Last weekend, I had the privilege to be a part of the Williamson County Safety and Self Defense Academy in Georgetown.  There were 3 sessions during the day to allow for different age groups of kids.  While they were learning basic self-defense from local police, military and others, the parents were invited to learn about resources available in our community.  I was one of the speakers at the parent’s seminar.

The first thing I noticed was the number of parents who came to the seminar and didn’t just drop their kids off.  It would have been easy for them to check the kids in and go to Starbucks or run errands for an hour, but they didn’t. All three sessions had at least 50 parents in attendance.  They were able to put names to faces of the WilCo Sherriff – Robert Chody, Georgetown Police Chief – Wayne Nero,  local Georgetown School Resource Officers and Sheriff’s deputies.  The last two speakers were me and Janet Cooke.

Today, it’s Janet that I want to talk to you about.

On January 10, 2002, Janet’s daughter, Rachel Cooke, a 19 year old college freshman, went out for a jog while her parents were at work. She has not been home since.  She was last seen by neighbors about 500 yards from her parent’s home.  15 years have passed and there has been no hidden clue found, no TV-worthy break in the case, no fuzzy images of her on surveillance camera anywhere.  There is nothing.  Not a trace.  And that makes my heart break for her mom, Janet (her father passed away a few years ago).

Last Saturday morning, as I was getting dressed to head to the seminar, I started thinking about that.  You see, every day, part of my ritual is to put on the silver teardrop pendant that contains a small amount of Peyton’s ashes.  I get to carry a piece of him with me every single day.  In the 26 months that I’ve had the necklace, I’ve only not worn it once – by accident – and then I panicked all day until I could get home to be sure it was safe.  In the evening, when I take the necklace off (I can’t sleep in jewelry), I tell Peyton I love him and kiss the pendant.  I know “he” isn’t really in the pendant and some people may think it’s silly, but in some small way it allows me to stay connected to him.  I also have half of his ashes in a beautiful wooden box on a shelf in my closet that has become sort of a shrine.  The other half live with his father.  Again, every morning and evening, I can talk to him there.  Every minute of every day I know exactly where the earthly remains of my precious boy are.

Janet doesn’t have that.  And my heart breaks for her.

As she and I talked last weekend, I saw not just a grieving mother.  I saw a woman of incredible strength and courage.  Every day, she pulls herself out of bed and goes about her day – all the while thinking about her sweet daughter, I’m sure.  She is active in keeping Rachel’s memory alive and in keeping up the interest in her disappearance.  And she still has hope.  Hope that the truth will come out and hope that her daughter is still alive somewhere and will come home.  It would be so easy for Janet to assume the worst and I’m sure she has been told to do just that, but she refuses.  This tiny little woman with a raspy voice and a bear like hug refuses to believe anything but the most optimistic outcome.

I find that that kind of resolve remarkable.

So, Janet, if you read this, please know that you left a profound mark on my heart.  We are kindred souls in so many ways, but at a point, our paths veer in different directions.  I hope and pray that you see your beautiful Rachel again and that, someday, you get answers.