It’s crazy how quickly things can turn. You could be having an ordinary moment, the kind where you won’t even remember the conversation you were having, or what you were laughing at, and within seconds it becomes a moment you wish you could forget.
I had one of those moments in August.
Over the summer me and three friends from Ohio were invited to a missions conference in Colorado. We decided that instead of paying for flights, we would instead drive the 20 hours to Colorful Colorado. The ride there went very smoothly. The five day conference was full of fun, and impacting sermons. We left Colorado with happy hearts and the intention of driving only 8 hours to Kansas City, MO to stay with some friends. We would finish our drive the following day.
Like any long car ride, where you are stuck in the car for hours on end, we weaved in and out of conversation, now and again we would put on some music, it was nothing noteworthy.
I have no idea what we were talking about, there are no details I can even report to you. All I remember was I was laughing about something, then everything went still. Life went from real time to slow motion. Mid laugh, I noticed some sort of chaos in my peripheral, not even having time to turn and look what it could be. A van shoots out across the median of a 4 lane highway, right in front of the semi positioned less than a foot in front of us. Our car frantically swerving to dodge the pieces of the van being thrown across the highway.
Everything from there was both blurry, yet in full detail.
I remember yelling for him to stop the car, and for someone to call 911. In my hands I held a coffee and a cell phone but I forgot, I forgot how to move or function. Panic drove me, before I could even process my actions. I hand my coffee to the wide eyed, equally shocked girl in the backseat with me, and run out of the car barefoot, calling 911 in my strides to the remnants of the van.
“911 whats your emergency?” said the lady on the opposite end of my call.
“There’s been an accident, it’s bad”
The lady in a calm voice began to ask me a series of questions… ones I couldn’t answer. My mind raced. Where were we? Did we cross the Kansas border? Have I seen any signs recently? Whens the last time I paid attention, when did we stop last? I had no answers.
Then I reached the van…
Thrown in the back seat of a van was a lady. Maybe in her late 30’s. Her brown hair matted in blood, her pale skin drained of every color but the blood that gushed from her, a chunk of her brown hair attached to the seat belt that hung out of the crushed window.
“Is any one hurt?” the woman on the phone asked.
I reach into the crushed car, through the window, stepping on glass and into blood. I look for a pulse. I can’t feel one in her wrist. I reached for her neck, her blood covering my hand.
“I can’t find a pulse. I can’t tell if she’s breathing”
I run to the other side, and climb in the side where a door use to be. Is she breathing? Could she be alive? Where was her pulse? What do I do?
At this time the woman on the phone told me other people had called in with more details, and an ambulance was on it’s way.
“Hang tight” she said, ending the call.
I look around at the car that I am now in.
In that moment it’s like every thing I learned training to be a nurse assistant 6 years before disappeared from my mind. The only thing I could think to do is to pray. So I do, I pray that she would come back from the dead. I pray she would make it through this and live a long healthy life. I pray she would know the Lord, if she didn’t already. I pray that she wold live and not die, and when I can’t find words and I search for her pulse…I pray in the Spirit.
At this time other people began to show on the scene. An older woman with grey hair, and an authoritative tone.
“Did you do CPR?”
CPR.. crap. I didn’t even think of it. Why didn’t I think of it?
“We must move her out of the car. We have to start CPR NOW”
More people. These guys help pull her out. The older woman starts CPR.
That’s when we see it… the baby seat.
The brown haired lady was flung to the back seat upon impact with the semi…. it wasn’t until she was pulled out that we saw that underneath her was a baby’scar seat. All at the same time recognition hit us all, it was like the scene around us went from blurry to crystal clear. Flown around the highway mixed with chunks of metal, a van door, and glass was baby items.
A baby blanket.
Have I heard crying? Was there a child? How old was the child? If there was… could he/she have survived? The baby would have been thrown farther than the mother…
Realization hit the face of group of strangers all at the same time. So we began to look. We went through tall grass, up and down a concrete highway. The ambulance arrived. The search continued.
I don’t know how long we looked, panic driving us to try to pay attention to any sign of a child. For what felt like an eternity we looked, wading through grass and glass, coming up empty.
Eventually the police showed, and contacted the lady’s boyfriend who informed us that the child was with him, and not with her in the accident. Relieved the highway started to clear. Leaving glass, and a handful of wide-eyed shaken people in it’s aftermath. We were asked to fill out a report for the police, and I asked the question that feared me most.
“Did she make it?” “Will she be okay?” “Is she alive?”
“I should have done CPR.”
“She died upon impact.There’s nothing you could have done.”
That moment the panic turned to sorrow and helplessness. There was nothing I could have done. CPR would not have saved her.
After a while of giving account for what happened 4 shocked filled, 20 something year olds got back into their car and continued their once easy joy filled trip, with a new horror and grief.
Once in the car adrenaline was replaced with tears.
Blood on my feet. Blood on my hands. Not my blood.
Who was she? I didn’t even know her name, yet I watched her die. I looked desperately for signs of life and found none. Flashes of the scene behind me played like a horror film behind my sobbing eyes.
We stopped at the next exit so I could wash my hands, my feet, my flip flops and we could process and pull ourselves together.
We were less than a foot from this accident… If we were going a little faster, if we didn’t swerve in time, if the semi had slowed down.. we could have been the point of collision.
During our gas station processing, I heard from my friends the way they responded to the nightmare that became our reality. I was informed on how they ran towards the semi truck, and checked with the driver and got to pray with him and his wife.
We reached KC a lot later than anticipated. We went straight to bed, exhausted from the events of the day. Sleep weighed down on me, but wouldn’t overtake me. Every time I closed my eyes, flashes of the earlier scene, the blood, the hair on the seat belt, the face of a women who’s name I didn’t know, kept me awake.
It’s been 7 months since that accident… and I still think of her. Not as frequently as the months that followed the accident, but she is engraved into my weekly thinking. I still see that scene, I feel the grief of the life I watched end. I think of her when I drive and feel the fear of an accident. I feel the weight of sadness for the kid that will grow up without a mother, and the life the lady never got to finish. Dreams that she may have had, but never got to accomplish. Goodbyes she never got to say, wrongs she never got to right, so much life she never got to live.
My life has been changed by the horror of an ordinary moment turned sour. It has been greatly effected by a lady who died, on a highway that one day in August…and I don’t even know her name.