In Memory of Jessica

By Kate Willoughby Hall | December 20th, 2015

Kate W. Hall's column from the Dec.-Jan. issue deals with some pretty heavy content.

There was a lull in our conversation as we sat in beautiful downtown Denver, sipping craft ales. I blurted out, “How are you?” and, after another awkward few seconds, “If you don’t want to talk about it, I understand.” They both smiled and answered that it was OK, that it felt good to be asked, to know that they can talk about her if they need to.

Just last month, my cousin and his wife lost their beautiful 24-year-old daughter, Jessica, in a car accident.


As we sat in Epic brewery together – while locals buzzed about pumpkin ales, after-lunch plans and a city tour – Jessica’s empty chair sat at our table for four. I didn’t expect her parents’ energy and smiles. I guess I expected tear-stained faces, fake smiles, sagged shoulders. Before me instead were two devoted parents powering through amazingly well, seemingly, looking forward to seeing their son, Blake, play college baseball that weekend in California, a fortunate distraction.

Having never met Jessica, I was thirsty to know her.

They told me that when she was born, they had chosen two names: Heather and Jessica. At 1 a.m. on that February day in 1991, when her cry wailed out in the hospital room, they were sure she was a Jessica. She and her brother were tightly connected. Her friends adored her, she had a talent for making people feel beautiful, and she was loved.

One friend posted this on her Facebook page: “Today we were supposed to be hanging out, but God had a different plan. Instead, today we celebrate your life. I miss you more than any words could ever express, Jessica Willoughby. You made an awesome friend and an even better angel. Rest easy, love you.”


“Rest” is an interesting word choice because ever since her death I have experienced anything but. While sitting in crowded airports on work trips, walking my little pup and making dinner for my kids, I find her loss has weighed on me more than I expected it could. There is an anxiety and a frustration that my cousin and his faithful family aren’t the whole they should be. I regret that I never got to know this beauty in the flesh – the miles between our families were many, among our extended family nearly insurmountable. Yet I was grateful that I could learn more about her life and witness how much love surrounded her.

This unrest, an uneasiness I can’t quite clearly grasp, began to dissipate as my cousin, Ted, and his wife, Kaylene, shared more and more about her – and how they know she’s in the most perfect place she can be right now.

“Aren’t you angry?” I asked, my own frustration rearing its head.

“How can we feel angry, when we know how happy she is?”

This answer, echoed by both of them through separate, yet surprisingly perfect descriptions, led to even more questions from me. How was their confidence on this matter achievable? I was amazed at this kind of enlightenment just weeks after their daughter’s death.

They’re amazing people, this cousin of mine and his wife, with strength, faith and sheer inner light I’ve rarely seen shine in my 42 years. Driving back to my hotel, I began to connect my own dots. I had booked my flight – a tagalong to my husband’s business trip – literally one day before Jessica’s accident, after a few Facebook messages with cousin Ted. I was meant to travel to Denver, to know Jessica and her incredible family in a way that miles couldn’t erase.

And for that, I’ll be forever grateful, and in Jessica’s honor, I will hold everything I love just a little bit closer.

BOOMER columnist Kate W. Hall, a consultant at a large financial firm in Richmond, is the founder of the blog, to which she still contributes. She is a wife, mother of three kids and writer of two children’s books, Richmond Rocks and its Spooky Sequel. Visit her at 

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