‘Three men in uniforms approached me. ‘Is there a place we can sit?’ I cried over and over, ‘This can’t be happening!’: Man loses wife, daughter in tragic car accident, ‘Hope is the word I cling to’

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“My story… Our story…  I’ve told it in bits and pieces, wrote parts in a hundred scattered places, and lived it a thousand times over. Words can carry a strange heaviness at times. Sometimes they carry such joy and hope. ‘Will you marry me?’ ‘I do.’ ‘Where do we sign?’ ‘It’s a boy!’ ‘It’s a girl!’ These were moments in my life I cherish and remember fondly often.

Then at other times, they bring about the crashing of worlds.

I met Rosa in 2006 while she was on a trip from North Carolina to my home state of Washington. I was 19, she, almost 18. We found ourselves in each other as we dated, first long-distance and then very near. Rosa was the spring of so many firsts in my life: first love, first kiss, first, first, first. We were married on March 12, 2011, and began such a happy, messy life together.

Courtesy of Brian Wilson

Over the next nearly 9 years we experienced much… A year after marrying, we purchased a 90-year-old home with dreams of renovating and breathing life into old bones. A year later, we welcomed our first child, Elliot, into our little family.

Courtesy of Brian Wilson

One year more and our garage burned down and we began to rebuild until I suffered a traumatic brain injury some months later, falling 20 feet from a tree. This started over a year of recovery and return to work for me, a hospital nurse, with Rosa being my constant through all the tears and cheers. A year after my accident we had our first daughter, Juniper, and then 2 years later, we were joined by Iona, bringing our happy number to five. Life was good. Sure, it wasn’t all cupcakes and roses, we knew we had seen much in our time together already, but we were stronger for it, and more committed to each other than ever.

Courtesy of Brian Wilson

With a growing family and that dream of renovating our home still very much alive, I began the long process of adding onto and remodeling with my own two hands in earnest during 2019. March 6, 2020, we had just that morning moved back into our construction zone of a house after a week of dealing with electrical work and inspections. As I worked away on the home, Rosa ran to pick up Elliot (second grade) and Juniper (kindergarten) from school around 3:30 p.m. I had lost track of time and it wasn’t until three unknown vehicles drove up the driveway things seemed not quite right. Three men, two in dark uniform, approached me, ‘Is there a place we can sit?’ Oh, this is not good, this is not happening!

Here came the words of crashing worlds. ‘Your family has been in a car accident, your wife and one of your daughters didn’t survive. Your other two children were taken to the hospital in serious condition’… She had been hit head-on by an out-of-control, speeding driver just over a mile from home.

In an instant, that chasm appeared, wrenching them both from me. Even the distance between me and my two loves still clinging to life seemed too far. ‘I need to go be with them!’ ‘Oh, but I need to shower and change.’ I stood in the shower with the water instantly wiping the tears from my face. ‘This can’t be happening! It has to be true… This can’t be real. It has to be real!’ I cried over and over. They can’t be playing a joke on me right? This only happens on the news…

Courtesy of Brian Wilson

Those first several days were a blur of hugs and tears with family and friends (who packed the hospital lobby), meetings with surgeons and trauma doctors, catching snatches of sleep between beeping alarms, ever-tightening visiting restrictions due to the burgeoning Covid-19 pandemic, and myself trying to figure out what just had happened. Six days later, I ‘celebrated’ what would have been our 9th anniversary in the middle of MRI testing and hospital craziness…

My son, Elliot, who was 8 at the time, had received a broken femur, ruptured spleen, and multiple cuts and scrapes. His quicker healing gladdened me, but also put mortal dread in my heart as I knew at some point soon, I would have to share that same terrible news I had heard days before. My thoughts returned to words shared in moments that had brought such joy before and now this… How do I say this? How do you tell your little boy his mom and a sister are gone and it’s just us three now? That inevitable moment came and I broke the worst news ever to my big little boy sitting in a hospital bed, aided by a child life specialist.

Courtesy of Brian Wilson

Elliot, in a flash, closed his eyes, cried out, and clamped his hands over his ears in an attempt to shut out this truth. He reached for his pain pump button and it wrenched my heart as he pushed once, twice, three, four, more times than I know. He wanted that pain to just disappear, as did I.

Iona, on the other hand, had sustained a skull fracture and traumatic brain injury as well as a shattered lower leg and facial fractures. Her hospital journey would stretch on until the end of March, including a significant amount of time in rehab. When the time seemed right, I had to, once again, share the terrible news about mom and sister. There were many hats I was taking off and on now, but the one of ‘bad news bearer’ was, by far, the most painful and heavy.

Courtesy of Brian Wilson

I had started to journal in a way to make sense of my emotions in the chaos and I quickly realized I was subconsciously writing to her, my Rosa.

‘I see you in the morning sun, the warm glow lighting up the world with golden love. There is a flowering bush outside my window, in the pink flowers, I see you.’

‘Every sunrise and sunset I will see you, your golden hair, and your golden love. In one instance my world is so much dimmer now, but then again, my world is so much more alive because of you…’

Courtesy of Brian Wilson

‘I have been subconsciously storing up little memories/happenings over the past day, I guess, in a way to tell you sometime like I’ve done for a decade. Little things that kids have done, things I’ve seen that remind me of a good memory, but I can’t text, snap, call, see you later to share my experiences. You feel so distant and also right around the next corner in the same moment.’

‘Elliot just won hospital bingo! Surprise surprise I know… All I can imagine is your bright, (over) excited, face congratulating Elliot on his ‘accomplishment.’ Your bright smiling face, brighter than my face has ever been and now brighter than a thousand suns.’

‘As I was walking back my legs were feeling heavier and heavier, cords of lead. The weight of all the thoughts, memories, grief, and my loneliness just bore down on my members.’

Courtesy of Brian Wilson

On day twelve, with Iona still in a brain-injury fog in the hospital, we held a small funeral ceremony. Due to the Covid pandemic, we were not able to have the door-bursting, packed church event that seemed appropriate for Rosa and Junie, who had affected so many in their lives. However, it was 50 hand-selected friends and family with thousands of yellow flowers packing the pews instead (one for each person who would have wanted to be there) and hundreds of people standing in respect along the roadside on the way to the cemetery. It had turned into a perfect unique, ‘Rosa-esque’ send-off without us even planning that.

‘Rosa was known for sparkling water and kombucha, knitting projects galore, a bubbly, encouraging personality, and a love for her family and friends. She could be found cooking and baking for others in times of need, knitting for Christmas gifts or the latest new baby, or walking the countryside with her kids and friends. Her love of motherhood was a factor in her dream of becoming a midwife later in life. She was truthful about the difficulties of parenthood while at the same time, loving every minute of it! Rosa loved her Brian with a passion and enjoyed their friendship deeply. It is a wonder to be truly married to your best friend.’

Courtesy of Brian Wilson

‘Juniper was a bright ray of sunshine much like her mama. Being a middle child, she always had someone to play with and whether it was giving Iona (as puppy) a walk on a leash, or playing Minecraft with big brother, she played such a special role in the family. June Goon, as she was also affectionately known, was rarely serious, had a thousand funny faces, and was a pro eye-crosser; as a result, she was a constant source of laughter and life! She loved much through deed, always the giver. She was the undisputed ringleader with her girl cousins, a little caring mama with her siblings, and an all-around joy to everyone she encountered.’

Courtesy of Brian Wilson

Once both kids left the hospital, we settled in at my parents, as our home was still under construction. Losing my lover and life partner, daughter, sense of home, vocation (I resigned from my nursing job to be a full-time dad), and grounding was almost too much, but hope drove me on. That summer, we started figuring out how to be in our new family, going on some road trips in a campervan I had built, as well as doctor’s appointments and physical rehab. We’ve had many a teary bedtime, a flood of emotions instigated by any one of us three, caused by anything from a picture, a memory, or just seeing a sunset.

Courtesy of Brian Wilson

Now, just over a year later, we just have moved back into our newly renovated home (a day before the accident anniversary) and are ready to move forward into this new chapter. Having a home again is grounding and exciting, but bittersweet as my two girls (who were a big part of the reason I had been working on it in the first place) are not there to enjoy the new space with us. I’m homeschooling with Elliot (another ‘surprise!’ role I’ve taken on) and have gained so much respect for full-time parenting! Hope is the word I cling onto now in this season.

Courtesy of Brian Wilson

People ask how I’ve been making it through the months and I can only say I keep breathing and trusting in God, my creator, with my future, as in the past. My faith has been tested and I can say it is stronger now, but in a different way at the same time. The only clear counsel I would offer to someone going through loss is to be open and honest with yourself and others; feel everything, even to ’embrace’ grief and face it instead of shoving it under the rug (because it will still be there); and give yourself grace, ‘dose’ your grief as you deal with it. It is a marathon, not a sprint!”

Courtesy of Brian Wilson

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Brian Wilson. You can follow their journey on Instagram and Facebook. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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