More than ten years ago, my husband, our 14-week-old baby boy and I were driving home from visiting my husband’s parents. The sun was setting. Al Greene’s “Let’s Stay Together” was blaring on the car stereo. This is all I remember from that car ride...
The next scene in my memory feels like a camera lens trying to come into focus. It is a blurry image of a small, golden cross hanging from someone’s neck. I can’t see a face, just the cross. Then as if the story was being clicked through on one of those red plastic View-Master toys I used to play with as a kid, the scene changes again.
Click. I am riding in a helicopter. I hear the steady whooshing of the blades over my head. I’m strapped down on a gurney and look to my right. I see our tiny baby boy, fighting to cry but not making a sound. He’s pale with wires sticking all over him.
Click. I feel the cool night air hit my face for a moment before being thrust onto an elevator. I can’t see my son anymore. Everything is moving faster. The fuzzy images are starting to become a bit clearer. We are moving down the floors very quickly. I feel sick in my stomach.
Click. I am waiting in a small room with a curtain for a door. For the first time, the thought occurs to me that for all of these events over the past hour or so I haven’t seen my husband. No one has mentioned him. I start asking each person who busily walks into the room if they know where he is. No one has any answers.
They wheel me from one room to the next, one test to the next… and I wait. I stare at the grey curtains, wondering where my baby boy is, wondering which room my husband is in. Since no one at the hospital seems to know anything about him, I assume his injuries weren’t as bad as ours and that the medics decided to take him to a closer hospital by ambulance.
Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.
My mom and my sister came running into the little room, looking shocked. They quickly busied themselves wiping the dried blood off my face. The cool towels felt soothing; their familiar faces comforting. My head was spinning.
Moments later, a hospital chaplain pulled back the curtain and stood at the end of my bed. Very matter-of-factly, showing no emotion, she looked at me and said, “Your family was in a very bad car accident. Your husband was killed instantly from the impact.”
The chaplain turned and left the room. My mom and sister and I broke down weeping. We could hardly breathe.
My world fell apart in an instant. I went from singing to weeping. From all being as it should be, to suddenly finding everything in a million pieces around me. I felt like I was left standing there in the middle of the rubble and I didn’t know which way was north.
Soon after, I was released from the ER. My heart was shattered, but I had no severe bodily injuries. My 14-week-old son Eli, however, had been transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit at the neighboring children’s hospital, Arnold Palmer. He hadn’t nursed, hadn’t taken a bottle, hadn’t eaten for three days since the accident. Those days were touch and go. I hadn’t left his side.
Visitors encouraged me to take a break and go to my in-laws’ house to get a warm meal. Exhausted, I finally agreed. Before I left, I asked the doctor to call me right away if they got any results back from Eli's tests. I wanted to know the diagnosis even if it was over the phone.
Shortly after I arrived at my in-laws’ home, the phone rang. I felt my heart hit my toes. I answered and listened to the doctor explain how serious Eli’s injuries were: “If he pulls through this, he likely will not have much of a life. He will probably not be able to walk, talk or show emotion.” In a few short sentences, my world crashed down again.
I walked into the living room to share the news with the 50 or so people who had gathered there nightly to mourn and pray. The air was thick.
Our former pastor spoke up and broke the silence. He said, “I think we need to worship God right now. We need to remember who God is.” So instead of praying for Eli and asking God to heal him—which felt like the most obvious thing to do—we did something that felt very counter-intuitive in that moment: We worshipped God. We didn’t sing, but we began speaking truth about who we knew God to be. I have never felt the presence of God as tangibly as I felt it that evening in my in-laws’ family room. It was powerful and beautiful.
Later that night, I headed back to the hospital. I had been pumping milk since the accident and storing it just in case Eli was able to eventually eat. When I got to the hospital, a nurse ran up to me and exclaimed, “Where have you been? Eli had seven bottles while you were gone! He is starving!” It was incredible news.
No 14-week-old baby walks or talks, so at that point we didn’t really know what the future would hold for Eli. But I knew deep inside my core that no matter what, Eli would be able to do and be what God made him to do and be. I knew and believed that his injuries would not hinder the good work that God put him on earth to do.
As it turned out, Eli recovered from the accident much more fully than the doctors expected. Today, he has some learning disabilities due to brain injuries from the accident, but he walks, talks and shows plenty of emotion. He is a delight!
In the years after the accident, I was tempted to go around, to circumvent the grieving process. I wanted to dull the pain, to bury it, to avoid it. But every day, I prayed against that temptation. I asked God to help me grieve in a healthy way. He was so faithful to draw my heart into feeling what it needed to feel—to cry when I needed to cry, to find cause for laughter when I needed to laugh. To remember. To stay raw so that God could fill the emptiness in my heart and bring healing to every place that was broken and hurting. Surely, this process takes a lifetime, but for five years after the accident, this was happening in an intense way for me.
I didn’t want to be paralyzed and stuck in fear, standing in one place. Rather, I sought to painstakingly put one blistered foot in front of the other, to keep trudging onward. To not let the grief hold me down and make me stop living my life, for then death would win, and I couldn’t let that be.
I spent five intense years living as widow. There were times when my faith wavered and I asked God really hard questions, but never once did I feel abandoned by Him. He provided for our needs and sustained us in amazing ways.
Eventually, I remarried. My new husband adopted Eli, and we've had two more children together. We are so grateful for all that is happening in our lives. This is the story we invite you into now as you read these words, share in our story and soak in the music.
As I have shared my story with you we hope you will share your story with us. Each of us has something unique and beautiful to share. We can learn from each other and be inspired and encouraged together. This is not a journey we walk on our own but rather it is so much richer to walk together.