TONASKET – Gaining a sense of closure hasn’t come easily for Claire Jeffko. She wasn’t sure it would be possible to find it, not since her husband of about 30 years, Ed Jeffko, vanished without a trace in his small, homebuilt fiberglass airplane.
Ed Jeffko took off from the Tonasket Airport on July 23, on a heading for Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula. But he never arrived, and searches both official and unofficial never turned up anything.
It took about a year for Claire to begin to “live” again, she says. She took a trip to Italy that Ed had arranged for her shortly before his disappearance, and upon her return accepted an appointment to an open Tonasket City Council seat.
” At some point you have to move forward,” Jeffko says. “I don’t want to live a life of regret.
“It took everything I had. There were many days I didn’t want to get out of bed, but I did only because I had to feed the dogs. I did a lot of screaming, crying, all of that, but I haven’t had to do that for a long time.”
She was moving on with life, but closure?
Suddenly and miraculously, it came.
An earlier loss
Five or six years ago, Claire was walking her dogs near on her familiar route by the Okanogan River, when she felt her wedding ring “catch” on her jeans.
“I looked down, and son of a gun, the diamond was gone,” she says. “I’m crying, because I have to make everything dramatic. It was at a sandy spot that dips by the river on the trail. Ed and I went and got strainers and buckets, went down there straining sand, straining.”
Ed finally convinced her that it was OK, that the original diamond was gone; he’d get her a new one.
“I acquiesced,” she said. “I was not happy about it. He had another one put in. I was always suspicious because it didn’t look like the first one.”
She shows off the replacement stone.
“This is the ‘We’ve been married for 30 years diamond,’” she says. “What was gone was the ‘I’m in lust’ diamond.”
A couple of months ago – April 1, to be precise – Claire Jeffko was traversing her usual path along the river, accompanied by Justin Savage.
“We were near the same spot and he stopped and Justin bent over to pick something up,” she says. “I said, ‘If that’s a diamond, it belongs to me.’
“I was kidding, of course, but he had it. He frigging had it. I was stunned, shocked, couldn’t believe it. I kept looking at it thinking it wasn’t real.”
Kids, dogs, five winters of snow and flooding, and the diamond was still there for her to find. But it wasn’t done with its, however. She clasped it in her hand and walked back toward Riverview Mobile Home and RV Park, which she still operates. Tonasket Police Officer Preston Ray was parked there to do his rounds she said, and asked what she had in her hand.
“I opened my hand and it rolled out into his engine compartment,” Jeffko says. “I’m going, ‘Holy crap, I can’t believe this happened.’
“He decided no police work was getting done … he opened the hood, took out the filter, the fuel pump … then he finds it.”
She took it to Highlandia Jewelers in town and verified that it was, indeed, her long-lost diamond.
“Keith Barnett ran it through a bunch of tests,” she said. “He said it was mine. I am still just so shocked by the whole episode.”
She had the diamond placed in Ed’s old ring (quite securely, she points out) and has taken to wearing it again.
“I asked Justin if he wanted a reward for finding it and he said, ‘No the look on your face when you went into shock when you realized it was yours was perfect.’ He wouldn’t take it. We both decided it was something magical and went with it.
“You can’t make that stuff up. It’s a fairy tale. If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t believe it. And if no one else believes it, I really don’t care.”
Out of the blue, the miraculous find has given Claire a chance to make peace with her loss and move forward.
“It’s the only closure I’ve had,” she says. “This diamond was down there for years. I’d been having trouble recently getting closure, and now I finally have it.”
She says that, while she still not happy that Ed is gone, she is at peace with his final resting place being someplace deep in the Cascades and has asked that friends and family not make any further efforts to find him.
“I’m not going to the mountains to haul him out of there,” Claire says. “For Ed, it’s his mountains, it’s his airplane. It’s perfect way for him to end. Ed was 72-years-old and he died with his dream, which is pretty awesome.”
If someone should come across Ed and his plane, she says, retired Tonasket Police Officer Jim Rice would be notified and handle any arrangements that needed to be made.
“I don’t need to go through any of it again,” Claire says. “Since the diamond, I feel much better, much calmer. Things finally make sense, for some reason. I have my ‘When you’re in lust’ diamond back. I honestly believe it’s Ed’s way of connecting with me and feel really strongly that he’s still with me. And that’s good enough for me.”