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A Valentine’s Day Card

Jonah on Feb 14, 1990. Minutes young!

Jonah on Feb 14, 1990. Minutes young!

Dear Jonah,

When you were born on Valentine’s Day, one of my first thoughts was, “Your girlfriends are going to love your birthday!” Well, as things go when you’re the dad, I was never much privy to those details of your life. But I never stopped thinking how cool it was that you were born on the day of love.

In February 2012, the night before Valentine’s Day and what would have been your 22nd birthday, my mood was subdued (if not outright sullen) when Jim Croce’s music came up in my iTunes collection. I’ve always loved his songs and I wondered if you had ever heard any of them. Soon, I was trolling around the internet to see if there were any old videos that showed Jim Croce doing his thing. I had never seen anything but pictures of the man, so I was fairly mesmerized by the opportunity to watch him perform. As I viewed the video, however, I noticed a second guitarist who played brilliantly alongside his boss. And all I was thinking was that you would have loved listening to these guys. And I couldn’t help but wonder who the second guitarist was and if he had also died in the 1973 plane crash which took Croce’s life. I was saddened to learn he had.

Not every death links back to you, Jonah. But when it’s someone whose age was close to yours, and whose interests intersected with yours, my heart and mind make the connection.

The second guitarist’s name was Maury Muehleisen. In 1970, he and Jim Croce met, became fast friends and, soon after, Croce began playing backup for Muehleisen. You read that correctly. Over time their roles would switch, and Maury Muehleisen became the man whose exquisite guitar work made Jim Croce’s music “sing.” With the success of their recordings, frequent touring and television appearances followed which, on the evening of September 20, 1973, brought them to Northwestern State University. After their performance, the small chartered plane that was carrying them to their next gig in Sherman, Texas, crashed. Everyone on board perished.

As I pondered all of this on that pre-Valentine’s Day evening in 2012, I learned that Maury Muehleisen had recorded an album of his own. I immediately ordered it at maurymuehleisen.com and was surprised to receive an email soon after from his sister, Mary. Her note read, “Hi. Thank you for your interest in my brother Maury’s music. I am getting your order ready to mail out tomorrow morning. With gratitude, Mary.”

Well, that piqued my curiosity. A personal note with every order? But I’d become acquainted with the behavior of those remembering loved ones and I suspected Maury’s sister was selling her brother’s CDs to keep her connection to him strong.

Maury Muehleisen and Jim Croce

Maury Muehleisen and Jim Croce

I couldn’t resist and sent her a follow-up note: “Hi, Mary. I love that you’ve written me yourself. I only ‘met’ Maury yesterday in a number of YouTube videos of him with Jim Croce. I know it’s been a long time since he died, and I couldn’t presume to know what that feels like nearly 40 years later, but my 19-year-old son died three years ago (his 22nd birthday is actually today, Valentine’s Day) and that heart-tug is still ever-present. It’s great that Maury left a beautiful legacy of his music. My son is remembered dearly by his older sister and younger brother, along with me (his pop) and his mom. A zillion friends just starting out in life adored him, and we all wondered where life would lead him. Alas, a forever mystery. So it’s especially meaningful for me to be able to connect a little bit to Maury’s life, his music (amazing guitar work!) and your continuing love for him. I look forward to welcoming the CDs into my home. Wishing you every goodness in life, Billy Dreskin.”

Well, sure enough, she wrote me again, with an incredible story to tell. “Hi, Billy. I don’t always write before I send out CDs. But I send a card with each one and wanted to see if you would write back so I would know if you went by William or Bill or Billy. I am so glad that I wrote and that you responded, especially today – February 14th – especially since you shared your story about your son and this date. I will share a story that few fans know. I was pregnant when Maury died and had identical twin girls a few months after. I named the first one after him. The girls were raised listening to his music and learning all about the Uncle Maury they would never meet. When they were eleven, that twin died and her funeral was 27 years ago today, Valentine’s Day. Maybe the mystery of life is that we are all connected after all, and sooner or later. Hopefully, our young ones are now introduced and exploring all the corners of heaven together. Connected now to you and yours, Mary.”

I couldn’t help myself. I wrote once more: “Oh, Mary. The loss you’ve known. Deepened, I imagine, by the beauty your brother and daughter brought into your life. The loss and the beauty live side by side now, I guess. I rarely cry anymore for my Jonah, but I miss him every day. At the same time, I never forget the goodnesses he shared with all of us. It was a privilege to have known and loved him. That may not balance out with his death, but it sure is nice to have those great memories. And the love, of course, lives on and on. So my heart is with you on this, and now, every Valentine’s Day. Unbelievable that our lives should intersect in this way. I’ll take it as the blessing that comes with everything else. It’s an honor to make your acquaintance.”

I certainly wouldn’t have expected your birthday to include this kind of interstellar contact, Jonah. I mean, she and I live in different universes! Different lifetimes! There’s no reason on earth I can think of that we would find ourselves meeting and sharing our stories. Simply unbelievable.

But this I think is what some people who have known loss will do. Ever hoping to keep our ties strong and secure with those who have died, we reach out for memories and moments that might, in some small but powerful way, rekindle that connection. Maury Muehleisen died when he was 24 years old. You when you were just nineteen. For Maury’s sister and your dad, finding each other across the vast open spaces of time and experience brought us some comfort and kinship. And isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is really all about?

Happy 26th birthday, Jonah. Love you forever.


P.S. Want to watch Jim and Maury play “Operator”? Here you go!


8 Responses to “A Valentine’s Day Card”

  • debra robbins:

    Thanks so much Billy for this beautiful story!!

  • Kate:

    What an incredible note from the universe, Billy & Ellen. Thinking of you & your families as you remember Jonah & honor his life.

  • Beth Krom:

    A dear friend shared your post. I too lost a son. Noah was 22. It’s been six and a half years. Reading your words brought tears but also inspiration and appreciation for the gifts of connection we who share this journey understand in ways others can not. My heart is with you. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  • Happy Valentine’s Day, Billy, and Happy Heavenly Birthday to Jonah. Thanks so much for sharing our “moment in time” from Valentine’s Day 2012. By doing so, hopefully our connection will send a ripple that will touch hearts. Perhaps someone who is hurting from a loss will know that they are not alone. Peace and Love and Happy Valentine’s Day, Everyone!

  • Leyna:

    So powerful and so moving. I am not surprised at all that these seemingly distant interstellar connections fell right into place… Let’s hope they’ve found each other and having quite the jam session- maybe if we sit still enough, just maybe we can hear them as their beautiful music sends stars sailing across our sky!
    Sending all my love your way! ♡ I know I’ll be listening and watching for shimmering stars sailing across the sky… whether there are clouds or not! 🙂
    ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡ ♡

  • Karen Frank:

    Billy, I have never been so moved by Jim Croce but the layers of your story about Jonah and Maury and his sister and the plane crash conspired to reduce me to a puddle. Karen

  • Susan:

    Thank you for helping me know Jonah a little better. the mystical connections you’ve shared are things I believe in and are comforted by. My thoughts are with you and Ellen today, and Happy Birthday Jonah!

  • Dassi Citron:

    Up here in Buffalo, hanging out with Simone, sharing Jonah stories on his birthday. We’re privileged to have been some of his zillions of friends – and Jonah’s memory lives forever through our stories and your frequent blogs. Thinking of you, Ellen, Aiden, and Katie on Valentine’s Day 2016.

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