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Coping with the Shock of Unexpected Loss

From left to right: Lauren, Lisa, Brynlee, and KC on Brynlee’s birthday.

A few years ago, a close friend from work passed away from lung cancer. Lisa taught 7th grade Language Arts and we worked together for about three years. Probably her most notable quality at work was sharing with anyone who would give a moment the latest pictures and videos of her granddaughter, Brynlee. Cute as a button, I watched that little girl grow up on Lisa’s phone, mostly in the hallways at school. We also hung out frequently outside of work. Summers often included visits to Lisa’s house where we would enjoy her pool while she enjoyed a beer and a cigarette on the sidelines. Sometimes we’d carpool since she lived close to me. It didn’t matter where we were, her favorite topic of conversation was her granddaughter, and by extension, her daughter and son-in-law. She loved their little family with all of her heart.

When Lisa got sick, it wasn’t entirely a surprise. She had a pack or two cigarette habit for decades and she wasn’t particularly health-conscious with food and lifestyle choices. From diagnosis to her last breath, it was about a year of medical interventions then allowing nature to simply take its course. Andy and I would visit her in the hospital, dismayed at watching our friend who was so full of country spirit and Texas idioms dissolve into a skeletal shell of a woman. To say it was sad is an understatement, but it is easier to cope with grief when it is expected.

A few days ago, I heard from a mutual friend that Lisa’s daughter, Lauren, her son-in-law, KC, and granddaughter, Brynlee, was in a horrific car accident. They had just picked up Brynlee from kindergarten and they had stopped behind a school bus along with other cars and drivers. A large truck went over a hill and didn’t stop. The crash ricocheted the cars, leaving many dead and injured. KC and Brynlee died at the scene and Lauren was airlifted to a nearby hospital in critical condition with numerous injuries including a cracked skull. She survived and was lucid enough to hear what happened to her family.

Unlike Lisa’s death, there was no warning or expectation. This was an ordinary day, just a family driving home after picking their little girl up from school. I don’t know why the driver of the truck didn’t stop, whether the brakes were faulty, or if he was distracted with a cell phone or drunk. At first, I wanted to know the cause of the crash, but I realize now that it doesn’t matter. Knowing won’t bring back those people or rewind time. Maybe I wanted to know to have someone to blame because blame and anger are easier emotions to wrestle with than shock and grief. Brynlee was six years old. She hadn’t LIVED yet, how could her life be over already? Her father was an off-duty police officer. He was a good man who loved his family. When I met him a few years ago, that was what I remember most about him, how he exuded kindness and love, especially for his daughter and wife. With Lauren, I can’t even imagine the horror from waking up after such an accident and realizing that everyone you love is gone for no real reason except being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Hearing about the crash and what happened to Lisa’s family shook me to my core. I have every intention to live until I’m in my late nineties surrounded by my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, still holding Andy’s hand. Lauren and KC could very well have had that same intention. It’s no secret that death is imminent for everyone, that at any moment, with or without reason, we could simply die, and this could happen regardless of age. Like Death says in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels, “You live what anyone gets. You get a lifetime. No more. No less.” I have no fear of death from old age, which I think is as natural as life and birth itself. What I fear is sudden and catastrophic death, life severed by the senselessness of an unexpected tragedy. Yes, everyone gets a lifetime and the duration of that lifetime varies from person to person, but there is a fundamental difference in how that life ends.

I grieved. It still comes, this wave of sadness and loss coupled with tears. When Hazel asked, “Why Mommy cry?” I explained as best as I could that good people died for no good reason, but she doesn’t understand the concept of death. So then I say, “Sometimes, it’s okay to feel sad.” Perhaps it’s simple instinct, but her response was to curl into my lap, kiss me on the cheek, and whisper, “I wuv you, Mommy.” She may not understand death, but she understands empathy.

Andy and I talked about what happened, but then our conversation veered to the hypothetical. Something like this could happen to anyone at any time. What if this happened to us? What about the kids? We had talked about a living will in the past, but we didn’t do it. Blame it on procrastination or subconsciously avoiding facing our mortality, but talk about it we did, and nothing more. This event made us realize that for peace of mind, we need to get it done. So we made an appointment to have it done legally and talked about everything, especially the most important question: what happens to our children if we’re gone.

The hardest part of grief is the sense of helplessness, that there is nothing that you can do to change the situation. You can’t roll back time. You can’t change the outcome. There is nothing to do, but creating a living will with a concrete plan that we hope never needs to come to fruition is an action we can take. I find coping with the shock of unexpected loss easier to deal with when I have an action item. Instead of feeling helpless in the face of mortality, we can use this opportunity to ensure our children are protected and our loose ends are taken care of. We can pray that this never happens, but if it ever does, at least we can have some peace of mind.

In the meanwhile, please pray for the Robinson family, that Lauren heals physically and emotionally from this tragic accident, and that KC and Brynlee have reunited with Lisa.

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

The Celina Police Department is accepting donations for Detective Robinson's family. Click the link below to make a donation.


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