This is a time-seasoned, deeply-felt response to Jeff Schwartz’s story
published six months back you can read here: Why I Believe in Angels
Why I Believe in Angels and Miracles —Casey’s Epilogue
By: Casey Gauntt
Jeff’s beautiful story deeply resonated with Hilary, Brittany and me. We too encountered some angels and miracles within the first few hours after our son Jimmy died. It was a Saturday, August 9, 2008. We were seated in our living room with the young woman from the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s office. She and the 30-something Deputy Sheriff—he was standing awkwardly behind her, perhaps at the ready to move in case one of us became hysterical-we didn’t—arrived on our door step a few minutes after 8 a.m. to let us know Jimmy and been struck and likely instantly killed by an automobile out on Del Dios Highway only a handful of miles to the east around 5:30 that morning. I asked where Jimmy was and the young woman said he was at the Medical Examiner’s Office in Kearny Mesa about 20 minutes away. “I want to see him,” I said. The M.E. told me “I’m sorry, but the Medical Examiner does not permit viewings. There will probably be an autopsy and then he will be released to the mortuary you select to receive his remains. Since today is a Saturday that may not be for another four or five days.”
One of the biggest regrets I carry with me is that I never saw my father’s body after he took his life in 1970. I went to the Du Page County Medical Examiner’s hearing a few days later with my brother Grover and Uncle Stan where a committee of three men reviewed the evidence to determine the cause of death—yup, “self inflicted gun shot wound to the head”—but I didn’t see him—nor do I recall wanting to. That was not going to happen this time.
After I called my sister Laura and brother to let them know what happened, the next call I made was to my law partner John Davies. John was one of my closest friends and was the ex-officio Godfather to Brittany and Jimmy. He was beyond devastated. In many ways John was the Marlon Brando kind of Godfather to hundreds—if not thousands—of people in San Diego and throughout California. In his unassuming and behind the scenes manner, John Davies got things done—good things—and was one of the most politically connected people there was. I told John what the Medical Examiner said to us and that I was desperate to see Jimmy. “Let me see what I can do,” he said.
PHOTO: Casey, Jimmy and John Davies (angel one)
Two hours later John called me back. “OK— I called Chalkie”- his good friend, and mine, Ron Roberts and one of the five San Diego County Supervisors. “He spoke with the M.E.’s office and they will be expecting you, Hilary and Brittany at 2:30 p.m.” I thanked John profusely, but he continued “Are you sure you want to see him? They told Ron he was badly beat up in the accident and …..you know what I’m trying to say.” I told John I appreciated that but “I’ve got to see him. Thank you for everything and please thank Ron, too.”
John was our first angel and he orchestrated the first miracle for us that day—getting us into the M.E. Office to see Jimmy.
My sister Laura and her husband Anton picked us up around 2 p.m. They had arrived from their home in Switzerland two days earlier with their children Leo and Claire for their annual visit and vacation. I was literally headed out the door to pick them up at the place they were staying to go on a hike when the Medical Examiner and Deputy Sheriff showed up.
I was stunned! Who does something like that?! Ron Roberts was our second angel and he performed the second miracle for us that day—making the arrangements for us to see Jimmy where “viewings are strictly prohibited” and checking on Jimmy first to see how it would be for the girls!!
We arrived at the early 1970s era single story cement block M.E.’s office building a few minutes before 2:30 and Chaplain Joe Davis was standing on the steps of the entrance waiting for us. He had the warm, kind, compassionate face and manner you would hope for in someone in his line of work. He told us he had worked several years as the chaplain for the M.E.’s office assisting with the “recently bereaved.” “On Saturdays?” I asked, and he said “Well, when a County Supervisor calls….I’m glad to help you.” He asked if it would be ok if he said a prayer, and we held hands and bowed our heads as he said some beautiful words I can’t remember.
He answered lots of questions about what would happen over the next few days— how to select a mortuary, obituaries, death certificates—the cold hard facts of the business of death. He said there would be an autopsy to determine if any drugs were involved—we would learn later only alcohol, as we already knew. He then asked me if I would like to see Jimmy first—as he and Ron had previously discussed—and he led the way down a sterile, drab, linoleum tiled hallway. As we walked, Chaplain Davis prepared me, “So, as you know, we are not set up for viewings here. We’re going into a small room around the corner—and there will be a glass window—Jimmy will be lying on a gurney on the other side of the glass. He’s in a large room where the recently deceased are examined—lots of instruments, tables and machines, but nobody else is in the room. The left side of his face is covered with scrapes from the road—I’ll go in with you—OK? Are you ready?” We walked in the five by five foot room barely room for the two of us—and there was Jimmy. It was Jimmy’s body, but I instantly knew he wasn’t there. He was already somewhere else. He was beautiful—his reddish brown hair was combed back away from his forehead—unusual since he liked to let in flop down—revealing that incredible face, the high cheekbones, long eyelashes, thin perfect lips, strong jaw and chin. His body was covered with a cream colored blanket pulled up to his long neck. He was lying so the left side of his face was facing the window—there were a lot of reddish scrapes and bruises as Ron and Joe had forewarned—but Jimmy was beautiful. The Chaplain asked me if I would like to be alone—I nodded—and then I spoke with Jimmy and cried with him. This was the last place I wanted to be and at the same time the only place I wanted to be. Does that make sense?
Chaplain Davis came back in a few minutes and took me back to the reception area where Hilary, Brittany, Laura and Anton waited, pensively. I looked into Hilary’s and Brittany’s imploring eyes and said “It’s OK. I think you should see him. It will be OK.” The Chaplain took the three of us back and, now the veteran, I prepared Hilary and Brittany for what they would see. The three of us walked into the room together—there was no room for the Chaplain.
That moment—that searing, electric moment—is too personal and private for me to share. I can tell you how proud I am of my wife and daughter and the courage they summoned to walk into that room. And I know we all felt it was very important for us to be there—to see Jimmy—of that we have no regrets.
He came right back, alone, and sat down with Hilary, Brittany and me. He became very serious—if it was possible to be more serious—and reached for Hilary’s and my hands.
“Look, I have to tell you guys something. The journey you began only a few hours ago is one of the hardest there is—losing a child is utterly devastating and your marriage and relationship is going to be severely tested. The statistics are not good—over 75% of couples who lose a child will divorce or separate within the first two years. Don’t be one of those statistics. You will have to work incredibly hard to be there for one another—support each other—love each other—stay together—whatever you do—stay together. I will pray that you do.”
Almost the same words Nurse Donna McBroom delivered to Jeff Schwartz moments after their daughter Julie died.
Chaplain Joe Davis was our third angel we encountered that day, and his miracle was the compassion and advice he gave to Hilary and me—the same miracle Nurse McBroom provided for Donna and Jeff.
When I first read Jeff’s Why I Believe In Angels and Miracles story I instantly knew what I wanted to do—but I waited until our webmaster Keith Bennett got the story ready to put up on the website, and then I sent this email.
Dear Chaplain Davis, I want to share with you a true story I recently posted on my website written by Jeff Schwartz from Maui. The message of this story is very powerful—and I should know because you delivered the same message to my wife Hilary and me over five years ago in August of 2008. You were the angel that appeared at our ground zero, only hours after our 24 year old son Jimmy was struck and killed by an automobile. You and Supervisor Roberts also performed a miracle that Saturday allowing us to see our son although viewings were strictly prohibited. We remain enormously grateful to you for that kindness and your comforting and tough advice… I wanted to let you know we heard you—like it was yesterday—and in August Hilary and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, and our daughter Brittany—who was also with us that day at the M.E.’s office and heard your words—and her husband Ryan recently celebrated her 6th wedding anniversary and have two boys ages 3 and 1. Thank you Chaplain Davis for intersecting our lives at the precise moment we needed you. Thank you for the incredible work you do—we have enormous respect for you and what you do. God Bless. —Casey
I received this reply two days later.
Casey, I can’t put into words what your email means to me. There are many times that due to the tragic nature of what I do there is no feedback. You wrote me a letter about a year and a half after your son was killed that I have treasured. I felt your pain that day and have thought of your family over the years and wondered how you were doing. Your email and past letter are reward for me and a great motivation to move forward in trying to help people. Thank you taking the time to write me again and for sharing that story. Your friend, —Joe Davis
I am deeply grateful to the three angels who came to our side in those first, critical, horrible, hours after Jimmy died. Hilary, Brittany and I dedicate this epilogue to one of them—my partner, our dear friend, our Godfather—John Garfield Davies. We love you John, and thank you for keeping an eye on Jimmy for us.
Further Reading on our third angel: Chaplain Joe Davis:
- San Diego County: A Comfort for Grieving Families
- ABC Channel 10 News: Leadership Award Winner Joe Davis
- Christian Examiner: Medical Examiner volunteer offers comfort and resources for the grief stricken
- Union Tribune – San Diego: Healing the bereaved – Chaplain lends hand at Medical Examiner’s Office