I’ll never forget the day I first met Jon. I was in a frazzle over our law office moving and I didn’t have an ergonomic desk or chair for my bum shoulder. I walked down the street to the locally owned office furniture store and hoped I could find something. I was welcomed in by a tall man, with dark hair, who exudes cool factor, and is handsome to boot.
We went through my physical problems (even at that time, I’m sure they were many) and Jon allowed me to try a chair. It was remarkably comfortable and cost more than the Ford Taurus I had recently sold after passing the bar.
Did I mention I was worked up? I literally had tears welling in my eyes as I tried to tell Jon I couldn’t work in the temporary setup I had. He picked up the chair and said, “Come on sweet pea,” and walked with me back to the office, lugging said chair.
For many years after that chance encounter, Jon and his team serviced not one but two of our law offices and were more helpful than I can explain. Jon custom-built me two desks and never blinked when I called for him to turn the desk, move it from the window, raise it, drop it, etc. Calling Jon to reconfigure my three-sided desk was always fun, mostly because we’d spend four times what it took for his handwork in shooting the breeze about politics, parenthood, life, music, and more. I remember when he became a grandpa for the first time, and more grandkids coming after. I remember him talking about how he couldn’t wait to hold his granddaughter’s hand and do fun things with her. And I know he told me the history behind the family names of Winnie and Cooper.
At some point, I realized that Jon’s wife, Fran, was a real firecracker, and a beloved one at that. As I immersed in the Bismarck community, I realized that I was repeatedly seeing Fran’s name and comments amongst mutual friends on Facebook. I figured out she was an admired teacher, knew everyone on earth, and was damn funny. I kept hoping to meet her.
One Friday afternoon, not too terribly long before I got sick, while leaving my office building, I saw a lady standing outside the door making frantic calls. Long story short, I thought it was Fran and struck up a conversation. I’m pretty sure my life has never been the same since.
A few days after I left the hospital in 2018, my dear, new friend, Fran, came charging into our house with dinner, money, and the best quip of all time. Truly, I cannot remember what she looked like, what she fed us, or anything, but I’ll never forget how she made me laugh – half brained and all. As she marched in and met my mom at the door, she said, “I can’t prove it, but I know she’s having an affair with my husband!” At that point in my life, absolutely nothing got through to me, made me smile or made me laugh, but that did. I laughed hard. She was just what I needed. (She also told me that Donald Trump’s election was the reason for my sick brain. I wholeheartedly agree, but I don’t remember her saying it. I’m sure that also made me laugh.)
I can say without a doubt, that Jon and Fran are some of my favorite people, and some of the finest humans I know. They are committed, caring, generous, fun, funny, affable, beloved, admired, smart, and beautiful. They are the kind of people that make you run across the room when you see them. They are the ones you want on your team no matter what. They make the world a better place. I legitimately love them. And while I’ve never met their children or grandchildren, I know I would love them all too.
Three weeks ago, Fran stopped by my house to grab a book and share some laughs. I asked her to go through each of her three children on one of her family photos, so I could put names with faces. And she named all five of their beautiful grandkids.
She called me a few days later to offer kind words about my book. I loved catching up with her twice in just a week.
Two weeks ago, all three of us convened at a political social for one of Fran’s former students, who is a friend of mine. Jon was there too, and it was probably the first time I’ve seen him since Covid hibernation.
Jon told me that he was currently reading my book. As we chatted, he put a bug in my ear that because music is so important to me and because I’ve demonstrated (marginal) writing skills, that maybe I could put it all together and write lyrics. He said, “Sit down and see what you can do for twenty minutes, none of this pour over the pages for a day kind of bullshit” (ha – he had gotten a feel for me in the book). I told him I better stay in my own lane.
Fran was in rare form and kept me on my toes until we all parted.
It was a great night for us three together. We laughed, shared stories, talked politics and music, and just generally had fun. And they assured me that they would see me the next week, for my Bismarck event.
But last Wednesday, I received a text from Fran that made my heart stop. She told me they couldn’t be at my speech the next day, because their kids in California were in a horrific accident. And she asked me to pray for a miracle. I was struck by what I felt was urgent and life changing. And I prayed that it wasn’t dire, but my heart told me it was. I didn’t ask questions or for details, but I started praying. I struggled that day and the next, because I was so worried about what had happened to this family with young children and what was possibly happening to my friends, Fran and Jon.
On Thursday evening, while feeling jitters before I walked into the front of the room, I prayed for their family. As I got to the end of my speech and shared the notion that what’s shared among us is struggle, I was thinking about them.
I’ve thought about their family and prayed for them each day since.
This morning, right before I got to the Y to swim, I texted Fran to check in and say hi. It was then I learned about what had unfolded for them last week. I shared the news with Mom and Sean, knowing their care for the family, too, and I fought back hard tears as I tried to swim. When I got out, Sean had texted me the gofundme page. I read it in my car and bawled.
Fran and Jon’s daughter, husband, and three children (the Bitz family) were involved in a horrendous car accident driving home over the long holiday weekend. The children, Winnie (9), Cooper (5), and Teagan (3), were all admitted to the hospital in Sacramento, CA. The girls, the youngest and oldest, have extensive, but not life-threatening injuries. Cooper was on life support from a head injury, and passed away gracefully Friday, September 9, surrounded by his family.
My heart genuinely feels a little broken today. And it's been hard to stop crying.
I wish like anything I could do something to help. To go back in time. To stop the pain. To write the lyrics to a perfect song. But I know that I can do no more than offer my love, prayers, support, and financial gifts to this beautiful and now heartbroken family.
Through this blog, I hope to harness the friendship, goodwill, resilience, strength, courage, and generosity of the collective JM Stebbins community.
If you can, please join me in sending a good wish, a positive vibe, prayer, and a financial donation to the Bitz family.
CLICK HERE to donate via the gofundme page.
With my most sincere love and sympathy to this family I adore,
“Oh, I believe there are angels among us Sent down to us from somewhere up above They come to you and me in our darkest hours To show us how to live, to teach us how to give To guide us with the light of love” Angels Among Us ~ by Alabama