There are no ‘magic words’ to say about death of 19-year-old
The text arrived on my phone at 9:32 a.m. on Thursday.
“Hey, is the news about Jace true?”
The sender was my youngest son, Noah, and he was talking about Jace Cajthaml, a classmate and teammate of Noah’s for so many years in youth baseball, youth football, middle school sports and high school sports.
I quickly called Noah in Iowa City.
“What’s going on with Jace?”
“Dad, he … died,” Noah said and the voice was chock full of emotion. The hurt in his voice was crushing, and all I wanted was for Scotty to beam me up and beam me down in Iowa City to try to help my boy through yet another senseless, tragic death. Noah may be 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, but I would have done anything to pick him up, hold in my arms and somehow try to tell them that “everything would be OK.”
But it wasn’t, as I found out a few minutes later. Jace Cajthaml had passed away earlier that morning. He was 19.
My heart hurt for my son, his classmates, teammates, coaches, Jace’s Charles City teammates and coaches and, oh God, especially for his parents and his five siblings.
I’m writing this on Saturday. Forty-eight hours have passed. And I am still in shock, still stunned and still trying to make sense of it all. I can’t. I just freaking can’t.
There are a lot of rumors out there about how Jace died, but I don’t care about them. I really don’t.
Seriously, someone needs to kick 2020 in the you-know-where and out the door.
For three years, I helped coach a travel baseball team that included Jace. Same for Youth Sports Foundation football.
Jace was Jace. He’d goof off, you’d get mad and then he’d smile at you and it was impossible to stay upset with him.
I have so many good memories of those days and beyond. I can still vividly see the huge smile on Jace’s face when he hit his first-ever over-the-fence home run of his life at a tournament in Blue Earth, Minnesota. I can still hear him greeting me with “Bob-O” every time we got to the ballpark or the football field. I still remember umpiring a game a couple of years ago when Jace was helping his dad coach his little brother Carter’s team. The look of pride on Jace’s face when Carter drilled a double to the gap will remain with me forever.
He didn’t graduate from New Hampton High School. He transferred to Charles City in the middle of his junior year, which made Chickasaw-Comet games even more fun to cover. Jace and his former teammates would banter back and forth, and I can still remember the day the Charles City coach was waving him around third and Jace was standing on the bag.
“Why didn’t you go?”
“Josh has a hell of an arm; he would have thrown my fat [posterior] out by a mile.”
The coach couldn’t help but smile. He may not have been happy with him, but he couldn’t stay mad at him, either.
And then there was the Master Batters, a slow-pitch softball team that began playing in the Ionia Fun Days tournament in 2017. Jace’s dad, Casey, and a couple of other adults were on the roster, but the team was made up of mostly New Hampton and Charles City student-athletes. Jace talked a lot of smack, but he was having the time of his life playing with his friends from both schools.
“It won’t be the same without him,” said Tom Clark, a 2019 graduate of New Hampton High School and a longtime friend of Jace’s. “It’s one of those things I’ll always remember. Jace at third. Talking. Giving everyone grief. … That was Jace. He talked a lot, but he never meant anything bad. You’d get mad at him, but he’d smile and crap, you realized it’s just Jace being Jace.”
Jace had his demons, but you know what? We all do.
He could be a little hellion — or as he got older, a big hellion — but he was one of those kids that could talk to anyone. From toddlers to the elderly, Jace saw everyone as a friend.
And all those people whose lives he touched — his parents, his younger siblings, his New Hampton teammates, his Charles City teammates, the older folks whom he played pickle ball with at Mikkelson Park — are at a loss.
No parent should ever have to bury a child. Those five siblings — Carver, Kinnick, Jackson, Jaelyn and Jeb — should be growing up in a world that includes their big brother.
I’m tired of death. I’m tired of young people being gone way too soon. And though it’s been just a couple of days, I’m tired of watching my boys and their friends trying to come to grips with Jace’s loss. When you’re 19, 20, 21, you think your generation is invincible, and then this happens. I think in the last two days, though, they’ve learned that they can lean on each other.
I have no magic words for Casey, Jamie, their spouses or their kids. I don’t know what to say to Josh, Noah and those former Chickasaws, Comets and Master Batters.
There are none. Nothing can make this right.
Life isn’t always fair. I’m 54. I should comprehend that fact by now. But I don’t.
All we can do is love and support those who loved and supported Jace. And we ought to do one more thing. Remember the life; not the death. Remember the smile. Jace, I’m sure, would want it that way.