As I mindlessly sit in my recliner and watch college football, I sink back to the tragic memories of a year ago. I dreaded the anniversary date of Craig’s death and wondered how my emotional state would be for the period Dec. 27-Jan. 4. These were the days a year ago we were searching for my son. The Kay County Sheriff’s office in Newkirk, OK was cold and quiet, only Craig’s dog Sam gave us any comfort on that late afternoon of Dec. 28. You see, Sam had been found the night before by the searchers that had gone out in the storm looking for Craig and Chase. Ice from Winter Storm Goliath caused the power to be out for several hours, only dim emergency lights and minimal heat was available to us as we waited for any news. The floor and the plastic chairs were uncomfortably cold and hard. The sheriff’s office did bring out some food that I assume was extras prepared for the inmates. We hadn’t thought too much about eating and the food sent up did not grab our attention. It was what you would think, a meal prepared for inmates in a kitchen with limited or no power source.
On the way to Newkirk, OK, it started snowing and sleeting in Tulsa, and only became more intense the farther west we traveled. I had been on the phone with OK Highway Patrol Lake Division several times. He warned that the roads were awful. He was right, we wanted to hurry, but had to be mindful of conditions and all the wrecks we witnessed the farther west we went were dreadful reminders. The officer each time would tell me, the boat ramp was so iced over, that they were not having any success in even getting a boat down the ramp to the water. We heard later, one private individual did get his boat down the ramp into the water, but the motor was so frozen over, he could not get it to start.
One of the sheriff deputies walked into the lobby and we all jumped to attention. He introduced himself, and was coming on for the night shift. He hesitated and then looked at me and said, “Can I give you a hug?” He hugged all of us and tried to comfort us by saying they were doing all they could and would continue with their best efforts to find our sons. Soon after, we got the terrible news that Chase was found. I had only met Chase the night they left for Kaw Lake. He and Craig came over for Sam and a few other things that I kept at my house. I could see why Chase and Craig were becoming such good friends, great personalities, smiles and common interests. The two boys enjoyed a bowl of deer stew in the “man cave” and we had great conversations. I remember Chase saying “man, if I had a place like this, I don’t know that I’d ever leave”. I sure wish he hadn’t left. As Craig and I looked thru the shed for more winter clothing and gear, we found a necklace that he often wore. He was elated that we found it and grabbed it to start wearing again. This necklace is often seen in his performance photos. Little did I know, Craig dropped it as he was gathering other items and I found it on the ground later in the spring. Just one of many reminders God has given us, that temporarily soothes our spirit.
I had started a group text with Craig and Chase as they travelled to Kaw Lake. I inquired about the rain, temperature, and how the trip was going. Craig responded that insane rain was coming to Fort Smith. Sam was in a kennel in the back of the truck and I asked about Sam. Chase responded, “Sam is sleeping like a baby with that tarp covering him.” Then at 2:07 am on December 27th, I got a text from Chase that said, “Andddddd we made it.” Craig followed with, “Hahahaha”. That’s the last I heard from them. Craig’s phone did show some data access taking place around 4:00 am. I would assume that’s right before they put the boat in the water.
As I reflect back to that stretch of days a year ago, I am torn by each one this year and how long it takes it to evaporate into the darkness. I hold firm to how God cares for His people. He thoroughly and completely knows us! He knows exactly all the circumstances I just described. None of our tragedies take Him by surprise.
Psalms 139:1-6, 16 (NLV) O Lord, You have looked through me and have known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I get up. You understand my thoughts from far away. 3 You look over my path and my lying down. You know all my ways very well. 4 Even before I speak a word, O Lord, You know it all. 5 You have closed me in from behind and in front. And You have laid Your hand upon me. 6 All You know is too great for me. It is too much for me to understand…
16 Your eyes saw me before I was put together. And all the days of my life were written in Your book before any of them came to be.
May your New Year be filled with God’s blessings! For me, the pain I’ve endured reminds me that this is not my forever Home. In the new year, I’m going to focus on seeking Heaven by pursuing Jesus, where I’ll be reunited with my son.
Randy Strickland 1/1/17