I’ve carried the shock of my father’s car accident in my heart for all of my life from the age of eight. The sudden loss of someone so young and alive tears a hole in the heart that heals in ragged ways. The pain returns at odd moments when some sight or sound or memory tears open a corner of the wound. I have lived on just as I should have, but I know that every aspect of who I am changed on that dreadful day when I awoke to find that my daddy would never return from the evening drive that ended with his heart stopping as his car careened into a ditch at the end of an unmarked dead end road.
This past summer I have been reminded of just how fragile life is when several of my dearest friends died from diseases that they had valiantly fought. It has been a tough several months receiving notification of the passing of people who had filled my own life with so much joy. Perhaps one of the most distressing pieces of news that came my way regarded a friend with whom I had gone to school from our elementary years all the way through high school and college. On a road trip meant to celebrate the upcoming birth of a grandchild his car was hit by a train and he suffered severe head trauma. While he did not die, I fell apart upon hearing of his accident which proved to hit very close to home for me.
My friend has always been a joyful person whose optimism and sense of humor regularly made me smile. He has struggled in the past many weeks to heal from his brain injuries, but his determination to become strong again does not surprise me at all. It has been a difficult journey for him and his family, one wrought with setbacks for every step forward. He is blessed to be surrounded by a wife and children who are devoted to him along with many of us who have walked through different phases of life with him. We all feel a sense of impatience in hoping to one day get him back to a state where he seems more like himself. We hold our breaths with every development, good or bad, wanting the day to come when the only news about him is cause for joy.
My friend now resides in an assisted living facility and regularly undergoes rehabilitation. He is still prone to falls and lapses of memory. Recently he even tested positive for Covid. I can imagine how anxious his family members must be. The results of this accident are affecting them as horrifically as my own father’s did with me. The shock of losing the indomitable spirit of someone like my dad or my friend is like a punch in the gut. Most certainly my friend is beloved by so many, just because of who he is, but we all have memories of his wit and wisdom that make this tragedy feel ever so much more difficult to endure. He gave so much to each of us and still does as we watch him fight with everything he has just to walk and talk and be as independent and feisty as he ever was.
I am relived that my friend is so loved that he has a phenomenal support system. I cheer for his progress every single day. I feel the disappointment of his family whenever he has a fall or seems to forget what has happened to him. I know how suddenly and unexpectedly their lives have changed. I understand how that feels. I realize the unfairness of it.
When someone we love is in a serious accident we spin in a state of shock. Everything that we had taken for granted is upended. We have to learn how to live in a way that we never expected and would never have chosen. Our mettle is tested. Our strength is challenged. It sometimes feels as though we are in a situation that nobody else in the world is capable of understanding. We experience a whirlwind of emotions that sometimes change from moment to moment. We are hurt, confused, hopeful, hopeless all at the same time. Everything feels topsy turvy so that the smallest things require great effort. It feels as though we are imprisoned inside a pit from which we may never escape. We cling to small signs that our lives will once again get better and we will survive the ordeal that has been so shockingly thrust upon us. The ups and downs of progress and our moods wear us down even as we find ways to continue forward.
When my father died from his accident there were people and events that kept me and my family going. A little stray dog that wandered to our front porch brought us a tiny bit of joy that might not otherwise have been there. Quiet visits from friends long after most people had returned to their routines assured us that we were not forgotten. I learned then that there would always be someone who makes an extra effort to help when times get tough. Often the people who did such things were a surprise. Somehow we have angels in our lives that we do not even notice until sorrow suddenly knocks at our door. They come in our time of need without fanfare, but with open hearts that remind us that we are not alone.
I have a grandson who is a runner. In a race he is a beautiful sight. He tends to be a winner, someone with the stamina and the skill to outpace the other competitors. One time his body failed him. He fell from the front of the pack to the end. Another runner realized that my grandson was in trouble. He knew that something was very wrong. He gave up his own place in the rankings to walk beside my grandson and to get both of them to the finish line. His act of kindness in a time of need made him the winner of life’s race and a hero to our family. He was an example of the kind of person we should all strive to be.
We live in a very busy world. It feels as though everyone is rushing from one moment to another. When an accident happens our own pace along the the race track of life is suddenly slowed or even stopped completely. When someone stops long enough to check on us or to help us, it is a glorious moment that we never forget. We all need to be seen, to be heard, to be understood. Accidents happen to everyone in the blink of an eye. We need to attempt to be that person who carries a wounded soul over the finish line.