Monday, August 31, 2015

The End of the World

Every Monday for the next several weeks, I'll be featuring selections from my new book, One Slender Thread. If you're interested in reading more, you can purchase the book on Amazon today! Today's selection is from the first and perhaps most personal chapter, The End of the World. 


I sat up, startled by the unexpected sound of my husband’s phone buzzing from the nightstand. Rubbing my eyes and trying to focus in the moonlit room, I watched my husband lift himself to his elbows as he answered the call. His eyebrows creased in concern, and then his face turned white. I could not begin to imagine what the phone call was about. 

It was July 6, 2013. We had moved back to the States three years earlier, had our miracle baby, Kyler, and then quickly found out we were pregnant again with our daughter, Havyn. My husband had finished his Master’s degree and began his teaching career the year before. I had recently started an online business and transitioned to staying home with the kids full-time. We had learned to live with the pain of our past, or at least to numb and silence the aches and to busy ourselves with life again.

My husband was on summer break and we had just spent a festive fourth of July with my family. Fireworks, cookouts and a slow, lazy afternoon on the porch. We had crashed into bed that night, exhausted from all the sun and play. 

When I finally gathered my senses, I realized it was my sister on the other end of the line, urgent in her speech. I listened as she explained that my brother, Jordan, and his girlfriend of five years, Loryn, had been in a terrible car accident. My sister reported a few details of the accident, almost none of which would we remember once hanging up. The only thing that rung abrasively clear, lodged unnaturally in my mind, was this: Jordan was fine, but Loryn was dead. 

All the family were gathering at the hospital in Logan, and we, too, started to make plans for our trip down. Daniel left immediately with my older sister, and I waited until morning when the kids woke to make the hour trip to my hometown. I drove unsteadily, dreading the reality I would have to face upon arrival. 

Bits and pieces of the details surrounding the accident started to come together over the next two days - reports from those that had been at the hospital the night of the accident, hushed conversations from friends and family coming to pay their condolences, newspaper articles and police reports, even the state’s morning newscasts. I was desperate for details. Something about receiving one more piece of information gave me a momentary sense of control, helping calm the tide of grief that was swelling inside, even if just for a split-second.  

We learned that Jordan and Loryn had been spending the evening at a cookout with her family. Later that night, they loaded up to head home, Loryn in the driver’s seat of her red Pontiac Sunfire. As she attempted a left turn onto a curvy country road, they were broadsided by an oncoming minivan. Jordan was able to free himself, but Loryn’s side, having received the brunt of the impact, was completely crushed. When rescue workers arrived, Loryn was still conscious and even able to speak. After using the Jaws of Life, she was finally freed and my brother insisted on riding in the ambulance with her, but was denied that privilege. Instead, he met her corpse at the hospital moments later. 

What do you do in light of such loss? 

I was tormented by the fact that neither Loryn, nor the other driver, was cited for anything that night. There was no rain, no fog, no alcohol or drugs involved. Nobody was speeding or texting or fiddling with their hair. It seemed to be a true instance of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” A neon sign chiding us, bright and hopeless: You don’t have a say. 

We mourned as a family all week, awaiting the finality of the funeral. I had only experienced an open-casket funeral once before, eerily enough when my youngest sister’s boyfriend was killed in a tragic accident a couple years earlier. I remembered the pale face, the total stillness, the uncomfortable confrontation with my own mortality. But still, I was completely unprepared for seeing Loryn’s gorgeous face and petite body motionless in her casket that day. I was overwhelmed with grief, touching her hand, saying goodbye for the last time.

What do you do in light of such loss? 

With the funeral behind me, the permanence of Loryn’s still, ashen face imprinted on my mind, I felt bewildered and hopeless. Looking back now, it is hard to know whether it was simply the tragedy of losing someone so beautiful and so young, or the fact that Loryn had worked as my assistant all that previous year and I had grown to truly love and respect her, or the reality of watching my twenty-year-old brother navigate the devastation of losing his first and only love - or perhaps, the final straw in the haystack of grief I myself was still carrying at the time, but I crumbled

I have never experienced the unfettered mourning and shattering that I experienced those weeks and months after Loryn’s death. Although my mourning could not be compared to her family’s, closest friends’ and my brother’s, it was breathtaking still in its intensity and persistence. I became largely functionless.

More times than I can count, I found myself curled in a corner of the kitchen, sobbing. I would try to connect with the kids, but even tending to their basic needs would seem overwhelming; I would fall on the floor in tears, afraid and hopeless. My mind was consumed with Loryn - all the family events we had shared, all the unspoken words I now carried in deep regret, all the life she would never get to live. My husband would take the kids to the zoo for the day, and I would go for a walk in the woods, lie and cry, sleep.

What do you do in light of such loss? 

For the first time in three years, I was forced to face my feelings again. I was forced to acknowledge the pain of loss, the reality of injustice. I let all the old questions rise back to the surface, the deep aches and wonderings and why’s. I found myself staring all those stuffed-away emotions from years past in the face, awakened by tragedy and the remembrance of a life gone too soon. 


Finish reading this chapter, and many others, in One Slender Thread

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