Shaken and shattered. . .

Our family (except for my niece Jenna who lives in Florida) on July 4, 2012.
This would be our last family picture.
The crash site on Highway 12 between Willmar and Kandiyohi, MN. 

Our family after my niece and sister-in-law’s funeral on August 24, 2012.
We mustered smiles through the tears. . .

For those of you reading this that might not know my family’s story, I’ll give to you in a nutshell. On August 17, 2012 my mom, sister-in-law, and eight-year old niece were killed when a drunk driver hit their vehicle head on.  My mom and sister-in-law died on impact. My niece and my then five-year old nephew were rescued from the vehicle by a bystander who bravely entered the van as it was beginning to burn. Both my niece and nephew were airlifted to a metro-area trauma center. My nephew survived with minor injuries. My niece died later that night despite a courageous effort by rescue personnel to save her precious life. In an instant, our family was shattered–ripped apart–shaken to the very core of our being.

To write about the accident seems so surreal. They had been shopping, to a movie, and were on their way home. It was only a few minutes after 9:00 p.m. Drunk drivers aren’t supposed to be on the road then. Tragedy like this isn’t supposed to happen EVER. How is this even possible? I have tried to wrap my head around this a million times and I can’t. This can’t be real! It’s like a never-ending nightmare except that you are very awake and the pain is very real. The pain is SO very real. . .

We have talked several times over the last five weeks how time seems to magically stand still yet at the same time flies. It seems like just yesterday we were planning our last big family get together (which was to be August 19) before my brother and his family were to return to Oman for another school year–yet, it seems like a lifetime since we have heard their voices, seen their smiles, and felt their warmth. The weeks immediately following the accident are a blur of people, funerals, and burials–a blur of overwhelming grief and despair.

I knew almost immediately after the accident that I would eventually share some of the things that I have experienced (and have yet to experience) as our family begins to put the pieces of our lives back together. As a person that works in advocacy, I know the power that sharing stories and experiences lends to healing. I know that I am not alone in my pain and I know that what I will share from my experiences will in turn help others along their own path of healing.

I also know that what I share now and in the future is my own. I can’t speak for everyone in our family because we are all different and have all experienced different losses. I know my own pain but I don’t know what my brother is experiencing after the loss of his wife, daughter, and mother. I don’t know what my dad is experiencing after losing his wife, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. I don’t know what my nephews are experiencing after the loss of their mother, sister, and grandmother. I don’t know what my kids are experiencing after the loss of their grandmother, aunt, and young cousin. I don’t know what my other brother is experiencing even though we both lost our mother, sister-in-law, and niece. And so it goes on. . .each of us has our own pain and our own healing to experience. We each need to heal as individuals; yet, we also need to heal collectively as a family. We are–as individuals and as a family–forever changed.

There are so many things that I have jotted down over the last month or so that I was a bit overwhelmed as where to start. But, as I looked things over, there are a few things that have really been constant throughout this journey so far. I will no doubt be writing extensively about each one in the future. For now though, I’ll keep it short. If you have followed any of my Facebook posts, some of this will sound familiar. . .

  • Faith, family, and friends will carry you through the darkest of days. I really, really can’t stress that enough! I have said it many times over the past few weeks and will say it again and again in the future.
  • The power of prayer is truly uplifting. Not only have I been uplifted spiritually but there were times during that first week or so that I physically felt the waves of prayers being sent to our family. (Yes, I physically felt the power of prayer. Yes, that may sound crazy to some. And, in case you are wondering, it’s a pretty awesome feeling.)
  • Angels do exist. I have believed in angels my entire life and now I have seen them. I have felt the arms of these angels wrap around me and hold me tight in the depths of my despair.
  • Hugs heal. The healing power in a hug is pretty amazing. A loving hug from a person can warm your heart and soul..
  • You can never say “I love you” enough. You never know when your time on earth is up.
  • The experience of sudden loss opens your heart to the pain of others. Several times over my life I have felt pain when somebody suffers a tragic loss, but now, I experience that pain differently. I know that some of my friends reading this have experienced great loss in their lives over the past year or so. My heart goes out to you now more than ever.
  • Priorities change. More on that later.
  • Gratitude! I have never felt so grateful in my entire life. I know, it may seem strange to some, but I’ve experienced a “gratitude awakening” of sorts. Even though it is really difficult (actually impossible) to be grateful some days, I have found that when I look at life through a gracious lens, it becomes so much clearer.
  • Grief is a beast that will devour your soul if you don’t seek out joy to counteract it. I have learned that it is possible to live a paradoxical world of deep sorrow and of great joy. Despite the terrific loss our family has experienced, we have also experienced joy at times over the last few weeks.
  • Life is a gift. I still cry every single day. I think about them every moment, yet, go on. We have to go on because life goes on.

To all of you reading that have been with my family throughout this painful time– I am pretty sure that I can speak for all of us when I say that our hearts are filled with deep, unending  gratitude. Every thought, word, prayer, and hug has been a blessing. We can’t thank you enough. Please keep the prayers coming.

I don’t know where this journey will take me but I pray that along the way somebody will be comforted by my words, by my experiences, and by my love. No matter what you are experiencing in life right now, know that you are not alone. 


3 thoughts on “Shaken and shattered. . .

  1. My dearest cousin, this is so well written. I love you and wish with all my heart that I could take at least some of your pain and anguish. Know that you are in so many people's thoughts and prayers. I think of you all so many times each day and send mental hugs and peace to you. I love you all and if you need anything let me know!Jes

  2. You are helping people. I lost my 26 year old brother on june14, 2012. I have struggled, since then, to put into words how I feel. I admire you for being able to express your emotions as clear as you can, even when your pain is still so new and raw. The part you wrote about seeking out joy to counter the grief really hit home for me. I think that when people go through times of loss that they feel guilty about seeking out joy. But you are absolutely right, you have to or grief WILL devour you. And you're also right about "living in a paradoxical world between absolute grief and great joy." My heart goes out to your family as you walk through your journey of healing. And I want to thank you for giving me the words for the emotions I share so precisely with you but was previously unable to define. Blessings.

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