Every now and then there is a story on the news that catches your attention and just breaks your heart. Last September I saw one of those. A mother was pulling out of a school parking lot and accidentally hit a baby in a stroller. The baby was killed instantly, and the mother who was walking with the child was not injured badly. The driver was not at fault, nor was the mother pushing the stroller.
I could understand though, knowing how pedestrians are sometimes hard to see, how this could happen. My heart broke not only for the mother who lost her baby, but for the driver as well. I couldn’t imagine the guilt she must be feeling over the incident even if it wasn’t her fault at all. I remember thinking of them often in the following days and praying for all of them, but especially for the driver.
Life soon took over and I pushed that news story to the back of my brain. We soon had a new baby to snuggle and a very busy Autumn ahead of us. I had kids in four different schools then, which left me on the move a lot. There was one in preschool, two in elementary school, and two children in different high schools. It was hard to handle all of it, but I managed reasonably well.
But I was about to have the rug pulled out from under me.
One rainy Monday in December, I dropped Max off at preschool. I stopped in to have a short chat with the preschool director, then headed out to the car, buckled Molly (5 weeks) and Lily (2 years) into their carseats and pondered my route to Target for some shopping before I headed out of the parking lot.
It was about 9:15am, and rush hour was well over. I remember that there weren’t many cars on the road at all. I pulled up to the sidewalk to make a right turn out of the parking lot and onto a large street. I glanced this way and that, but ended up looking to my left for a couple of minutes to wait for a nice big gap.
Then I slid my foot off the brake and moved slowly forward to enter the roadway. As I began to turn I heard a sickening THUD to my right. I turned and saw red hair, white skin, and blue sweatshirt on my windshield before it dropped out of view. Seconds became hours right then. I put the car in park, got out and ran around the front of the van thinking, “Oh, he’s going to yell at me!” But the man never yelled. He was unconscious next to my van, his bicycle a crumpled mess a few feet away.
A couple of other cars had stopped and were calling 911, but I opened my van door to get my phone and call too. I was shaking and crying so hard it took me several tries to dial the right numbers. Before the operator had time to dispatch anyone, a passing ambulance stopped and began to work on the man.
My memory gets a little fuzzy at this point. I crawled in the side of my van to sit by the babies. I cried my eyes out. I called Jay, I talked to the police. I saw them cut the man’s clothes off so that they could start an IV line and get his blood pressure. They put him in the ambulance eventually and took him away.
From the car I could see my mother in law and brother in law, but the police wouldn’t let them come near. Jay arrived and was allowed to come and be with me. At some point we got out of the car and the police introduced me to some crisis counselors. But when they saw that I had family and my husband there, they gave me a water bottle and left. I was in good hands already.
At some point the tears stopped and I just kind of went into shock. We moved inside of the preschool and out of the rain and over the course of the morning I was interviewed by a couple different police officers and a detective. The preschool where it happened is also a church, and one of their staff came and prayed with us. It was a prayer that I can’t remember, but that said everything in my heart at that moment. Our friends at the preschool took Molly and Lily with them so that we could deal with the police interviews.
After a few hours we were released to go home. I think I just curled up on the couch and watched it rain most of the rest of the day. Some friends brought dinner.
I stayed in contact with the detective through the week, and he let me know that I had done nothing wrong. The man was riding his bicycle very fast, against traffic, when he collided with the side of my van. He had probably assumed that I had seen him. The detective called me on Thursday of that week to let me know that the man, W.R., had passed away on Tuesday from his head injuries.
How does a person handle something like this? How can you even begin to process having a part, at fault or not, in an innocent person’s death? I had wondered that when I saw the news story in September and now I had to actually answer those questions, and I had no idea at all where to start.
And God, where was He for all of this? The funny thing for me was that my faith was not shaken. I knew God was still right there, wanting to comfort me, working little miracles through this event. But mostly I just kind of wanted Him to leave me alone for a while. My family, my friends, my church, they are all my ministries, and I viewed myself as a tool in the hand of God to work in this ministry of life He had given me. But now I just felt broken. I needed for God to put me back in the toolbox for a while and just let me heal.
And that is exactly what He did.
I didn’t stop praying, although my prayer often had no words. I didn’t stop going to mass, even when every mass felt like a funeral for the man in the accident. All I could do was to try to rest in His grace and hope that maybe someday I would feel differently.
Little miracles began to unfold. I started going to see a counselor, who helped me to weed through all this mental and emotional mess this had left me with, and I was able to work through a lot of other things as well. The father and step-mother of W.R. came to talk to the preschool director. They were very concerned for my well being and gave us some information on W.R. as well. They wanted me to know that they did not hold me responsible.
W.R. was 20 years old, living in a group home nearby because of a chromosomal abnormality that caused some delays and very large size. He was 6’8″ and well over 250 pounds. His organs went to four different people: heart, corneas, and both kidneys. And his brain went for research for the chromosomal abnormality he had. There had, to that point, never been a brain for them to study. Those were some small comforts amidst the darkness.
2010 was very much defined for me by the recovery from this accident. In the beginning I counted every day and week as a wonderful bit of distance that I could put between myself and the event. Then I was able to add in months as well. And somewhere along the line I stopped counting. When I reached the one year mark, I stopped and had a quiet day to remember and to pray, but it wasn’t just about having distance from that time anymore, it was about where I am now and how far I have come since then.
I share this with you not to look for pity or astonishment, but just to share where I am coming from. As this blog is largely about my spiritual journey, I think you need to see what has guided that for me. This accident will always be one of the defining moments in my life. I am sure I haven’t even felt the full impact of the ways it has changed me. But I hope and pray that, no matter how horrible and tragic it was, I can continue to use those changes for good. I am out of the toolbox again, ready to get to work.