This week it will be five years since my stepmother was killed in a car accident. This tragedy was immense in my life. When I received the call from my dad that she had been killed I thought he was joking. I can still very much remember how the news hit my entire body. I can vividly remember the quesadilla I had just made that was sitting on the counter. I couldn’t stop thinking about that quesadilla. It was like my mind couldn’t process the information so just kept defaulting back to the stupid food. As the reality of the situation presented itself over the next few days, it felt like I was in some kind of surreal, hazy nightmare. The first day I woke up at my dads house after the accident I remember thinking, “Oh my god, this isn’t going away. This is real.” It was terrifying. And very true. My dad and Mo were a pair, and lived their lives very happily together. They got each other in a way that most people didn’t get them. They were passionate, adventurous, and strange in a way that made sense to them. I feel intensely sad when I think about my dad living without her, though I know he is so grateful for the time that they were able to spend together. That kind of loss of a partner is unimaginable to me. When I watch my dad with Josephine I can’t help but think of how much fun Mo would have had. And I can’t help but think of her daughters, and how they will feel and do feel as they have children, get married, experience joys and struggles without the support of their mom.
Mo’s death was the beginning in a slough of death and loss in mine and Taylor’s lives. Over the past five years so many of our friends and loved ones have died, almost like a cruel joke. It seems like we would just catch our breath from one loss, only to be hit over the head with another. We have lost my aunt, three of Taylor’s grandparents,Taylor’s father (when I was newly pregnant with Josephine), and two of my cousins, along with various friends and coworkers.
The other day I drove past a cemetery that I have been to numerous times, and I thought, “Well, it’s been a while since I’ve been there.” It felt like a lifetime, actually. In reality, I was at that cemetery twice this year, most recently in March, when one of my longtime employees lost her battle with cancer. How that seems like a lifetime ago is beyond me. I think I feel safe if we go six months without a death.
Last week I got an email from Mo’s sister telling me that my dad had been in a car accident and that he was at her house. He was driving to my house to visit on Highway 50, the same highway that Mo died on five years ago. My dad was a couple of hours late getting to our house, which worried me (particularly since I knew he was taking Highway 50, which I try to avoid at all costs), but I tried to put it out of my mind. My dad sometimes stops at friends houses pushing his visit back, or decides to take a change of path at the last minute. When I opened my email I had the familiar feeling of being hit by bricks – the wind knocked out of me, my skin getting tight and hot, my breath slowing down to a snails pace – that I have gotten anytime we get the call that someone died unexpectedly. My mind screamed. This was all in the .02 seconds it took me to read further that he was alive, but badly bruised and hurt. My dad is really lucky to be alive. His car veered off the road and he was airborne for quite a while as he went down the side of a hill, ping ponging off of trees until his car crashed into a tree about 250 feet down the hill. He had to crawl up the hill back to the road and flag down a car, bleeding, bruised, with a sprained ankle. Apparently his front wheel was pushed inside the drivers side of the car. It could have easily pinned his foot in, causing him to be trapped down a ravine, without a line of sight to the road. I shudder to think if this would have happened.
I felt jolted by this accident in a way that I didn’t expect. Early fall is always a little rough for me with death anniversaries abounding, particularly Mo’s, that started this trend, if that’s what you can call it. This year, however, the dull feeling seems to be a little worse than usual. I can’t pretend that bad things don’t happen and that the people around me are going to be safe. I know that is untrue. I know I can’t protect my daughter from feeling loss and sadness in the future. I just want her to not have to feel that yet. I am not ready for another tragedy. I very much want and need a break.
My dad’s accident felt like a warning to me. Don’t get too comfortable, remember that life is fleeting, remember what’s important. I am guilty of worrying too much about things that don’t really matter in life in the long run. I stress myself out over the lawn not being mowed, the dishes being clean at the end of the night, work that I need to get done tomorrow, next week, by the end of the year. Although I know that this sounds counter productive for a trying not to be lazy person like myself, but I need to remember to slow down. Take a deep breath and enjoy the here and now. Let things go and forgive. Live intentionally and claim my happiness. Make the most of my time and really, truly love the people I am surrounded by. And so in loving memory…for Mo, Ed, Jeanne, Emmett, Charlie and all the rest. We miss you so, but try to live to the fullest in your memory.
Dad and Mo, October, 2006