As I mentioned in my last post, I recently participated in a training class at work where we were asked several specific personal questions about ourselves, and then we had to share our answers with our colleagues. The questions were very thought provoking, and I shared several of them previously. The final item asked us to share 3 or 4 experiences that shaped who you are, and who you are becoming. Here are the ones I chose:
In 1987, I was a senior in high school, and one of the greatest days of that year was the day I graduated from high school. I remember it very well, in a lot of detail. The graduation took place on June 1 at the old Capital Center in Largo, MD, home of the Washington Capitals NHL hockey team, and the Bullets (now Wizards) NBA basketball team, and long since demolished and replaced by a shopping center. I had to be there earlier than the rest of the family, so I drove over by myself. I remember a rock hitting my windshield, and there was a long crack in it by the end of the day. Our class, the Frederick Douglass High School Class of 1987, was the first class to graduate from Prince George's County that year. It was a great day.
Exactly 29 days later, on June 30, my family and I were traveling just outside of Hamilton, Ontario, on a memorable road trip with my grandparents. We had a 2-car caravan: my family's Chevy Van, with Dad driving, and Mom, sister Angie (who had just celebrated her 16th birthday the night before), and brother Darren (10 years old) riding with him; I was driving my grandparents in their car. This was because my grandfather, who we called Bebop because he had been a professional jazz trumpet player, had experienced a stroke a few years before this trip that had paralyzed the right side of his body. He had been stricken with polio when he was a baby, and it left him without the use of his right leg. He had used crutches for years, but since his stroke, he needed to use a wheelchair. It was too difficult for him to get up into our van, so it was necessary to take two vehicles for this trip. My grandmother, "Grammy," rode in the backseat, and I was driving. Bebop rode shotgun.
We were approaching a major merge area between two highways, one the QEW, or Queen Elizabeth Way. Traffic was heavy, and at the merge area, a young girl was attempting to get over from the right lane into the adjacent thru lane. She was having difficulty because of the heavy traffic, but the lane was quickly running out. My father was directly behind her, and the only reason he didn't get over was because he didn't want to cut her off. I was behind my dad. The girl finally stopped, and my father ended up running into her because he didn't expect her to stop. I couldn't see around the van, and I ended up running into the back of the van. They were insignificant "bumper taps", since we weren't going very fast. Unfortunately, there was a tractor-trailer behind us. The driver of the truck was looking in his mirror to see if he could merge into traffic, and he didn't see us stopped in his lane. He smashed into the back of our car at full speed, creating a chain reaction which collected all four vehicles. Our van was squeezed out, and Dad was able to move over to the shoulder a little ways ahead. When he got out to check on the damage, and on us in the car behind him, he saw a tremendous sight.
The truck was practically on top of our car. Dad rushed over and attempted to get me out of the car. I was unconscious. The impact caused my head to hit the steering wheel, knocking me out. My grandmother was killed instantly in the impact. My grandfather was unconscious in the passenger seat. Dad couldn't get to the drivers side door due to the truck's position, and he told the truck driver, who had jumped out to help, to see if he could back it up, which he did. They then tried to pull me out of the shattered driver's side window. The car caught fire from the ruptured fuel tank, and while they were able to get me out, they could not get my grandfather out. He died of smoke inhalation, and was burned in the subsequent fire. I survived with a concussion and no memory of what had happened. It was a tragic accident, and one which changed my family dramatically, the repercussions of which we still suffer from to this day. The most serious was to my sister, who has suffered from anorexia since then. It has kept her from being able to live a normal life, causing numerous health problems. My mother suffered severe depression following the death of her parents.
The impact on me was that I went from preparing to move away for college, to instead changing my plans and remaining at home, becoming a commuter student at the University of Maryland. Who knows how different my life would have been had I decided to go away to school. I believe this is the path God meant for me, though, and I went on to graduate and have a wonderful career in the Federal Government.
In 1998, I met a wonderful young lady named Teresa. We had a storybook romance and were married just over a year later. Life was great. Soon, little Melody, our daughter, was born. Teresa seemed to relish the role of motherhood, but she was concerned about how tired she was all the time. Friends told her this was normal, that every mother goes through severe fatigue after giving birth. When she continued to suffer, I told her she should see her doctor, but she passed it off. On April 19, 2004, we had just finished a fantastic dinner, and I wanted to go out for a ride, and maybe get some ice cream and go for a walk at one of the nearby parks. We took Melody and Faithful Pup Scout with us. After getting ice cream in Clarksville, we ended up stopping at Reservoir High School, where Teresa taught 9th grade English and public speaking, before taking maternity leave. I carried Melody, who was 5 months old at this point, while Teresa held Scout's leash. We walked over to the front of the school and Teresa noticed the Principal's car was there. Addie hadn't seen the baby in a while, so I said why don't we see if she wants to come out and see Melody. Teresa went over to knock on Addie's window, while I waited on the sidewalk. I looked away for just a moment. When I looked back, Teresa was on the ground, laying on her back. I rushed over to her and watched her eyes glaze over and slowly close. Something was terribly wrong.
Addie opened the window, and I asked her to call 911. She soon joined me outside and took Melody, giving me her cell phone to talk to the 911 operator. Addie had the forethought to announce over the PA system that we needed assistance, and an off-duty nurse, who had been exercising over on the school's track, rushed over to help. She administered CPR while I talked to the operator. Soon, the paramedics arrived, as well as the police. An officer pulled me aside to ask me about what had happened. I told him what I saw, but I was preoccupied with poor Teresa, laying on the sidewalk surrounded by emergency workers. I didn't know it at the time, but the police treated me as a suspect, since there were no witnesses as to what had happened.
They finally loaded Teresa into an ambulance. They wouldn't let me ride with her, though. I instead rode in a police car behind the ambulance. Addie kept Melody with her, and Scout went with one of the school's custodians. I kept trying to reach my parents and my in-laws on my cell phone, but no one was answering. Finally, my mother-in-law called me back. I told her that Teresa had collapsed, but I didn't know why, and we were headed to the hospital. She said they would leave immediately and meet us there. I called Dad again and he finally answered. I told him that Melody was with Addie at the school, and they should get her there before coming to the hospital.
When we arrived, the officer wouldn't let me go to where the ambulance bay was located, and instead took me in through the main Emergency Room entrance. I was led to a little room just off of the ER, where I was told to wait. I didn't know if Teresa was okay or not. No one had told me anything. I looked around the little room, with a table and chairs, and a Bible sitting in the middle of it, and figured this was a room where they gave bad news. I got nauseous. I sat down and read a few passages in the Bible, praying that God would take care of Teresa. I was on the verge of a breakdown. Soon, a man and a woman entered. The man looked like a doctor. I assumed the woman was a hospital administrator or something. They sat down with me and the doctor explained they had done all they could for Teresa, but that she had died. The lump in my throat led to crying, and the breakdown that I had been fighting completely enveloped me. All I could think about was poor Melody losing her mother at such a young age. I had no idea what I was going to do. In an instant, my whole life was turned inside out and flipped over. I went from happily married with my little family, to a widower and uncertainty in a moment.
The whole family soon gathered there at the hospital. Teresa's cousin prayed, everyone hugged each other, and after I spoke with a police officer one more time, we were free to leave. They would not let us near Teresa's body, though. The detective said that they would have to do an autopsy to find out the cause of death, which was still unknown. We later learned that she had died of a fatal heart attack. She had a heart condition called mitral valve prolapse, which we were aware of, and which had been diagnosed when she was a teen. It's a treatable condition, but it involves one of the heart valves that doesn't completely close when the heart is beating, resulting in some blood leaking back into the previous chamber. Unfortunately, the condition had worsened, and the strain on her body following the pregnancy had resulted in an enlarged heart. Her severe fatigue was a symptom of it, but because she never went to the doctor, we were unaware of the problem.
I was given her shoes and her wedding band, the only jewelry she wore that night, and we all left the hospital together and reconvened at our house. It was an awful night. And it did completely change my life.
I am so blessed to have such a wonderful, supportive family who has helped me get through the past almost-eleven years. I also have this incredibly beautiful, highly intelligent, gifted, perceptive, and loving daughter. She is a gift from God. She is also a reminder of the wonderful marriage that I was allowed to experience, despite how short it truly was. I know that Teresa gave her heart to Jesus, and so, as He promised, she is now experiencing eternal life with God. And because I am a Christ-follower, I will see her again. I'm thankful for God's grace, and I pray that my beautiful Melody will know Him, as well.
These are the events that have impacted my life the most, aside from giving my life to Christ, which is the most important event of my life. Each one has shaped me and led me down the path I am on, the one that God has set before me. I have faith that He will continue to lead me.
Have a great evening, everyone!