When The Holidays Aren’t So Jolly Part 2: Almost Tragedy

Why God allows untimely deaths and then intervenes to save others is a mystery. Our family has had our share of pain just like many of you, enduring the ramifications of untimely death.

However, I almost lost someone 21 years ago during the holidays and there isn’t a Christmas season that goes by that it doesn’t affect me.

I was a sophomore in college and had returned home for the holidays in my blue Chevy Corsica. That car had zero cool factor but, hey, it was free. The air was cool and the forecast was sunny. No clouds in the sky.

My mom and brother had just headed to town mid-morning and my dad and I remained at the house. The younger sibling was set to play in his first varsity basketball game that night so I think they had gone to town to shop for some kind of gear.

Not too many minutes after they had left, the phone rang. Dad answered. The conversation was short. That was nothing new. However, he hung up the phone abruptly and bolted for the back door, grabbing his car keys. “Let’s go NOW. Karen and Colby have been in a wreck. He has blood on his face.”

I grabbed a towel for the blood, my purse with ID and off we sped.

It’s always been interesting to me how the mind remembers stressful events. Maybe you can relate. When I recall the insanity of that day, I don’t always see memories through my own eyes. I remember angles of scenes that would have been impossible for me to have viewed from where I was. Maybe it was the trauma of the moment. Maybe my mind pieced together descriptions of what others had said happened. Regardless, I remember what I remember.

An elderly man had run a stop sign coming from their right transporting pigs (it’s farming country), my mom had seen him and tried to slam on brakes (correction: no time to brake…thanks mom) and took a hard left to minimize the impact. She had tried to outrun him. Never braking, he t-boned them directly into the passenger side where my brother was riding.

Based on final reports, their blue Ford Explorer had gone air born and flipped three times before landing in a person’s yard at the intersection.

My mind vividly remembers the following:

  • Dad opening his truck door and putting his left leg out of the vehicle while it was still moving
  • I saw the mangled up car first, still smoking, all windows imploded, wheels bent out, the passenger side almost completely caved in
  • My mother on her knees several feet from the car in a maroon (correction: GREEN…thanks mom) sweatshirt and jeans, bleeding from the side of her head
  • The elderly man alive, laying in the ditch beside the house with these huge hogs all over the place. Some were squealing and some were not.
  • My brother laying on his back with his knees up breathing irregularly in pain but alert and alive
  • The EMTs drawing a purple circle around his abdomen
  • He had a cut on his right ear that was bleeding. I took the towel I had brought and tried to cauterize it. The weird things we do.
  • Everybody loading up in ambulances and setting course for the hospital. That is, everybody EXCEPT FOR ME! I was seriously stranded. No car, no keys and I couldn’t very well hop onto one of those hogs now could I?
  • Some nice guy driving me to the hospital in his pickup truck. To this day, I don’t remember his name or much of the car ride. I think his last name was Ingram. It was a few days before Christmas so I’m sure he had better things to do. That kindness is still remembered and appreciated.
  • Mom fainting in the hospital hallway
  • Me having to be the one to tell all the people in the waiting room that my brother’s surgery had been successful at stopping the internal bleeding. I told them he was going to be okay. I didn’t know that for sure. I guess I said that for encouragement. I was so young. They all just stared.
  • Awkward! People stopped by to sing us Christmas songs in the waiting room. Literally, it was just me and two other people. It seemed to go on for hours. That was weird. Wouldn’t recommend that.
  • Mrs. Beverly Popwell and my friend Elizabeth driving me down to my house  in the dark to get clothes for everyone. They helped keep my spirits up.
  • In the ICU, my brother kept begging for a Sprite but he wasn’t allowed one yet. So, I kept telling him “I’ll go get you one right now” and then clicked the morphine pain pump. I may or may not have done that several times.
  • Also in the ICU, I was sitting with him and all of a sudden he started having these horrendous body convulsions so I urgently grabbed the nurse. She woke him up only to discover that he was being attacked by this rather large, grotesque spider that was trying to stab him with claw like arms. Got to love pain medicine.
  • I vowed to drop out of school to help take care of everybody but, of course, my parents wouldn’t hear of that
  • After returning to school, I couldn’t get ahold of my parents one day and I tracked them down at the hospital ER, with my brother back in for a recurrent bleed. I have mad PI skills.
  • That next year, my sorority sisters kept asking me to take trips with them and all I wanted to do was to go home and be with my family. They didn’t understand and I worried that they took it as rejection.

Sometimes when there are tragedies and, in this case, an almost tragedy, it can later be clearly seen how God moves and activates spiritual forces on our behalf.

Remember when I mentioned the passenger side was almost completely caved in? My brother had his seat belt on that day. For some unknown reason, the seat belt came unclasped on the second car flip, throwing him out of the car right before his side of the car was crushed on the third rotation.

Also, there were the right people present at the right time. His internal injuries garnished an 80% fatality rate. What happened to his liver and the hepatic artery that feeds it was like throwing a pancake off of a three-story building. Ker-splat. To top it off, the liver is a very porous organ and the bleeding was extensive.

Dr. Randy Nichols (we heart him) happened to come on shift around the time they arrived at the hospital. The previous attending physician wanted to wait to take him back to surgery. If Nichols had not shown up early that day and had not immediately taken him back to surgery to stop the bleeding, this story would not be a happy one. In fact, the doctor said forty-five more minutes of waiting and he would not have been able to save him.

I was messed up for a while. We all were. My brother went through so many ups, and mostly downs, those next several years. You don’t go through all that he went through and remain unaffected on many levels. But the bad times can grow you if we let them.

I had to forgive the hog farmer that ran the stop sign and who had continued to fail to yield even after the wreck.

Once I came to that point of reconciliation of forgiveness I’ll never forget what I heard spoken to me in my mind. “If he had died would you have still forgiven him then?” I began learning not to give too much credit to myself after that. No matter how much we advance our hearts, there will always be great room for improvement.

In conclusion, there is so much more to this story but the big picture is that we just were able to celebrate the holidays with my brother, his precious wife and their five month old baby boy. Memories that could have easily been taken from us if God had not intervened. As I said before, the mysteries of whose bodies are saved from untimely death and those that are not I think are understandings we may not grasp this side of heaven. Either way, it doesn’t mean we are loved any more or less.

Count your blessings. They can always be found.










Top 11 Childhood Christmas Memories

Like many of you, my childhood was full of innocent magic and intriguing wonder when it came to celebrating the holidays.  Our family tradition each year was to drive to my mom’s parents’ house in Huntsville, AL. It was “had to sleep on the couch” small but we loved it.

Ah, the memories. Here are eleven of the most random, funny, weird ones that come to mind when I think of our Christmas trips to north Alabama:

1) Our grandparents always making a point to stay up late waiting on us to arrive so that we could decorate the freshly cut tree with the tackiest silver tinsel and the most mismatched lights you could imagine. Also, our grandmother would gift us with a, fresh from the oven, sour cream pound cake on the kitchen counter upon our arrival. We made art and got fat. It was fabulous!

2) Our grandfather announcing his departure to his bedroom for the night and dropping his drawers in the doorway for all of us to see. It was funny until one Christmas he forgot that he wasn’t wearing underwear. Three words: saggy…white…buns.

3) Lots of UFO stories: My granddad had held distinguished positions within the Huntsville NASA location (seriously, he was a big deal) and my dad grew up in rural farming country. They had both seen some stuff. I mean, both of those combinations are recipes for little green alien material. They bonded. Good times. My brother and I love sci-fi as a direct result.

4) Once again…our grandfather waking up every morning before the sun came out, turning on his night-light that illuminated the entire living room (this was our bedroom – little house remember) and then turning up the TV volume so that it could be heard in every room. He was a “little” hard of hearing. My brother got the brunt of it though. His assigned couch was right next to the light AND the TV.

5) My brother and I waking up every hour to see if Santa had come. How Saint Nick ever snuck those gifts in unscathed by us I’ll never know. Once we discovered that we were, in fact, on the “Nice” list, we opened our stockings, harassed the entire family to wake up starting at 5:00am and counted our gifts over and over to make sure Santa was an equal opportunity gift giver. Interestingly enough, I don’t remember my early rising grandfather ever being up with us in the wee hours of Christmas morning. Oh the irony…

6) There was one December that I realized I was the favorite grandchild (sorry boys). I was the only granddaughter and my grandfather NEVER told me “no.” I asked for a whistle one Christmas and Santa didn’t deliver. Therefore, he drug me all over creation trying to find me one. Here’s a little secret: I really didn’t want the whistle. I told him it was okay. He felt so bad but all I really wanted to do was cruise the driveway in my plastic skates.

7) The “Dumb and Dumber” moment. One Christmas it snowed. My brother got so excited that he licked the ice on the car bumper and got his tongue stuck to it. Food didn’t taste so well to him that trip since he left half of his taste buds on the front of my grandmother’s Buick.

8) There was that one Christmas I spent in the ER (or at least in a doc in the box). I don’t remember the details but the ER sounds more exciting. I experienced respiratory distress and O2 deprivation due to asthma. Sporting purple lips and eyelids was a wakeup call. My grandparents smoked back then. Shortly thereafter, they quit. The favorite grandchild. Wink wink.

9) Ice skating! It was our tradition to attempt half turns, spins and backwards skating at least once every Christmas visit. One of us always went home with a bun bruise but it was so worth it.

10) Butterbeans: My grandfather sang this song “Just a bowl of butterbeans” and he would yell out to my grandmother from the living room to where she was in the kitchen. There was no “Hey honey. Can you please bring me my food?” Oh no. He would scream at the top of his lungs “Heyyyy Wooommm!” My quiet little grandmother who rarely spoke would annoyingly yell back, “Whhhattt?!” Hilarious. He always asked for more pepper after she had already smothered his food in it.

11) Opening up a boxed gift adorned with air holes from my Aunt. I had begged for a fur ball. She delivered alright!  That cat instantly jumped out of the box as soon as I released the handle. Let’s just say the cat was just as excited as I was because it was covered in POO! “Yay! A kitty!” I chased her down, picked her up and consequently got the poo all over ME. We both got baths. I fittingly named her “Brownie.”

So there you have it: eleven things that I remember about my childhood Christmases.

All of our Christmas memories had been in my grandparents’ little two bedroom home up until my college years when major life events altered our traditions. Remember to cherish your memories, cultivate new traditions and celebrate your own family’s personal brand of weirdness as we do.

And have a very Merry Christmas!