“I was 15 when I was adopted from the foster care system, 11 when I went into it. Resilience is what I gained from that. I learned to survive and grow in my most formative adolescent years. Obviously my experiences while being a foster child and what led me there affected me negatively as well, but the silver linings from that time period, I learned later.
When I was 24, I lost my husband Brandon. He was 25, a new father to our 5-month-old daughter, and an avid motorcycle enthusiast. He was the strong silent type. Imagine a man towering over everyone in the room, able to kick any of their butts but the kindness to just want to share his Old Milwaukee beer and a dip of Wintergreen Grizzly instead. He was awkward in his own body. I always thought he always seemed to stand a little funny but I think that humanized him instead of making all 6’5”, 250 pounds of him seem so intimidating.
Brandon was, by all accounts, in love with his motorcycle. A limited-edition burnt orange Kawasaki Ninja. The pride he had about his bike, was that of a new father. He spent countless hours perfecting it. Dremeling every inch of the matte metal to make it chrome, and hand painting letters on the swing arms. From the exhausts to the handle bars, there wasn’t a spot untouched and personalized by him.
Once, when trying to move a ladder in our garage, his bike was in the way. He made it look so easy I thought I could lean it on me and scoot it over. I was so wrong. His beautiful limited-edition motorcycle went down sideways, breaking the mirror and putting a big dent right in the crease of the gas tank. I remember the look in his eyes, I still am disappointed with myself! A lot of his friends let me have it too, but eventually the hurt of seeing his prized possession tainted subsided, and he rode it like there was no tomorrow again. Always grinning and saying with pride, ‘If I ever go on my bike, know I died happy!’ with a happy elbow jerk upwards, not knowing his words would grow so comforting.
June 14, 2017, we both finished work for the day and decided to eat some Mexican. Charlotte was just experimenting with solids and Brandon was tickled to death at how much she loved the refried beans. He had this chuckle where he didn’t ever open his mouth and smile, but more threw his head back slightly and his shoulders went up and down. His laughter would escape in forms of air through his nose, so when he did give a good old fashion laugh, it was contagious. He was this contagious kind of happy on this particular day.
After dinner, we drove past our new home with anticipation. We were 2 days from closing on it, living at my dad’s since our home had already sold. We were READY. Our realtor drove by around the same time. I remember him texting Brandon, ‘Busted spying on the new pad!’ He was just as excited for us to move too. We got home and settled down at my dads’ house about 6:30 that evening. Ready to watch ‘Impractical Jokers,’ I was breastfeeding Charlotte when Brandon emerged from the kitchen with a Mountain Dew in hand, and plopped down at the corner of the couch for about 10 seconds before he announced he was going to go on a bike ride. Usually, I’d be a little annoyed, if I’m being honest. Charlotte was a handful at the time, and I knew bedtime was going to be approaching. But I also knew in 2 days we would be moving and his fun bike time would be placed on hold for a while, so away he went. He gave his forehead kisses and said, ‘Byeee Charlotte, daddy loves you,’ and backed out of the driveway.
At 7:36 my phone rang. I was sitting there with Charlotte, holding off bedtime by playing with Snapchat filters still in my work clothes. It was a good friend of ours. I remember answering nonchalantly only to hear concern on the other end. ‘What’s Brandon doing?,’ they asked. ‘Oh he’s out on a bike ride!’ There was a long pause and whispering in the background. ‘He is on the bike?’ ‘…yes,’ I answered. ‘It’s been a while though, he should be back soon. Did you need something?’ They mumbled something quickly then hung up. I sat there frozen, holding my phone, unable to think when they called back… ‘Shonna, someone was in an accident on their motorcycle. I don’t know if it’s Brandon, but they’re saying it looks like his bike.’ I was home alone, standing in the middle of the living room holding Charlotte. I can still feel the feeling. I can still place myself in that moment and feel my worst nightmare creep into my mind and completely consume my body, making my legs go numb and buckle, and the blood drain from everywhere. My dad, who wasn’t supposed to be home, walked in at that very moment. He looked at me and I yelled, ‘IT’S BRANDON, IT’S BRANDON! TAKE CHARLOTTE – I’M GOING TO DROP HER.’ He caught her as I tumbled outside and tried to listen for the sirens so I could run to them. But my brain was going to so fast I couldn’t think, I could only scream. Because we were in between homes, the police didn’t have my address. They were trying to find me but couldn’t, so while people were taking pictures of my husbands’ accident, posting things on social media and already asking for prayers, I was sitting oblivious. By the grace of God, I didn’t find out that way, because I was occupied by Charlotte.
Eventually the police were able to track down my number. They told us they were transferring him from ambulance to helicopter at the nearest hospital to a larger one in Fort Wayne. We drove straight there. When we were about to our exit, I received a call from someone at the hospital in our hometown. ‘Are you almost here?,’ they asked me on the phone. I said, ‘Yes we are almost to Lutheran right now!’ ‘Mrs. Grayson, we are keeping your husband here. Can you get here please?’
‘Is he okay?’ Silence. ‘Is he okay?!?’
‘Please just get here as soon as you can ma’am…’
In that moment, miles away in the wrong direction, I knew my husband was gone. I felt it in his words, I knew it in my soul. My mother, who we picked up on the side of the highway on our way up, tried to be positive. ‘That’s good Shonna, he’s not as bad as they thought if they’re not transferring him!’ But I knew.
I felt time stand still as we flew down the highway, every blink seemed to slow down. In some cruel form of shock, the world slowed to an almost stop and our entire lives together flashed in front of my eyes. All the moments that seemed like nothing, suddenly I wanted to catch with my hands and lock away so I couldn’t forget them. I remembered the entire day and hated myself for wasting hours of it arguing over nonsense. I whispered ‘we were supposed to…’ with endless amounts of possibilities to myself. I had my dad pull over at a gas station and I threw up in the bathroom. They were worried about wasting time and not getting there I think, but I knew there was no more time. My dad tried to haul ass all the way back to town, honking his horn to every car that didn’t want to get over and just trying to get there. I sat in the passenger seat numb. Outside the hospital, Brandon’s dad, Kevin, met me, grabbed me and whispered, ‘He’s gone…’ But I yelled, ‘NO! DON’T YOU TELL ME THAT, NO!’ and ran to him. But I couldn’t see him yet. I had to sit in a room next to him and scream into the carpet with our family hoping someone could shake me awake. Begging someone to say this was some cruel joke and he would walk in the door. But then, it was time.
He was coasting uphill about 35 miles an hour. I imagine the sunset on the left side of him, and breeze in his beard. He was nearly 2 minutes away when he entered the blind spot of an SUV waiting at a stop sign. They never heard him, never saw him. They looked and he wasn’t there… so they went. I learned it doesn’t matter the speed, if you’re wearing a helmet, or if you’re the size of bigfoot… when God calls you home, he takes you. I never have harbored any type of resentment towards anyone because of this accident, I’ve never blamed anyone, because it was an accident. Not a single person involved that day walked away not hurting, the driver included. The thing is, motorcycles are small. They hide in parking spots, and can slip through traffic, but that means they can also hide in that spot between your windshield and door window and appear when you least expect them. Like at the intersection of the high school your husband went to, and the road his family travels on every day. Sometimes, loving motorcycles means fearing for your life every time you get on one, but the reward of the freedom you feel being worth it. Sometimes, loving motorcycles means you live life to the fullest, but that life is cut short, so thank God you did. Thank God he did.
I think a lot of people expected me to ban motorcycles from everyone I loved and demand they be outlawed, and honestly at first, that’s all I wanted to do. But Brandon rode his bike and became alive… he floated through the air and was all consumed by the heat on his skin and the bugs on his safety glasses. Even when hit with giant rain drops that made his skin wet, the ride was worth it. The smell of bike fuel on his clothes after a ride intoxicated him. He raced his bike on Dragway’s and county roads, knowing exactly what to do to protect himself too. But he could have done nothing this time.
Impact and angle took his life. Looking twice could have saved it.
At 24, I learned the steps in burying your spouse. I walked behind his casket to the same song I walked down the aisle to, just 2.5 years before, with a lot of the same faces sitting in the same pews. I moved into my mom’s house and shared a room with my daughter. I woke up every day and faced the harsh reality that nothing was the same. Everyone else had their normal to go back to and hurt with, I only had the blanket and pillows we shared and refused to wash. I had a t-shirt, a chew can, and his wallet under my pillow. I didn’t get his shoulder to cry on or our bed to lay in, I got his voicemail hundreds of times and the songs he loved until I fell asleep.
This is where the resilience I learned from my childhood became a silver lining. I have always been that person described as ‘strong.’ Not physically by any means, but I’ve been through some stuff and managed to not fall apart along the way. Once, a social worker who never signed her cards because she wanted to make them more valuable by allowing the next person to reuse them, signed a card with the definition of resilience and said that’s what she would always remember me for. Her words made the card more valuable in my opinion. So that was my identity, that was immediately what my mind would jump too when crisis would happen – survive and grow. But I wasn’t. No one was treating me like the human being I was anymore. I was the poor widow with the baby who lost her everything. ‘Oh my, how does she keep going?’ I was the one whispered about when I walked into a room, ‘That’s her,’ followed by sad eyes and sorry smiles. I was invited everywhere suddenly because everyone felt the need to take care of me, but no one was treating me normally. Here I was, just trying to feel some sense of normalcy and still be considered the strong person I always had been, but being babied instead. I was so grateful, believe me, but it was maddening.
Then, a man entered my life. He was a loan processor at the bank I worked at, going through a divorce. We started as jokesters, sending each other quirky emails to brighten the otherwise dreary lives we were going back to. He had his crap he was going through, and I had mine. But he didn’t talk to me the way everyone else was. He was genuine in his conversation and shared his own troubles and life with me. He laughed with me about the world and then let me cry when I needed to. He let me spill my heart out in front of him and ugly cry and didn’t bat an eye. I saw his broken heart behind his tough guy attitude. It took 5 days for me to fall in love with him, my Evan. He encouraged me to be strong, saying he could tell I was the moment he met me. Some thought I was crazy, some thought it was too soon, but I thought he was a gift sent from above, and he thought I was too. He made me feel like myself again. And almost 5 months after losing Brandon, Evan and I eloped. Giving both of our broken hearts the love that they needed to keep going.
Today, Evan and I are raising our two beautiful daughters, Charlotte and Hazel. He adopted Charlotte, and she’s growing to know she has two of the most incredible fathers in the universe. We pushed through the hardest parts of our lives and can sit in our home together and watch the love unfold.
Sometimes mental health disorders can rear their ugly head and life can seem dark again, but there’s no avoiding that. We have a responsibility to Brandon though, to talk about him and keep his memory alive, because he was a force to be reckoned with and he was a friend to everyone he met, even if it annoyed me.
We have a responsibility to remember to look twice, so other bikers get to go home to their families and parents don’t have to bury their children. And we have a responsibility to not take this life for granted, to take the family pictures now rather than later, to quit arguing over nonsense, to sky dive, to get married… because you could be having refried beans and giggling about your future when it all comes to a screeching halt. But know that even if it does, even if the sky does fall and you cannot imagine breathing another day with the pain you’re feeling, you will survive and grow. You are capable, I promise.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shonna Timmons of Decatur, Indiana. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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