One decision can change a life.
One decision changed my life and out of that tragedy I have found the life I was meant to live.
One decision made by a man….a stranger…..irrevocably and drastically changed the course of my life and took from me, the one person who loved me unconditionally. At the time, I had no idea that my life would ever be “normal” again. I had no idea that anything good could come out of this tragedy. Instead I felt as if I was being sentenced to life….life in hell and that God had abandoned me. Despite all of that, my life today is exactly where I dreamed it would and so much more. I have the life my mother wished for me and I would not trade any of what happened for the life I have today. Good does come out of bad, though we may not realize it for many years. I am where I am supposed to be and everything I have overcome in my life, all of the good and the bad, all of the life altering events, have led me here, to who I am today and where I am today.
37 years ago today, February 24, 1979, I lost my mother. The week leading up to her death was filled with fear, dread, anxiety and the unknown. My mother spent one week in a coma, lying in a bed in ICU. Exactly one week before her death, February 17, 1979, she was in a car accident…..one caused by the decision of a total stranger. This man made a decision to get behind the wheel of his pickup truck after a day of watching sports, hanging out with friends and drinking beer. And that decision, to drive after drinking cost my mother her life. One decision can irrevocably alter the lives of many.
February 17, 1979 was a gray, rainy day….a normal winter day in the Pacific Northwest. My sister and I were going to a slumber party for a friend’s birthday that night and I was so excited. Earlier in the day I had argued with my mom about going and as she drove us to our friend’s house, I was still upset with her. I thought the argument and my feelings were why, as we drove through the rain, I felt dread in the pit of my stomach, a foreboding that something bad was going to happen. I shrugged it off and jumped out of the car, saying a quick good-bye to mom. I was ready to have fun with my friends and would see mom the next day when she picked us up.
And then the phone call came. My friend’s mother had me come to her room to talk on the phone to another friend’s mother:
“Terri, how did you get there?” was asked of me
“Mom dropped us off” I answered
And then through the phone I heard her say to someone that “she doesn’t know”.
And then came the words that would change my world—“Your mother was in a car accident and is in the hospital. Your dad is on his way from Washington and your neighbor is coming to pick you and your sister up and bring you home.”
If they had called my dad, it had to be bad. We hadn’t seen dad in months and I did not want to see him now. My legs began shaking; barely holding me up and the tears began to flow. My friend’s mother took the phone, finished the conversation and she held me. And she prayed with me for my mother. This woman gave me comfort and it would be the last time I would be comforted for years. I will never forget her hug, her kindness or how comforted I felt that night, sitting in her room with her.
My dad and my older brother made it to Portland in record time. They picked us up and we headed to the hospital late that night. After hours spent in the waiting room, the nurses finally let my sister and I see our mother. I was scared…..really scared. The nurse explained what we would see when we walked into the ICU…..but it did not prepare me enough. Lying there in that bed, hooked up to tubes and wires, bandages around her head, was my mother….the strongest, bravest, most loving woman I knew and lying there she looked so fragile. It took everything I could muster to not cry…..they would make me leave if I got too upset. The nurse told me to hold mom’s hand and talk to her…..she said that even in a coma, my mother could hear me. Holding mom’s hand in mine, I leaned real close and whispered to her that I was sorry—sorry for arguing with her that day. I told her how much I loved her and how much I needed her. And she squeezed my hand. She had heard me.
That was the last time I saw my mom alive.
One week later, she was gone. She left me……
I have never again felt so deeply the pain that I felt when I lost my mother. I felt as if I was in a dark body of water, fighting to stay afloat as the weight of all that had happened was pulling me deeper and deeper under the water. I knew I would never get out. How could God let this happen? How could God take my mother? How could He possibly need her more in heaven than I needed her here on earth? How could a loving God take my mother, knowing that doing so would mean that I would have to live with my abuser, live in a house that from the outside seemed happy….yet behind closed doors was a nightmare I could never wake up from? Yes, I was angry with God and I did not know how to move on.
I do not want anyone to feel sorry for me….that is not why I share this. I share my story in the hopes that it will help someone, somewhere. We all have our own burdens to bear. And what we see on the outside may not be what is really going on…..behind closed doors life for some is very difficult. And the events in our lives, the tragedies, the celebrations, the losses all lead us to where we are….shape the way we see the world…..and affect our choices.
And we can learn from those life altering events….years later I can now reflect back and see the good that has come from all of this.
Yes, I felt God had abandoned me. And I was very angry with God. What I have learned is that God does not “let” things happen nor does He make good or bad happen in our lives. Instead, God gives us what we need so that we can get through the trials and tribulations. And God did that for me. He never left my side. He gave me those years with my mother, time where she made sure that I had a strong foundation in faith….a faith that would carry me through the abuse and a faith that carries me through life. My faith is what gets me through every day.
I also strongly believe that good comes from bad. If I had not lost my mother, I would not have been back in dad’s house……that was more “bad”….. But I also would have never met my husband nor would I have had my two boys. Knowing now how my life has turned out….living this adventure with my best friend, my partner and love of my life, and raising and loving my two boys…..I would not change a thing that led me to here. Without ALL of those events I would never have known my husband, and my boys would not be here. I cannot imagine my life without the three of them. I cannot imagine a world without these two boys, now men, in it. Yes, GREAT things come out of tragedy.
I have also learned through all of this that life is precious and short. That we never know how long we have someone here with us and we need to appreciate them while they are alive. Saying good-bye without anger is so important to me….letting those I love know that I love them today because tomorrow is not guaranteed.
The decision of that stranger to drive after drinking set a course for my life that I did not see coming. His decision and the loss of my mother is why I will not have even one drink when I am driving, something that I have been given a hard time about in the past. Maybe now, others will understand why.
I hope that by sharing my story, I can help someone. In the midst of our darkest days, it may seem as if we will never come out the other side. Yet, here I am, on the other side, living a life filled with adventure, love, and joy….living the life my mother wanted me to have.
I miss you, mom!