It’s as if it happened yesterday, each time the anniversary comes around.
The tragedy weighs my heart down as I relive the memories in vivid detail. And as I sit here, hoping the words come out as they need, the angels are crying down rain for me.
As if it were any other normal evening, I sat with my then fiancé watching TV on the eve of January 14th, 2007. We were winding down after the weekend, getting ready for the week- when my phone rang. It was nothing out of the ordinary, but then it happened again a few minutes later. I had to go looking for my phone, and when I found it, I realized that I missed calls from my brother.
Strange, because he was with my youngest brother and my dad on a snowboarding trip, so I didn’t expect a call from him. Just as I was about to call him back, a voicemail popped up- so I listened.
“Sis, it’s me. Something bad has happened, and my battery is about to die. Please call me back.”
Frightened, I called him back immediately, and it went straight to voicemail. His phone was dead. I started to panic, and knew that I needed to keep a clear head to think straight. What was my next step? I called my dad’s phone- no answer.
I told my fiancé what was going on and he made the immediate decision to get on the road. We needed to find them. I knew that they were leaving a football combine in Las Vegas, (my brother was a college kicker) and were headed up to Utah to snowboard for a few days. I called the Arizona highway patrol when we were on the road and explained the little amount of information I knew about a possible accident, and they basically confirmed my worst fears.
The officer on the phone told me (he wasn’t allowed to give me any details) to get on a plane as fast as we could and to meet him at the University Medical Center in Nevada. There was no chance of that now, so we kept driving. I must have cried the entire way there, fearing the absolute worst. By some miracle, we didn’t get pulled over, because the trip from San Diego only took us about 4 hours. When we got there, it was 1am.
We immediately found my brother, alone. No sign of my dad or youngest brother. He burst into tears and clung to me, saying over and over that he killed our dad. It was a surreal moment- and minutes later, the fear was confirmed when the social worker took us aside to break the news. My father had been killed in a rollover accident, and my little brother was in the ICU in a coma. By the grace of God, my brother had his life spared.
What happened in the next few hours, days even, is hard to remember. By shear will and determination, we woke up day after day. We ate- sometimes- and I signed papers. I stared at my little brother who practically looked lifeless while in a two week long coma, and more often then not, my mind was blank. How do I process all of this? How do I survive without my dad? Why did this happen to our family?
And 10 years to this day, I still ask myself these questions. Some days are easier then others- so if you need me, I will be at the beach. The ocean was my dads favorite.
Until then, heres some advice- whether you want it or not- to help you get through (or help a friend get through) any tragedy that you have been dealt:
Realize that everyone has their own way to deal with death. There is no right or wrong way, and there are no steps to follow. You do you.
If you are taking it hard- just know its ok to feel a little insane. Friend, take this from someone who has been there. It is hard. Probably the hardest thing you will ever have to deal with in your life. It will be dark sometimes. Know that your life is now forever changed, and you will eventually adapt to a new normal.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable and let people in. Your friends and family want to be there for you, even if they don’t know how. People who haven’t dealt with tragedy have no idea what you are going through- but they want to help. Don’t shut them out. Again, take it from someone who knows. And if you are the friend who doesn’t know how to help- just know that your presence means everything.
In that respect, only open up when you are ready. There is no pressure here. All the emotions are flying out all over the place. No one expects you to talk about anything until you feel confident that you can handle it without breaking down. Your fragile state is nothing to mess with. Your family and friends will be there for you when you are ready.
Allow yourself grace and time to heal… even if its 10 years or more because any time frame is normal. Especially with tragedies, you may not have gotten the closure you needed, or you couldn’t properly say goodbye. I know how hard that is. You will be able to do that in your own way and in your own time. Go easy on yourself- these are some deeply emotional waters. “Time heals all wounds” doesn’t mean that you will completely heal back to normal. Your wounds will always be there, leaving a scar behind.
Cherish the memories that you do have. I have to tell myself this constantly. As every year goes by, the memories start to fade, so the best thing you can do it keep those memories alive! Bust out the photo albums and tell those stories. It will make your heart happy, I promise.
Celebrate life! It’s too short to dwell on the tragedy! The celebration will eventually bring you the peace that you need.