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If only he had foreseen a clear day

Published April 11, 2007

[Times photo: Melissa Lyttle]
WFLA-Ch. 8 reporter Rod Carter, center, stands among his colleagues Tuesday during the public memorial service for meteorologist John Winter, held at Hyde Park United Methodist Church.

John Winter, 39, died Thursday.

Of course it rained the day of his memorial service, great sheets of it falling over the yellow-brick church.

He should have been on TV that morning before we left for work, same as always, the amiable Channel 8 weather guy with his perfect weatherman name and his I-know-something grin.

John Winter should have been talking to us over coffee and getting the kids out the door. He should have been telling us to grab our umbrellas and be careful on slick streets, reminding us how much our parched lawns need the rain, maybe mock promising in that chummy weatherman way that the clouds would be gone by the weekend.

Instead, five months shy of his 40th birthday, he shot himself last week in the garage of his suburban home, the one with the perfect lawn he tended himself.

What could have been going on in his life, in his head, behind the mild and friendly face he wore for the cameras? We wanted a reason, something to help us understand.

Even some people who worked alongside him for years didn't know about the dark part. Investigators have so far not released information that might give a clue to the private hell of a public man.

Not that any answer, anything we might learn about his personal troubles, could make all of this seem any less pointless.

This we know: He had a wife, a nice house, a dog, what seemed like a great job - what looked on the surface to be a pretty good life.

He played with a weather kit as a kid, and it set him on the path that ended up in our living rooms.

He chased tornadoes in college.

If you watched him on the news, you already knew the prankishness his friends talked about afterward.

And we learned that he had struggled with depression, a darkness that a close friend says plagued him for years.

Does it matter what happened just before it happened? Whatever the reason he might name in a note, afterward there's only loss.

On a rainy Tuesday, they held private services for his family and those closest to him, and then a memorial for the rest of us who felt like we knew him even if we never met him. Then it was over.

New headlines and new tragedies will keep coming, keep filling the space. Some of us will start to forget, at least until his name happens to come up again.

Well-meaning people will tell those who were close to him that what happened was one man's act, not anyone's fault. You wonder if the people who loved him won't wonder anyway. You wonder how long sadness like that can last - a lifetime?

This is what gets left behind.

If only he had been able to hold out one more day, been able to see it through to wake up one more morning.

If only he had found a way to hear the voices of people there to help him - a perfect stranger at the end of a phone help line, even - someone who could help him see clearly through the hopelessness that must have obscured everything.

If only he could have seen a single truth: that one day, the world would surely not seem as dark as it must have in his last moments. That clouds really can clear.

[Last modified April 11, 2007, 02:00:11]

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