On the sultry summer days in central Indiana, the shady yard behind Janet and Steve Moran’s home was an oasis.
Their son, Jason, and his friends would spend hours playing basketball or throwing a football in the grass. When they got hot, they’d stop next door at the pool owned by Janet Moran’s sister.
The group was in that pool daily. So family members still can’t understand what motivated them to drive to Edinburgh last June, to swim in the Big Blue River.
“Why didn’t they get in the pool that day?” Janet Moran said. “Why weren’t they there?”
One year ago, Jason Moran and Michael Chadbourne died after being pulled underwater by the current beneath the dam. Another friend, Sarah McLevish, suffered permanent brain damage after nearly drowning.
Family members are still wrestling with the loss. The suffocating, numbing shock that filled their lives immediately after the tragedy has been replaced by an acute pain that will never go away.
“I miss him so bad,” Janet Moran said. “The tears just flow. I don’t know where they come from; they just come. I’ll be looking at something or thinking of something, and the next thing I know, they’re dripping off my face.”
The Morans’ backyard, which in past summers would be filled with teenage activity, has gone silent.
No one has used the pool next door much in the past year. The basketball games and campfires are only a memory.
Instead, Janet Moran comes out back often to sit next to a carefully manicured memory garden. Friends and family have brought over sculptures, keepsakes and other decorations meant as a tribute to her son.
Wind chimes hang in the branches of trees. Benches and statues are decorated with purple ribbon — Jason’s favorite color.
“This is where he grew up, right here,” Janet Moran said. “I can come out, and I can spend time with him.”
In the center is the blue lacquered cross created by Jason’s friend Cole Edwards. The two boys had gone to preschool together, and Janet Moran tells the story of how the boy refused to go into the school on the first day.
It was Jason Moran who walked up, took his hand and said he’d walk in with Edwards. They were good friends ever since, eventually playing football together for Franklin.
That willingness to reach out to others was one of his defining traits, Steve Moran said.
“That’s the way he was brought up,” he said.
That’s not to say Jason Moran wasn’t like any other teenager, said Abby Kirby, Janet Moran’s sister.
He could be rambunctious, or grumbled when his parents, aunts or uncles told him to do something he didn’t like.
But he was polite and respectful to others, treating people the way he’d want to be treated.
“He’d come over to get a pop or something for him and his friends. But he never left without stopping to say, ‘I love you.’ Every single time,” Kirby said.
He was also confident enough to be himself, a trait rare in many teenagers.
When his family gathered for their annual Easter egg hunt, he was right in the thick with the little kids, teasing them about taking their eggs and shaking each one to find the best prizes.
His family called him “Baby J,” since he was the youngest of 15 grandchildren on Janet Moran’s side of the family. The nickname is etched into his tombstone at Greenlawn Cemetery.
Janet Moran has seven siblings, while Steve Moran has six. The entire group came together to help each other survive the tragedy.
“I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and he’s going to come through that door,” said Barb Van Meter, Janet Moran’s sister.
Their faith also has been paramount in helping them survive their grief.
Janet Moran knows that Jason is in heaven, and that she’ll see him again one day. He is her guardian angel.
“If it were not by the grace of God, I wouldn’t make it through each day,” she said.
At the same time, the Morans relied on the community’s unwavering, overwhelming encouragement and love.
In the immediate aftermath of the drowning, it was the congregation of Who So Ever Will Church in Edinburgh who took the family in — praying with them, providing meals for them, giving them a place to stay during the agonizing wait to find Jason’s body.
Trees, telephone poles and any other surface were tied in blue ribbons. “Franklin Strong” became a rallying cry uniting the entire community during its collective grief.
“I don’t think we could have survived without our family and friends. It showed you who your true friends were,” Van Meter said.
Office Pride, where Janet Moran works in the corporate office, has been particularly understanding about their loss. Office Pride owner Todd Hopkins and his wife, Michelle, have constantly checked in to see how she’s coping.
Beyond the cards and letters of condolence, her bosses and co-workers have been the support during the work day that her family has been the rest of the time.
They continue to work with her when the grief wells up.
“They get me through every day. They’re very caring, they’ve been with me through the whole thing,” Janet Moran said.
Time has helped dull the sharp edges of loss that Jason’s death brought. But the feelings of loss haven’t dissipated. They likely never will.
Janet Moran has only recently been able to look at pictures of her son. The family has mounted framed photographs of him in their living room. Jason in his football uniform, in past school pictures and hanging out with his family showcase his smiling face.
A shot of Jason posing with his older brother, Jacob Moran, has been blown up to nearly poster size. The two boys are both wearing football uniforms, both in No. 28, taken when Jason was a freshman and Jacob was a senior at Franklin.
“A part of me is gone,” Janet Moran said. “But then, I feel he’s still here with me a lot, too.”