Not many people experience a moment when life as they know it ends, and the entire trajectory of their life does an about-face. I have. And on this day six years ago, everything about me, my life, my future was changed forever. My nearly four month old daughter stopped breathing, her heart stopped beating and though she was revived, I would never again see the baby girl I had dropped off hours earlier. November 3, 2011 was the day that everything changed forever.
Panic. Hysteria. Terrifying. Those are just a few of the words that I can find to describe how that day was for me. That day is so traumatic for me to relive. Even now, it’s difficult for me to speak about it. I find it much easier to hide behind my keyboard in the quiet, emotions in full force and write about it. But speaking about it, it hurts and I always cry.
Of course, there’s more than that day. The following 20 days we spent in the hospital, living in a state of complete shock, unable to comprehend what would lie ahead. The first couple months at home, where we had to reacquaint ourselves with a baby we did not know, in a new life with new worries, new medical terms and constant fear. And then the next nearly two years that it took me to come out of the darkness, to understand and accept our new lives, Elena’s new life. And most of all choose joy.
As Chad and I were remembering last night, talking over the little details and things we often forget, I just kept saying, “I can’t believe we lived through that.” I can’t. When we talk about that time, it sounds so impossible. It’s terrifying to look back and see what a valley we walked through, how dark and deep it was.
A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across my old Bible I used through my teenage years, and a letter fell out of it when I picked it up. I remembered stuffing it in there years ago. It was from someone, whom I don’t even remember, I met during a youth mission trip in 1998. On the back of the envelope was a Bible verse Deuteronomy 31:8:
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
In the letter she wrote, “God is going to keep using you in mighty ways, just keep trusting Him.” and she ended it with Psalm 121:1-2 “I lift my eyes up to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth!”
I don’t remember who this person was or what some of the other content in the letter was referring to, but I do know that these two verses struck me in the heart in that moment and have stuck with me the past couple difficult weeks. Whatever trials I was facing as a 14 year old when this letter was written obviously pale in comparison to the journey I began six years ago, but in that moment it was such an affirmation to something I already knew. I know how I, we, our family endured. We were never alone. We never could have survived this on our own and come out on the other side in the condition that we have. Our marriage. Ourselves. Our love and hope in our daughter. Our gratitude and perspective.
When I found those two verses in that letter, what spoke out to me was the love. The love of a God who will never leave me alone to weather the storm on my own, that will cradle my heart and protect me from what I cannot bear. It is the only explanation I have for the current state of my soul and my ability to choose joy in the often difficult days we face. Elena was saved that day. We all endured an unimaginable tragedy, but only a God whose love for us is so unfathomable, can take our tragedy, sustain us through it and use it to bring hope and shine a light in this dark world.
Over the last six years, you have shared this journey with me. You have supported us. You have loved us. You have stopped me in a Cracker Barrel to introduce yourself and tell me how much you have prayed for us! This blog serves us both. It allows me to share the truth of our journey with you, while keeping you connected with our sweet girl and the amazing things God is doing in our lives. Though somewhat selfishly, this is my story. I don’t speak for Chad and I try not to speak for Elena. It’s my truth and what is in my heart (hello, vulnerability!). About a year ago, someone asked me a question that has since stuck with me. I was asked what that day, November 3rd, 2011 and Elena’s injury was like for our family and friends, the people that were with us that day and in the following days, weeks, months. Perhaps it was the self-preservation mode that happens after a trauma or maybe it was too painful to know, but it occurred to me that I had never asked anyone (other than Chad) what their memory of that day was or how Elena’s injury affected them.
And so now, sheepishly, I ask. I ask because this question has been in the back of my mind for some time. And I feel like maybe this is part of my healing process, stepping outside my experience to try and understand someone else’s. Maybe someday I can share these with Elena and the boys as a reflection of the love, empathy and steadfast support you all have given our family. Painful to read I imagine, yes, and probably painful for some of you to share, but also it’s your story, woven into ours.
I have set up an email address firstname.lastname@example.org if you feel moved to share your experience, your memories or how Elena’s story has affected you. Six years of peaks and valleys, inspiration and desperation, hope and despair, frustration and blessings. I can only pray that Elena’s light has shown as brightly through the darkness for you, as it has for me.