18 Apr 2011 Love story ends too soon
by Sonja J. Keith
Scott and Jill Attebery have a special love story that tragically came to an end too soon. After years of trying to have a child, Jill was seated next to her 3-month-old son when she was critically injured in a car accident and later died. Through his faith, her love and the support of family and friends, Scott continues to minister to his congregation and care for his precious son.
‘A PEOPLE PERSON’
Scott’s face lights up and he has a big smile when he thinks back to 1996 when he met Jill Jarvis at Texas A&M. “I heard this girl’s voice and it sounded so familiar. It reminded me of my roommate who was from Lufkin, Texas,” said Scott. “She knew him and his family. I bet we talked for several hours.”
Scott found Jill outgoing and charming, a “depth” that he was drawn to almost immediately. Jill was someone he trusted, someone he could ask advice from, someone with maturity and insight.
“On top of that, she was a people person,” he said. “She also had a poise about her.”
Jill’s faith and knowledge about the Bible also impressed Scott. “I was fascinated with this girl who loved scripture. I had a Bible degree and she had a nursing degree, but we were talking about scripture like she had been in all my classes. She was sharp.”
Although he felt drawn to her, Scott did not think a serious relationship was possible. “I thought I’d never be able to date her but some day I was going to meet my Jill Jarvis,” he said, explaining that he would sometimes refer to the woman of his dreams as “his Jill Jarvis.” On one occasion in 1998, Scott made that remark to a friend who knew Jill and offered to set him up on a date.
Since their first encounter, Jill had earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical science but had decided to pursue a nursing degree from Stephen F. Austin. “I did the most romantic thing. I got us two tickets to a Razorback football game in Fayetteville.”
During the date, Scott was smitten. “She was my dream girl,” he said. “On the way home, I asked, ‘Do you think you could be my girlfriend, and I could be your boyfriend?’” Jill explained she had dated other guys, but it had not worked out. “She said, ‘I don’t want to date someone unless it is someone I would want to marry.’”
Jill granted Scott’s request and the two began dating long distance.
An obvious romantic at heart and very much in love, Scott put a lot of time and planning into his wedding proposal on Feb. 12, 1999.
Scott showed up with roses in hand and surprised Jill at breakfast. “It was Valentine’s weekend. I told her she wasn’t going to class, that I had something else planned.” Keeping all the details secret, Scott whisked Jill away to the Houston airport to fly to Kentucky for a concert by Jill’s favorite band, Caedmon’s Call. On the plane, Jill wondered if Scott was going to propose, but he played it cool and replied, “Oh Jill, I’m sorry. It’s just Valentine’s Day.”
Scott had arranged with the band’s manager for the group to point out Scott and Jill during the concert. With the spotlight on them, Scott fell to one knee and proposed. The couple married the next year on Feb. 5 in a ceremony at Kelty’s First Baptist Church in Lufkin.
A “wonderful marriage” followed with the newlywed couple settling in at Conway.
EL DORADO MOVE
While Scott was working on his master’s degree at Central Baptist College, a friend from El Dorado mentioned that his church – Wyatt Baptist Church – had been looking for a pastor for 18 months. “I told him to tell them I’ll come down and do it. I was joking, but eventually I wanted to pastor.” The friend visited with the church, and they became interested. Scott interviewed and “fell in love with the church. It was a great fit.” But, Scott turned it down. Jill had just finished her master’s degree in nursing at the University of Central Arkansas and had been offered a teaching job at UCA. “It was the perfect thing for her, and I didn’t want to take her away from that.”
Later, Jill asked Scott why he turned down the El Dorado position, and he explained. She told Scott, “My heart is to do ministry, and that seems the perfect place for us.”
So, in 2005, the couple moved to El Dorado. Jill applied and was selected for a teaching position in the nursing department at Southern Arkansas University, about 30 miles away.
WELCOMING A BABY
For several years after they married, Scott and Jill tried to have a child. Right before they left Conway to move to El Dorado, Jill suffered a miscarriage. “We had been trying the last six years. When she got pregnant, we waited to tell everyone. The day we heard the heartbeat we were thrilled.”
On Aug. 8, 2008, the couple welcomed baby Bryce. “One of the most beautiful things was watching Jill mother Bryce. She just loved him incredibly. It was fun to watch. It was her passion.”
On Nov. 1, 2008, three months after Bryce was born, the family of three traveled to Pine Bluff for a family reunion. Enjoying their time with family, Scott said they stayed longer than planned and needed to hurry back to El Dorado for a wedding.
Scott recalls stopping at a gas station to purchase a soft drink and listening to the Arkansas vs. Tulsa game in their Trailblazer. Jill was in the back seat with Bryce. “Before we left the store, I turned around and said, ‘I love you.’” While he often shared his feelings with her, he is thankful today for that memory. They are among the last words he said to his wife.
Traffic was really slow along the highway, Scott recalled, and he began to pass some cars. “One of the cars turned left and I didn’t realize they were turning. Jill saw it and she said, ‘They’re turning!’ I swerved but hit the car. Our car flipped several times.
“The accident was my fault.”
Scott has no recollection of what happened next or how he got out of his vehicle. “I must’ve blacked out because there were people already on the side of the road.
“I remember saying ‘Jill, Jill are you ok?’” There was no response.
Scott found Bryce in the back seat, still in his car seat. He had a tiny scratch on his forehead. “Jill was not in there.”
Someone pointed out Jill’s whereabouts. “I had the car seat and I ran over there. She was unconscious. I was just helpless. I didn’t know what to do….She never regained consciousness.”
Jill was transported to Jefferson Regional Medical Center. Before she was airlifted to UAMS, Scott was able to see her. At the Little Rock hospital, Jill underwent surgery for internal bleeding. She also had brain injuries.
Early Sunday morning, she was declared dead. She was 34.
Family members were given an opportunity to say their goodbyes before she was removed from life support. “It was the hardest thing.” Scott said they were told to take all the time they wanted, but he didn’t know how he could walk away from the love of his life when they had just started a family. Scott said it was only “by God’s grace.”
Looking back, Scott is still puzzled by the accident. “Jill was a stickler about seatbelts. She was always making sure before we left on a trip – seat belts, seat belts, seat belts. There’s no way she didn’t have her seat belt on. But the seat belt was not broken. She didn’t slide out of it. It didn’t malfunction.” With Bryce’s things in the very back of the vehicle, Scott thinks Jill took off the seatbelt “for a second to reach back, and that’s when it happened.”
LIFE WITHOUT JILL
“After I walked out and told family and friends, within moments my parents pulled me aside and said if I wanted them to, they would move to El Dorado,” Scott said. “I knew my parents would do anything for me, but to see them do that was huge.” Scott’s dad had retired as president of CBC, and his parents had just built a house at Greenbrier, but Scott knew he needed their help. “They still live with me. Mom takes care of Bryce every day.” Scott’s dad, Charles, works part time for LifeWord and is a volunteer for the ministry to senior adults at the church where Scott pastors.
Scott is thankful for his church and the support of his members. “Bryce has lost one mom, but he now has a hundred moms. Every lady in that church treats him like he is their own.”
Since the accident, Scott has relied on his faith, family and friends for support. “There is no question in my mind that God is in control, and He’s using this for His purpose.”
A SERVANT’S HEART
Since her death, Scott has seen the impact his wife had on others and their work in ministry and on the mission field. Friends have sent letters written to Bryce that have been collected for a book, so he can know more about his mother when he gets older. “When I read the letters, it blows my mind how her life impacted people.”
Several scholarships have been set up in Jill’s memory to support mission work – something that she believed in and loved.
“Her whole demeanor, she knew how to minister to people and was a total servant.”
Scott recalls that there were 20 to 30 girls that Jill would minister to in Conway. She invited them to their home for Bible study, corresponded with them by email and even bought faith related books that she would give away. After Jill’s death, Scott received correspondence from several of the girls about how Jill had impacted their lives. “I found a file folder with receipts from books she had been buying for all these girls, 50 to 60 books. I didn’t even know she was doing that.”
While there are days when he struggles with the loss and being sad, Scott points out “it’s my faith in Christ” and knowing he will see her again that sustains him.
Scott points out that about a year and a half before the accident that the couple went on a seven-day cruise that Jill won. They each took a backpack full of books and enjoyed reading on deck. Among his books, Scott read “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn. Scott said the book helped him to understand more about the reality of heaven, which hit home when Jill died.
“The first thing that went through my mind was what she was doing right then,” he said. “Then I thought, ‘I will see her again in a very real, physical place. Bryce will get to be with her in a real place. Before, I didn’t really dwell on heaven. Now, it is real…I’m at peace with that.”
Bryce is now 2 and a half years old. He only knows that Mommy is the lady in the photos with Daddy. “We’ll definitely talk more. I will tell him everything I can think of,” Scott said. “More than anything, I want him to know his mother loved God with everything she had, she loved him in just a beautiful way and she found joy in serving people.”
Jill was an early riser, sometimes spending that quiet time in Bible study and journaling. After her death, Scott found 12 journals packed with Jill’s thoughts. “One entry said, ‘Oh God, I’m so glad you woke me up at 5 a.m. to spend time with you,” he said. “Those 12 journals are probably my most prized possession in life. I can’t wait for Bryce to read those.” Another entry thanks God for Scott – “I don’t know how I could live without him if I lost him.”
Scott said one of the things he struggles the most with as Bryce’s father is “taking up the slack” and filling the void left in the life of his son. “Jill was teaching me to be a father. She was such a natural.”
Scott was preparing for a recent sermon based on Philippians 1:3-8 and going through a folder that contained cards of encouragement he had received when he came upon one from Jill. It was a Father’s Day card that she had sent when they were expecting Bryce. “She wrote the card like it came from Bryce. It said, ‘You’re going to be the best dad, and I am so thankful God gave you to me.’ It was just what I needed to hear.
“It’s amazing now, a couple of years later, to find this card and she makes an impact.”