“I was on my way home from church. It was a normal Sunday morning when tragedy struck my family. In just the blink of an eye, my nightmare began. One second. One stoplight.
My husband was driving. I was in the passenger seat and my son, Landon, was sitting behind his dad in the back seat. We were approaching home when we were t-boned by an ambulance truck at an intersection.
The ambulance was not on call. There were no flashing lights, no sirens, and no warning signs. The impact hit my husband’s side and his life ended that day. I assume my husband saw the ambulance coming because I heard him yell. It was the last time I heard his voice. Since my son was sitting behind his dad, his body also received immense impact. My husband’s seat and body was thrust into the back seat during the crash, covering my precious eight-year-old son.
When the rescuers arrived at the scene, they immediately removed me from the vehicle. They didn’t know my son was trapped in the back until they spotted a children’s shoe. They deepened their search in order to find the little body that matched. They had to go in through the trunk to remove my son.
When they got him out of the car, he was not breathing. Landon and I were airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center and while we were being transferred, he died again on the chopper. Once we arrived at CMC, he was rushed to the neuro trauma intensive care unit and I was rushed to the emergency room. While he was there, he died the third and longest time. The nightmare would not end.
A couple days later, I checked myself out of the hospital against medical advisement in order to attend my husband’s funeral. As I was being pushed to the front of the church in my wheelchair, I couldn’t believe this was actually happening. Everyone’s eyes were on me, but I couldn’t look back. I didn’t want to see their sympathy. I didn’t want to face what was happening. I was still in shock.
During the funeral, as I sat and listened to the preacher and singers, I was fussing at God. I remember thinking, ‘Where were you? Did you not see that we were on our way home from church? How could you allow this to happen?’ I was furious and completely abandoned. Yet, in my very next breath, I was praying as hard as I had ever prayed in my life. I remember saying, ‘God, please heal my son and let him live.’
As soon as the funeral was over, I rushed back to the hospital to make sure my son was still alive. He was in a coma and not expected to live. He was suffering from major head trauma. I kept praying each and every day that he would just open his eyes, but there were no signs. However, after 19 days in a coma, brain surgery, and reconstructive surgery, he woke up with no brain damage. His recovery was nothing short of miraculous.
But in the midst of my joy, I knew I had to tell him about his father. Looking at the scars on his face, I was scared to hurt him even more than he’d already experienced. But I knew it was a matter of time before he asked. I remember saying, ‘Landon, do you know where your dad is?’ He looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Yes, I do. He’s in heaven. I saw him there.’ He also told me that he saw his father’s friend who had died just one month before, also in a car accident.
He continued on to tell me that he had experienced heaven each time he died, though all of the experiences were different. He gradually shared bits and pieces of his heaven visits with me. One day, when we were sitting in his hospital room waiting on him to go to therapy, he looked over at me and said, ‘Oh mom, by the way, I saw your other two kids in heaven.’
I was startled at first. Landon was my only child. I knew what he was talking about, but how did he know? I had two miscarriages before Landon was born. We never told him about them. He was only an eight-year-old boy and we didn’t feel it was an age appropriate discussion. For the first time, I had a feeling of peace. With everything that happened, I never thought about my husband being in heaven taking care of our babies and getting to hold and love them. My heart smiled.
Then came my journey of grief. Being a single mom to a child with brain trauma became my new life. I was not prepared or equipped. Due to panic attacks and injuries, I was medicated with pain killers and Prozac. It took me into a zombie stage where I didn’t have to feel the weight of the world. I struggled with questions. Why did my husband die? Why does my child have to live with these injuries? Why didn’t angels save us? Why is this my life?
I kept praying for neon signs, for answers. None came. And while I was begging God for answers, I became stuck in my grief. I didn’t know how to get out of it. For some reason, I felt that if I had joy in my life then I wasn’t grieving the loss of my husband. No one mentioned counseling to me, but I desperately needed it. My thoughts were so twisted in my head that I couldn’t make sense of anything. My only focus was on the needs of my child.
Landon and I grieved differently. Landon had more happiness – sort of. He missed his dad. He was his baseball coach, football coach, and best friend – his hero. Landon missed and treasured all that, but since he saw his dad in heaven, he was comforted. Landon’s grief came from the fact that he didn’t get to stay in heaven, too. He was mad at me. ‘Why did you pray for me, mom? I wish you wouldn’t have so I could’ve stayed with dad.’ My heart broke whenever he said that.
Landon had challenges too. Different than mine, but just as hard for him. Before the accident, he was academically gifted. Straight A’s. All star athlete. But, afterwards, he struggled in school. He was on Ritalin being treated for all the ADD symptoms. He was told he couldn’t play contact sports anymore. He wore scars on his face and was teased by kids at school.
Although Landon had many struggles, he was also given an assignment from above. He told me, ‘When I died the third time at the hospital, Jesus told me to go back to Earth and tell others about Him.’ I’m in awe of Landon’s boldness. He’s spoken to everyone from atheists to priests. Doubters and believers. His story never changes. I was very skeptical when he first started telling others. The Mother Hen in me wanted to protect him from negativity. But my wise child told me with a smile, ‘Jesus just told me to tell others. He didn’t tell me to make them believe me. I’m just going to tell them there’s a heaven and they can decide to believe.’ After that comment, I shut my mouth, got out of his way, and supported him regardless of the situation.
Today, I now work as a grief facilitator. When I have people come to me, I understand what their tears mean; I speak that language. I recognize the dark cloud they carry. I admire them for having the strength to deal with their grief, even when their hearts are breaking. They’re not burying it but looking for ways to find their new normal. Grief is a process. I’m very honest and often tell them, ‘I’m the poster child of what not to do on a grief journey.’ However, the one thing that I did do right was surround myself with friends and family that carried me when I didn’t have the strength. They sent up prayers on my behalf while I was still fussing at God. They cried with me on hard days and laughed with me on good days. Surprisingly, pain and joy can co-exist.
I later remarried and gave birth to another son. My heart grew. That big hole in my heart, that hurt so bad I couldn’t breathe, finally changed. I still have that same hole, but I’ve now filled it with cherished memories. It expanded so I could love my new family. It is definitely not a replacement family, but an extended family.
Every time I look at Landon, his hands, the way he turns his head, the twitch in his eye, the shape of his head, the way he holds the steering wheel, I see his dad. Landon has grown up having so many similarities and mannerisms like him.
Each time my son died on that horrific day in 1997, he had visits in heaven. He saw his earthly father and his heavenly father. I believed in heaven before our accident, but I am reminded every time I see my child that I will have an amazing family reunion in heaven one day.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Julie Kemp, author of Faith Has Its Reasons and Highway to Heaven, of Waxhaw, North Carolina. You can follow her journey on her website here and Facebook here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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