as a firefighter and on the ambulance service. Jack was active in his parish and was a member of the Knights of Columbus.
(Gail Devereaux is a member of Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton. Jack and his wife were members of St. Joseph Parish in Preston.)