A Search For Meaning
Posted: 12/13/02 8:30 am
Paid Oregonian Archives
December 19, 1998
A SEARCH FOR MEANING
Summary: As the search ends for missing 8-year-old Derrick Engebretson, his anguished family urges others to find meaning in their loss
The only sound as a dozen people moved slowly through the woods in a ragged line late Thursday, searching for 8-year-old Derrick Engebretson, was the crunch, crunch, crunch of sticks probing the snow.
The searchers were lost in thought -- their minds not only on the fate of the boy who disappeared in a snowstorm Dec. 5 while hunting for a Christmas tree near Klamath Falls, but also on the deep anguish felt by his family.
In the silence, the searchers seemed to be looking for meaning as much as the body of a little boy.
They could find clues in this broader search by looking into the weary, lined faces of their fellow searchers. In the smoky camp overflowing with donated food. In the cracking voice of Darla Engebretson, Derrick's paternal grandmother, who took comfort in remembering that before she saw her grandson off that last afternoon, she demanded he take off his tennis shoes and put on his snow boots.
The family has announced that today it will stop its desperate search for Derrick, two weeks after the boy became separated from his father and grandfather, and lost in the darkness and heavy snow.
But the family's search for some meaning, for some consolation, for some explanation of life's lessons, will go on.
It's a search worth joining, in spirit, even from a great distance. Especially now. The holidays are about giving and sharing, about faith, about the strength and importance of family. All this was on vivid display in the search camp assembled along Westside Road at the foot of Pelican Butte.
Scores of Southern Oregon children sent their Christmas money, sometimes just a few dollars, to the family. The camp was deluged with donated food and equipment. People who had never met the family drove hundreds of miles to help.
The Engebretsons have kept their faith. Ten days into the search, they talked bravely of Derrick "still walking around out there somewhere." Yellow ribbons were tied to every searcher, every vehicle, every piece of equipment. Darla Engebretson thanked God on Thursday, nearly two weeks after Derrick was lost, for answering her prayers for clear, sunny weather.
It's a large, close family. Darla Engebretson and Betty Davis, the maternal grandmother, said their grandson was a busy, strong-willed boy who loved the outdoors. He played sports. He liked stacking wood. He hunted often with his dad, his two older brothers and his two grandfathers who lived nearby.
Derrick always ran out ahead, his grandmothers said. When they took him shopping, Derrick would hide under the carousels of hanging clothes, then suddenly pop out, a big grin on his face. Now he's gone.
Derrick's father, Robert Engebretson, searched virtually nonstop for his son until pneumonia and other injuries forced him, for a brief time, off the mountain. The distraught father was back in the woods this week, searching for his boy, and speaking of the fragility of life.
His words rambled, but his message was simple and powerful: Love your kids. You can lose them so quickly. One moment you might look away, and the next, when you turn back, they're gone.
*© 1998 OregonLive.com. All Rights Reserved.