April 14, 2001, began as a beautiful, spring day in Lockeport, Nova Scotia. It was Easter weekend. The town was abuzz with people rushing around doing their Saturday chores and finishing last minute Easter preparations.
My brother, Edsel, and his older son, Jonathan, decided to go out in the boat to move some lobster traps. They had done countless times before. Nobody could ever have imagined what would transpire in just a few short hours. On that sunny April day in 2001, our beloved 19-year-old nephew, Jonathan Edsel Roache, died in a tragic fishing accident. Fishermen listened in disbelief as my brother radioed,
“This is the Cynthia & Boys. I have a man overboard. Send help.”
Chills ran down the spine of everyone who heard him. A man overboard was every fisherman’s greatest fear. The VHF radios fell silent. Dark shadows obscured the bright sunshine.
On shore, men raced to their boats, desperate to help. Jon’s Mom, a registered nurse, and First Responders boarded the fastest boat in town and left the harbour, but even fast fishing boats are slow on the ocean. When they reached the Cynthia and Boys, the men pulled Jon from the frigid water and began CPR.
Word of the accident spread like wildfire. Scores of people left what they were doing and hurried to the wharf. Others lined the shoreline praying that everything would be okay.
An ambulance waited at the wharf, ready to transport Jon and his mom to Roseway Hospital. Paramedics warmed his body and continued CPR during the short ride. His friends followed the ambulance and crammed into the hospital’s waiting area. Everyone expected the doctor to emerge at any moment with good news, but it was not to be.
Jon’s spirit had departed. He had returned to his Maker. Sadness consumed the whole town. Everyone felt heartbroken for his family.
The next few days were a blur as Jon’s parents made funeral preparations. Friends dropped off turkey dinners, baked beans and brown bread, ham and scalloped potatoes, soups, pies, cakes and cookies. Others came to the house to visit, to offer words of comfort, to hold the family close and to volunteer in any way. Jon’s family received hundreds of sympathy cards and notes, overwhelming the local Post Office. Such an outpouring of love exceeded anything ever witnessed.
On Tuesday of the next week, throngs of people stood in line for hours at Huskilson’s Funeral Home. They wanted to express heartfelt condolences, to shed tears of sympathy and to share precious memories with Jon’s family. His school friends placed roses, teddy bears, angels and photographs in his casket. He had been their big brother and confidante. It took until 11 p.m. to get through the line.
Jon’s funeral set a record attendance. More than a thousand people made their way to Lockeport (Pop: 700) to support his parents, sister, brother and extended family. Lockeport Baptist Church, the largest in town, filled up quickly. Those unable to find a seat at the church, viewed the service at the Lockeport Fire Hall.
As a sign of respect, businesses closed for the afternoon.
A local musician sang The Lighthouse which was appropriate on many levels. This tragedy happened in the shadow of Gull Rock Lighthouse. The congregation sang Jon’s favourite hymn, Blessed Assurance. Clergy shared Jon’s favourite portions of Scripture. Jon’s sister prepared a eulogy that captured the true essence of his life.
Life is difficult to understand, but for some reason, it always seemed Jon was on loan to us. We felt we would only have him for a season. In his short life, he had survived several near death experiences. As a baby, a serious strep infection caused kidney complications, but he recovered. As a child, he had an acute allergic reaction to a snack that contained walnuts, but he recovered. As a teenager, Jon rolled his car several times, but he recovered.
Jon seemed to have one foot in this world and the other in the spirit world. On that fateful April day, Jonathan Edsel Roache crossed over to the other side.
In the days and months that followed, Jon’s family heard amazing stories about him. Jon had played an important role in many lives., reaching out to numerous people. Clearly, Jon possessed wisdom well beyond his years.
- In his job at a local gas station, he always offered to check tire pressure for seniors.
- He gave suckers to children which earned him the nickname The Sucker Man.
- A former teacher shared how Jon had supported her when she lost a grandparent.
- Quietly, he made a charitable donation when someone in a friend’s family passed away.
- One day a carload of tourists with tire problems stopped at the garage. A tire had been damaged beyond repair. The passengers pooled their money to buy a new one but came up short. Guess who made up the shortfall?
- Jon demonstrated compassion and kindness towards all people. Age and social status meant nothing. One day as he was walking past the bowling alley, a lady called out to him. Their team was short one person. Could he fill the spot so the senior ladies’ bowling tournament could continue? Of course, he helped out.
Jon was an unwavering fan of the Montréal Canadiens. After his death, a friend felt inspired to create a memorial sticker to pay tribute to him. The sticker contained the team logo, his name, date of birth and date of death. After all these years, the decals remain on many vehicles.
Friends and family established the Annual Jonathan Roache Memorial Baseball Tournament. It has grown into a highly anticipated summer event. The tournament continues to gain momentum and is larger than ever. Proceeds provide a bursary to a deserving graduating student.
The Jonathan Roache Spirit Award
recognizes a graduating student
who is helpful to their fellow classmates and best exemplifies
the spirit of the graduating class.
A few summers ago, Jonathan’s three-year-old cousin, Isaac, threw the opening pitch of the tournament. It is not by chance that Isaac’s middle name is Jonathan.
Our family, especially Jon’s parents, sister and brother, will forever have a Jonathan-shaped hole in our hearts. He is never far from our thoughts. Sixteen years later, we are grateful beyond words that Jon was in our lives for nineteen memorable years.
“Jonathan, you were a treasured son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin and friend. You packed a lot of living into your nineteen years. You left us with splendid memories that demonstrate just how special you were. In our minds, you are forever a vibrant, strong, handsome young man.
One of these days, we’ll be seeing you, Nanny & Papa Townsend, Nanny & Grampy Roache, Aunt Ceinwen and many, many more.
We will have a lot of catching up to do.”