Updated: Aug 9
They died. We became zombies.
My 23-year-old daughter was t-boned in the driver’s side door while she was driving to the dentist a few weeks ago. She drives a Fiat. She was hit by a minivan. Needless to say, her car was totaled.
One of the worst calls a parent can receive.
Thank God, she’s going to be ok. A fractured sternum and a bone bruise on her right tibia and a few other aches and pains. It could have been so much worse.
I’d been in a car accident as a teen, many moons ago. I ended up ok too.
That is, if becoming a zombie is considered ok.
With morning came the first of hundreds that I would wake up begging the Eternal on high to please let me go back to sleep.
To wake up in a world that no longer holds your mother is no place for a 14-year-old kid who’s mother has always ‘held’ her.
There is a deep un-fillable, dark pit inside the body of one who is newly grieving.
If you were to have opened me up with a scalpel that morning, you surely would have seen the blackness and the pit. It physically must have been there.
How long did I lay there before putting a shirt on, and pants? A shirt and pants that I may have worn days before when I knew nothing of this new life. Now it was the first outfit I donned as a half-orphan.
When one of your parents dies, isn’t that what you are? A half-orphan? Shouldn’t people acknowledge that? That half of your parental everything is gone and then give it a describing word?
It was still snowing out, the morning after. That’s how it would always be known — the morning after. The snow was a reminder of the car accident.
What if it hadn’t been snowing yesterday? Ahhh, the ‘what if’ game.
What if my dad hadn’t stopped to check on some stranger’s car in the ditch a couple of kilometers before the accident?
What if the people in that car had needed help and he’d stayed there for even five more minutes?
What if my sister and I had gone along with them that weekend like we’d talked about but decided against?
What if they’d come back on Sunday instead of Monday? Or Tuesday?
The ‘what if’ game was a destructive way to spend my time but I couldn’t help myself.
No school for me that day. What were my friends told that morning as they sat at their desks? It was a tight community, word would have traveled and the principal would have found out by the time my eyes had opened.
Instead of school, we’d be traveling the two hours it would take to reach the hospital in Kingston where my dad was laying in the ICU.
I’d much rather be in school. That would mean my mom wasn’t dead; that my dad wasn’t comatose.
Our youngest sister didn’t come along that day. It was my brother, my older sister and I sitting in a row, clasping our seatbelts on in the back seat of the car behind Uncle W and Aunt G, my dad’s older brother, and sister.
It was overcast and foggy, freezing rain drizzling down intermittently.
Weather to match the mood.
Surely there were plenty of sounds in the hospital wing that housed the ICU that day but the only two senses I can recall were smell and sight.
What is the smell of internal bodily fluids exactly? Almost fruity and thick, if thickness can be a smell. That fruity thickness, a mélange of antiseptic with undertones of urine and fecal matter. Smell was the first sense to kick in upon our arrival.
I imagine the hushed tones and concerned whispers from whoever was working in the intensive care unit that day when the three of us came through those swing doors.
We were ushered to the bedside of the patient whose last name on the clipboard matched ours.
The whole floor seemed dim except for the myriad of blinking lights and the bedsheets, bright white. On one of those sheets lay my bloated, strong dad, head shaved — just the front half — with a metal box protruding from the top of his cranium — like he was balancing it there, just so.
I understand that in the case of a horrendous crash, the doctors’ and nurses’ priority is to save life but I’ve never understood why, if only for the sake of us kids, no one thought to shave my dad’s hair off entirely before we arrived.
Whenever I think of that afternoon in the ICU, I always wonder why they didn’t just shave his whole head. He would have seemed so much less unkempt. It would have been one less area on his body that emoted shock and bewilderment from us kids.
I don’t know why it bothers me so much, it just seems like such an obvious thing to have done.
My dad was a strong and handsome guy. He could do just about anything — leap tall buildings in a single bound and rip apart a car engine, fix it up, and put it back together lickety-split.
His body was enlarged because of all the bodily fluids that had escaped their organs in the crash. Blood and bile, and who knows what else, askew inside of him, journeying to and fro into regions they shouldn’t have been.
How perfectly compartmentalized the bodily fluids are inside of healthy, non-smashed-up bodies.
He was always a good eater, my dad. He couldn’t resist sopping up the warm grease at the bottom of a frying pan with a slice of Wonder bread. Oh George,I can imagine my mother saying while lightly slapping his shoulder, we just ate!
And so he did have a bit of a belly to go along with all those muscles but that just gave us more of him to hug.
But that day in the hospital his belly and his head and his arms and his fingers, they were so enlarged. The man lying motionless in front of me was not recognizable as the dad who I’d cuddled with on the couch in our living room a week ago.
I remember feeling small, little, everything was heavy. I didn’t know how to feel or react or what to say or do. It’s one thing when you can say comforting things to the person who is sick or hurt or needs care. Here we were in front of the man who was supposed to care for us. He was mute, involuntarily, so he couldn’t care for me and I couldn’t say anything caring to him.
It was more of a look/see. That’s how it felt. Like an observation.
Like we were told that our dad had been in an accident and it was time for us to go and take a look.
There was no feeling inside of me, he could have been behind museum glass for all the connection I felt for him in that moment.
Across the unit, were the adult children of the occupants of the ‘other car’. Somber and blank, they gazed over at the three of us. They must have felt how we felt, except they had years more life experience to grasp the depth of it all.
No matter our ages though, adult or child, none of us was prepared for the death of our mothers and the impending death of our fathers in such swift succession.
We were all children of the dead and dying that day, no one would have considered pointing fingers.
Unless it was at the ice. Or at the millions of snowflakes blowing white sheets across windshields.
Each driver would have been white-knuckled that previous afternoon, beyond eager to get to B, wishing they’d never had to have left their A.
It is a shit show driving through heavy snowfalls during Ontario winters.
Was it early or late afternoon when we left the hospital? It was daytime, that I know for sure.
The three of us sat in the back seat, deep inside our heads. Our dad had become speechless and we’d followed suit.
Sitting between my brother and sister, I can picture the dash perfectly between the two bucket seats, the radio/cassette deck, the view through the windshield, my aunt ahead of me to my left, uncle to my right.
There was music playing. Not long after we’d turned onto the highway my aunt turned around.
Now isn’t this fun?
Why she asked this question, I have no clue. Had we been talking? Had the DJ on the radio said something to prompt this? How would anything ever again be considered ‘fun’ for as long as I lived?
No time to ponder.
My aunt lost control of the vehicle a nano-second after her comment. Both barreling and in slow motion, our car slid off the highway, not that you could see where it began or where it ended.
Our car rolled onto its side in the ditch. Side over side. Into the white, cold, deep ditch. The day after…the day after.
Zombie-like I remember climbing through the side window. Absolute quietness is all I remember. Not a sound. No doubt there was chaos and confusion, are you ok?’s and maneuvering away from the toppled vehicle.
All of us were fine. Physically.
We hobbled up the bank of the ditch to the side of the highway. We extended our hitchhiking thumbs out in front of us.
A maroon-coloured, boxy car (weren’t they all boxy in the ‘80s?) pulled over.
Did the grey-haired couple see our car roll or did they see us emerge from the ditch, shocked and snow-laden as we must have been? We piled into their car.
Just like that, I was in a back seat again, this one all soft burgundy velvet, but headed in the opposite direction, kind strangers ahead and to the right and to the left of me. Back to Kingston.
See you later, home-no-longer-sweet-home in Ottawa.
Their parents were in a car accident yesterday, my relatives must have relayed to our saviours. Their mom died. Their dad’s in a coma. We just came back from seeing him.
What a shock it must have been for that kind husband and wife.
To have three zombies sitting in their back seat.
Like our daughter, I also ended up ok.
It took a while but eventually, I became fully human again, my zombie-like qualities restored to health.
There’s no explaining why we had to go through a car accident the day after our parents’ fatal car accident. Honestly, I don‘t try to figure any of it out.
I try to remain in a state of steadfast thankfulness for the life I have now.
Treat each day as a new, precious gift.
I am convinced that’s what they are. Gift after gift after gift.