Re-Entering Each Day as a 14 yr-old Orphan
Again and again and again
The worst part of the day was waking up. I never wanted to re-enter my waking world. We never ask our bodies to wake us up. Back then, my body just played it’s same trick on me every morning...every single morning.
A week before my 15th birthday my parents were in a car accident that ended up taking both of their lives as well as the lives of the two occupants of the vehicle that hit them. It doesn’t take words on a page to describe how life-changing things became for the four of us kids. We were 7, 12, 14 and 16.
The accident happened in 1986 and so I’ve had many years to process these events. Sometimes it amazes me how little I remember in the days and months following the crash…
Who did I even talk to that first week? I don’t remember a conversation with even one adult. Who was around? Who stayed with us? Did the four of us stay together that week following the crash?
How long was I out of school for? I know I went back, but how soon? Did I pass grade 9? Like for real? Or did the principal just give me a sympathy pass into grade 10?
I read a poem at my dad’s funeral, says the program that was handed out that day. Did I really? How the heck did I manage to do that and what poem was it? Did I pick it out? No clue
Not one memory remains of my dad’s wake though I remember so much about my mom
…and at the same time how vivid and in technicolour some memories are…
Every word of the phone call with the police officer
The car rolling twice over into the snowy ditch the day after my mom died
Each outfit I wore to the funerals
Laughing with friends at my mom’s wake and the disapproving stares from adults in the room
the smirk on her face in the coffin
the smell of the hospital
screaming in the car the day my dad died
the sound of the suction tube that worked to keep his lungs clear
Whitney Houston and Janet Jackson high on the charts that summe,
the sump pump breaking that first Christmas and baling the flooded water all morning
One of my most clear recollections was waking up morning after morning absolutely needing to go back into that other-worldly state that sleep brought to me. It didn’t last for just the few months after the accident. It lasted years. I remember waking up in the home we moved into with our aunt and uncle and cousins about a year and a half after the accident. I can picture myself in the pretty iron bed with the white and lavender-flowered comforter. Sunshine coming in through the window. And my eyes opening.
The feeling of not wanting to enter the day was so real that unless you’ve experienced it, few can understand. How did the four of us manage to get out of bed in the morning, day after day? Had I been able to re-enter the quietness that sleep brought, I may never have left.
Not that sleep was always quiet. Naturally, the recurring theme of my dreams was of being left behind. In dreams, I would see my mom and dad, laughing together while I stood close by, expecting for them to engage me in their conversation. They would look at me and then just walk away. In another dream, I can still picture myself reading a postcard from my mom. In her exact handwriting she told me about a vacation that she was on. She didn’t mention missing me, loving me or that she would see me soon.
No, sleep was not always quiet but it was better than my my reality. The desire back then was to re-enter sleep. What I had to do each morning instead, was to re-enter the day.
Re-entering the day meant that I had to go through the same thought process over again. And again. And again.
My mom and dad are dead. Dead. They are not coming back. I will NEVER see them again. I can’t do this. How is this possible? How is this possible? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?!?
My worldview includes a God in the heavens, wherever the heavens may be. In that heaven with God are my mom and my dad. And so, although I do believe I will see them again after this life (as I believed back then), that belief didn’t bring comfort during those truly brutal waking moments. My God cried with me every morning.
Without the medication or counselling that surely would have been imposed on, or welcomed by, a teen going through that kind of grief today somehow I managed to re-enter my days, one by one.
The memories of my high school days are fond ones. Dances and school trips, best friends and boyfriends, getting the lead in the school play (go figure the part was Oliver Twist, the little orphan boy) and passing notes in class.
Because I was young, although it was a tragedy of immense proportions, re-entering life was inevitable.
For the young, there are still dreams to run after, even if they are put off for a time while dealing with the unimaginable.
Losing my parents was at least the right order of events. A parent should die before their child does. The wrong way round is a parent who loses a child…that seems to be against the order of things and a dream-crusher in every way.
Life seemed to go slowly back then - in one minute/one hour/one day increments. Eventually a month, then a year and then several years have gone by. Now, I’m thankful for those small increments of time. For me, each day felt like jumping over a hurdle on a race track. The hurdles at the beginning of my race to re-entering life back then were a hundred times higher than the ones further down the track. I just couldn’t see further down the track.
Today, my teen and twenty-something kids cheer me on. My husband is my biggest fan. As I run my daily race of re-entry, I‘m not alone like I was on those dreaded mornings so long ago.