I jerked from my bed to reach for the phone as it rang in the middle of the night. I swung my legs around to sit up as I woke from a deep sleep.
I heard deep sobs “there’s been an accident”, repeated over and over again.
Recognizing my nephews voice I called out his name asking what was wrong. “Mom’s car was hit in a snow storm and Julie is dead”.
What? I just saw her yesterday, talking about how big her belly had gotten, and how eager she was to be a mom. This can’t be happening; we were to have a baby shower today, and now we are planning a funeral for her and the baby.
My sister Susan was a horse lover and raised appolusas for a living; and on that afternoon she had traveled to inquire about a brood mare that was for sale. On the way, they got caught in a white out where their car was t-boned by a dump truck, going through an intersection.
It felt like a nightmare; it was all wrong.
Julie’s fiancé who had been driving the car survived the accident with only a slight conclusion; but more trauma and contempt, blaming himself for her loss.
On the day of the funeral we placed Kiya in Julie’s arms (a perfect little baby girl all dressed in yellow)’ as Nathan stood at the head of the casket, stroking Julie’s hair.
Susan was in a coma; I wondered how we would get through this…this doesn’t happen in our family; you only see these things on TV.
She remained in the coma for a few months, 5 point restraints held her as her body & mind fought, containing the memory of the accident. I remember one particular day, entering her room, where the family had been holding a vigil, waiting with hope for recovery. As I spoke to my brother I reached down and stroked her foot, and she called out my name, ” Debbie, help me get out, I can’t move”.
I had no answers and I felt powerless to make things change. All I did knew was that for some reason my voice brought her comfort, and I knew I could give that.
I could taste my tears, running down my face as I held her hand while she grieved the loss of her daughter, she cried until she fell asleep. In the days that followed it was hard to find Susan strapped into her chair, left in her soiled diaper, left alone in her room; struggling to speak. I became her voice.
Weeks later the family was called to a hospital conference room, joined by doctors, nurses, lawyers, and insurance spokes persons. Susan was wheeled in and she sat next to me, proud to show me she could write her name; no one made eye contact as a doctor spoke loudly, naming her condition as if she wasn’t in the room, advising the family they had done all they could do. She declared her brain injury as catastrophic and closed her book; looking at the family she said “we release her to you”. I spoke to her with a shaking voice “she’s more then a number, there is a person in there, I won’t give up on her”. No one else said a word.
If I knew then what I know now, I still don’t think I would have changed the fact that I brought her home. I think of the looks on their faces that day, as I signed her out to come home. They knew what the years ahead would hold, and they could not give me enough words; I had to walk this road on my own.
I taught her how to eat again, to shower and to walk. The task ahead was more then I had bargained for when her violent behaviour began, she became someone I did not know and despite my deep love for her I had to let her go.
This January will mark 15 years of a long torturous journey to where we live in our new normal. Susan is 65 this year, living isolated in her own world surrounded by the things that remind her of Julie and the life she once had. She calls me her spiritual sister, who knows how to pray at the right time, when she is feeling sad.
Not long ago she asked me to watch a video she had found, “you will be excited when you see!! It’s Julie, it’s Julie”, she shouted as she clapped her hands. There in the video Julie sat high on her chocolate brown horse; hair flowing in the wind, with a bright smile on her face and a giggle in her voice, “Hurry up Aunt Deb, you are so slow”. I remember thar that day, after the first heavy snow fall, when we had saddled our horses and we set out to cut a new trail. “If we keep quiet we will see the deer Aunt Debbie, I know the perfect. Place!”
I tried to hold back tears, wishing I could be there again; I didn’t know what to do with all I was still holding inside. The video opened a door to let me visit it again, to a time so sacred; it was mine and the accident could not take it away.
In her short 22 years of her life Julie found more joy then many could hope for. She cherished her horses speaking softly to them, she made charcoal drawings, putting pictures to what she held in her heart. She lived with gratitude, adventure and spunk..riding bareback as if she was one with her horse.
She stirred longings in me that still live today.
I love you Julie and miss you today and always.
Deb Wood is a mother and wife, who is passionate about mentoring young women towards a true intimate relationship with God & pursuing their dreams. She facilitates small group ministry, in Canada, called Soulcare. Out of what God had done in her life, she desires God to use her story to speak of hope to others.