MIRAMAR BEACH — On the last day Jesse Newsom texted his mom, he told her he'd just finished some coursework and was looking forward to his new life. The next day, the 20-year-old Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) soldier was dead.
Military officials who notified Fran wouldn't let her see her son's body and, nearly four months later, she has not been told how he died.
Over the next three weeks, she would lose her 94-year-old mom and face surgery to have part of a cancerous lung removed.
But she doesn't want people to feel sorry for her. She has always been a happy person, one who "giggles" a lot, and she intends to be that way again.
Some days are just harder than others.
"I'll be happy one minute and then all of the sudden, I break down and my legs get weak. I'll pick something up that was his favorite food and I feel like I'm having a panic attack," she says.
Jesse was 6 feet, 4 inches tall and the "best looking guy in the world," his mom says. He was also helpful and sweet. More than 200 people came to his Jan. 22 visitation and most shared stories about Jesse with his mom.
"There was not one day that he did not give us joy," his mom says. "We told him every day when we prayed at supper, 'Thank you God for giving (Jesse) to us.' "
Fran and Jesse, who graduated from South Walton High School, were always close. At his high school graduation she started crying at the beginning of the program and didn't stop.
"That just hit me that he's not mine anymore," she recalls. "And I just started bawling."
Each night, Jesse and his mom texted each other that they loved each other. When he was home, he would go down to the bay and watch the sunset with her. When he wasn't home, they'd send each other photos of the sunset from wherever they were.
"I would sit on my side of the bay and he would be on his side and we would send pictures of the sunset to each other," she says.
Jesse signed up for the military in the 11th grade and scored so high on the test that he was assigned to intelligence operations. He was going to see the world, go everywhere, he told his mom.
But Crestview was his first duty station.
"He didn't get far at all," she said. "I thought he was safe at home, but apparently not."
On her phone, she has photos of Jesse, of her mom, of growing up in Enterprise, Alabama. She also has the last sunset photos she sent to Jesse and he sent to her.
The retired teacher finds things to be grateful for. The cancer hadn't spread. Her mom lived long enough to choose when she was ready to die. Fran has lived life with no regrets and no guilt, which has been a blessing as she struggles through her grief. She's not angry with God.
But she wants people to know that if they have a mother, to make a memory with her. She can't remember the presents her children bought her through the years. She remembers the memories they made.
When her mother was alive, Fran would call her every night and put the phone next to her head so the last thing she heard was her mother's voice.
"She would say, 'Hang up, you're falling asleep,' " Fran remembers.
Since she lost Jesse and her mom, sleep eludes her. Finally, one night last week, she played a message she'd saved of her mom's voice. And she slept well for the first time in months.
The approach to Mother's Day has been difficult. Stores are filled with cards and flowers and reminders of the day that celebrates the special bond between a mother and her child.
"I just want people to remember the mothers that's lost their children and the children that's lost their mothers," she said. "You don't realize how fragile life is until things like this just happen.
"If somebody does have a mother alive, do something for her. Something memorable."
On her last Mother's Day with Jesse, he made them a picnic and the two of them went to the bay near her home and watched the sun set.
This year she will go alone.
"On Mother's Day, I'm going to go to the bay and sit and be with him. That's all I know to do."