Memories of 21 Years Ago – The Unexpected Hardest Anniversary of My Life
This weekend marked 21 years since someone missed a stop sign and completely changed life as I knew it.
This anniversary unexpectedly turned into the hardest anniversaries I can remember. You see, on Friday night a tragic and horrible bus accident happened in Homboldt Canada that claimed the lives of 15 teenage hockey players and staff and injured 14 more. The parallels between this weekends tragic accident and my families accident are eerie as I feel as though I have a looking glass into the future of those who have lost loved ones and who have family members injured. I can only expect that their lives will all be altered in such a similar way to my life. As I almost obsessively read about this accident, my thoughts have been consumed by the horrors that I faced so many years ago, the horrors that all these families are now facing.
This weekends accident happened at a rural intersection, around 5pm – the picture of this intersection looks eerily similar to where my families car accident happened 21 years ago. This accident has been front and center in the national media, just like my families car accident was 21 years ago. This weekend, the media coverage was intense and almost unbearable for me. It brought everything rushing back in a very real way – I know what it’s like to lose family members, I know what it’s like to get that person at the door telling you theirs been a car accident, I know what it’s like to tragically and unexpectedly lose family members. I know what it’s like to read the newspaper and see your families name plastered all over the media. I know what it’s like to be listed as the surviving sister and surviving daughter. Simply, I know what these families will go through in the coming days as they plan funerals and try to learn how to live with gaping holes in their hearts.
21 years ago a family friend stopped by my house unexpectedly. I was the only one home as the rest of my family was driving to an event. Our family friend simply said there’s been an accident. (I learned years later that my Dad had called our family friend from the actual car accident before emergency personal arrived. He told her Mom has died, I don’t know about Sister. Go get MPB, I don’t want the police showing up at the house. Then he hung up. Our friend had no idea where my family was or what hospital they were going to. But she did exactly what she was asked to do and took me back to her house where her kids, including one of my sisters best friends, tried to keep me occupied. Their entire family took the best possible care of me during the absolute worst of circumstances.
Eventually our family friend and her husband, who will both forever hold a very special place in my heart, figured out where my family was. They took me to the hospital. I still remember the rush of emergency room, with everyone trying to save my family and the others involved in the car accident.
They took me straight to my Dad. I saw him lying in a hospital bed covered in cuts and bruises, looking nothing like the father I had seen everyday prior. As I stood beside my Dad’s bed, he said Mom and Sister… I truthfully don’t remember hearing him say they died, but I logically know he did. That complete sentence is a memory I just don’t have. But, I do remember that at the same time as my Dad telling me this, the hospital Chaplin was trying to hug me presumably because I couldn’t touch my Dad due to his injuries. I distinctly remember how the Chaplin wreaked of cigarette smoke and how I much I hated him in that moment (to this day I still don’t particularly like hugs from people I don’t really know). I even remember telling my Dad that the Chaplin stunk, and my Dad telling me to be nice. When our family’s minister arrived, I remember the hug he gave me and being relieved I didn’t have to be near the smelly man again.
And yet, as I learned that my Mom and Sister were dead, at the same time, I had to wrap my head around the fact that my Dad was injured. He was talking so I naively just assumed he would be okay. No-one told me otherwise, so I didn’t really contemplate any other possibility. Maybe someone told me the extent of his injuries, maybe not. I honestly don’t remember. I do remember my Dad getting up and walking away at some point, and I wasn’t allowed to go with him – I later learned he was going to see my Mom and Sister’s bodies to confirm their identities.
The situation for my brother wasn’t as clear, my Dad couldn’t tell me anything because at this point I don’t think my Dad knew much other then my brother was critically injured and we weren’t sure the extent of his injuries or the long term prognosis. As the hospital my family was at was incredibly small, at some point in the night I remember seeing my brother strapped onto a back board with doctors standing over him. Our family friend (who was a nurse) was talking to him. But he had no idea who she was, which struck my 14 year old brain as particularly odd. In fact, that was probably more scary to me then seeing him on that backboard. She was like an Aunt to us, how could he not know who she is? I really had no idea what was going on, but I knew it wasn’t good.
And, I don’t remember when we left the hospital that night, but I do know my Dad and Brother were transferred to a larger hospital, which had more specialized equipment to help care for them, and was closer to our home. Our family friends took me there. I don’t really have a concept of time from that night, other then I remember driving in the dark. I had a knee injury from recent concert and my Dad made sure the doctors at the second hospital checked out me knee, which unfortunately resulted in me on crutches and having to answer countless questions about my involvement in the car accident.
And at some point our family friends took me back to their house where I was presumably staying indefinitely. I spent a few hours or maybe just minutes lying down, as if somehow I might sleep. I was lying with my sister’s best friend, in her bed. By this time the tears had stopped as there was no more left in me. I don’t remember what we said, or even if we talked. I just remember lying there shaking uncontrollably.
Over the coming days, I remember cleaning up our house before out of town guests arrived, as my Dad asked our family friends to get the house ready. I remember listening to the radio and hearing them say my Mom’s name, they got her middle name wrong. I yelled, our family friend wrapped me in her arms and I cried. I remember asking a friend to bring me the newspaper article from the accident, as no-one would let me see it, my friend obliged and I have the picture of my family car that was on the front page forever etched into my mind. I remember sitting at my family kitchen table with my dad, some other relative and our families minister, planning the private funeral/visitation and the public funeral. I remember picking out the clothing that mom and sister would wear in their coffins – I picked an outfit I loved my mom in. And I put my sister in her Sunday best outfit, even though I knew she hated it, because I knew my Mom wouldn’t have had it any other way. At the private family funeral/visitation I remember seeing my mom and my sister lying in their coffins, in the outfits I picked out, with visible scares and bruising that makeup couldn’t cover up. Their bodies lifeless, nothing more then empty shells. I remember placing a teddy bear I had made in sewing class a few weeks prior in each coffin, so that they wouldn’t be alone. The next day, I remember walking into the public funeral, at a school gymnasium as it was the largest space available in my hometown. There were hundreds and hundreds of people in attendance, all who were in some way touched by my mom or sister or both. And after that, I remember going to the private burial, at the local cemetery, a place I still hate visiting. I remember visiting the site of the accident with my Dad and brother and picking up some of my sisters craft supplies that were still on the ground. In the coming weeks and months, the house was too quiet so I eventually moved into my sister’s bedroom to feel closer to her. I began living in my sister’s and mom’s favourite sweaters, I still have them tucked away in my closet.
Even now, 21 years later, I tend to force the memories of that night away, as if to keep them bottled up safely where they wont impact my day-to-day life. But when I think about that night, when I let myself really go there, I remember everything so vividly that it’s as though it were happening in real time. All weekend, I have been on the verge of tears and more times then I can count tears have spilled from my eyes down my cheeks.
I was not prepared for how hard this weekend would be. I did not expect this type of emotion, but as the events of this weekend unfolded I couldn’t help but relive everything in my mind.
My heart hurts for my mom and sisters lives that were cut way to short and for the memories of potential life long injuries for my Dad and Brother. Realizing I almost lost my entire family still makes me weak at the knees. All the resulting pain I’ve endured over the years is simply unfair. But this weekend, my heart shattered for the lives that were lost in this bus accident and for these families who are just at the start of this life altering experience. I wish I could give them all hugs and sit with their kids who just lost their parent or a sibling, who are now unfortunately just like me.
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