The telephone rang on a night late in September more than 25 years ago. It was the police to tell us the car our son and daughter were travelling in had been hit head-on — hit by a drunken driver. The injuries were serious and we were to come to the hospital immediately. Mark, the driver, had been killed. Rick and his friend Jonathan had been thrown around very forcefully in the back. Both boys had life-threatening head injuries. The doctor said if Rick did recover he would have permanent brain damage. He never would be the same again. Our daughter was taken to a different hospital with less serious injuries and the two boys were taken to the Royal Adelaide. You can imagine the next 12 months were quite a tumultuous experience for the boys, our families and our friends. The shock rattles your brain to the core and you begin wondering “Why?” when they were just coming home from having a coffee.
As the date of this event is approaching, I stop to remember once more the lessons we all have gained from that incident — outstanding lessons that have really imbedded themselves into me.
1. You can’t control the cards you are dealt.
It has been said life isn’t fair. And it isn’t, it would seem. Terrible things do happen to good people. The kids hadn’t been drinking. It was the other driver who was drunk. Once again the lesson is, “It isn’t what happens but how we deal with what happens.” It took almost 18 months for Rick and Jonathan to recover. Rick lost two years of university. It seemed such a long process, going to the hospitals to visit, watching the monitors in intensive care. It was difficult to see your son lying there with tubes coming from every part of his body. It was stressful to watch the monitors as they regulated his breathing. To see a body that was so full of life just a few hours earlier lying there so limp was incredibly difficult for a mom and dad. Identifying the body of our daughter’s boyfriend was extremely hard to do. Going to the funeral and trying to console the parents of this wonderful young man who could have been our son-in-law was incredibly challenging. It was impossible to comprehend the paradox of grief and gratitude and of “Why?” We are grateful for the incredible talent and skill of the doctors who performed surgery and put them on life support systems. We are grateful they were healthy boys whose bodies were able to resist infection and repair the brain damage. We were so grateful our boy was alive and eventually did recover 100 percent. But once again in our lives, we had an opportunity to choose if we would react or respond to the situation. We could forgive the drunken driver and not press charges. What would it really achieve to press charges?
2. Find the seed of greater blessing.
Even in the middle of hospital visits, we began seeing the potential seeds of blessing. We would learn lessons that would benefit us in the future. The Old Testament’s “Book of Wisdom” (“Wisdom of Solomon”) says we can get to know God in a different way as totally faithful when we go through trials and tribulations and that He would give us the strength sufficient for each day. Our struggle can be transformed into a new strength. Just as the caterpillar develops strength to fly and its unsurpassed beauty from the struggle of breaking out of the cocoon, we become all we were meant to be as we break free of the shackles that bind us. If we allow it, disappointments and heartbreak can move us forward in life with a new and deeper experience of ourselves and what we can endure. Life experiences are simply an ongoing process that develop the character of who we were born to become. As stressful as it was for us all, I am so grateful for this event as, through it all, our kids were able to make some new decisions for their life direction.
3. Life is a vapor, treasure it.
When we are given a second chance at life, perhaps we appreciate it in a different way. We were reminded yet again — Life is just a vapor; momentary and so fragile. There is no permanence. We do not know what is around the next corner. The only thing that is certain is that nothing stays the same. Change is constant. We either are growing or decaying. Each moment is a treasure, even when life serves us something that we may not have chosen. We have learned never to carry a grudge to the next day and to let go of bitterness. The saying is “Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” Leave the bad behind and start each day with joy, love and gratitude. Tell people that you love them and appreciate them. Practice random acts of kindness and leave no regrets.
4. The love we share with others is of extraordinary value
Friends from all over the world were there for us. When times are good it is easy to love others. It is when bad stuff happens that love grows and the roots grow deeper because our love is put to the test. For us that was true not just for the first few days of shock but for the two years of rehab that followed. The accident more than 25 years ago gave me so much more awareness of just how strong your love is for your children. It is a deepened relationship when you have gone through tragedy and recovery together — not just with immediate family but with friends by your side supporting and encouraging.
Of course, we would rather it not take a heartbreaking accident for us to learn these lessons. But most real lessons only can be learned through our own experiences. Sometimes it does take a tragedy to break the routine of our lives and get our attention. We can get so absorbed on the treadmill of life and our own interests that we can and do neglect what is really important. These events get our attention and allow us to really feel at the deepest level of our emotion. They can offer us the opportunity to become more than we would have if had the event not occurred.
I encourage you to suck the marrow out of life. Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow may not come, so live boldly today!