10 years later
I went to bed on March 18, 2004 anticipating the following day to be normal. Nothing exciting was happening at school. I knew I had a basketball game the following night that truthfully, I did not care about. By all accounts, March 19, 2004 was supposed to be normal, uneventful, mundane. It was supposed to be a day that is eventually meshed together with all the other days of high school. Lost in the web of memories, unable to be separated from any other day.
For those who know me, or know my family, know that March 19, 2004 was far from what we had anticipated. It was a day where everything changed. Mundane. Normal. Uneventful. Those words are the complete antithesis of March 19. It was on that day, that my younger sister, Whitney, was in a life altering car accident. That day everything changed. Everything.
Today marks the tenth year since the accident. The milestone serves as a good opportunity for some reflection on all that has transpired over the years. My mind and heart have been exhausting themselves in recent days in the attempt to gather all of my thoughts. Below is a small snapshot of what I have been able to put together. A list of ten things I have learned as a result of Whitney’s accident.
1. God is good
I truly believe this. With all my heart, I believe it. God is full of love, grace, compassion, and wisdom. Sometimes things happen and we do not know why. We want answers, we feel like we deserve answers (even though I’m pretty sure God has earned the right to do whatever He wants!). Whether it was through His healing hand, His peace, His comfort, His presence through the Body of Christ, the days that immediately followed March 19, one would have had to be blind to miss all the ways in which God was displaying His goodness. His goodness does not always result in our happiness, but because of His goodness we can always have joy. That, perhaps is the single most memorable aspect of Whitney’s accident; walking into the hospital knowing she may not come out alive, having all my happiness flee from my heart the moment the first phone call came in with the news, yet being filled with joy knowing that my God was in control. Certain that my God is good. Aware that my God can perform miracles. There is joy to be found in Jesus, when the world takes away all your happiness, God is still good. He is still on the throne.
2. Family is vital
I am blessed to have had many opportunities where I continue to witness and experience this truth. My family is so incredibly important to me, and throughout the years they have been absolutely vital. In those moments after the accident, our family was together. Philip traveled back home as soon as he could. We came together as a family to love, support, encourage one another.
Having lived in multiple states, and in different countries, people often ask, “where is home for you?” The truthful answer is, “wherever my family is.” I love the depth, the friendship and the connection that we have as a family.
3. There is nothing like the love of a parent.
One of the most striking memories I have comes from the day after Whitney’s accident. My dad and I had to drive from Boston back to New Hampshire and while doing so, my dad called a former colleague to share the news. My dad barely got out three words before he started breaking down in tears. For me to witness a man I admire so much for having great strength, courage, and passion, to openly break down, is not something I will forget. In that moment I saw that it is okay to be weak. It is okay to admit that you are scared. All of this coming from a man who four years earlier had beat cancer! His cracking voice spoke of his deep love for Whitney. His emotions overtook him when he spoke about the possibility that she may not survive. His love for his daughter, was incredible to see.
My dad and I drove back, my mom stayed at the hospital. In fact, I think if you were to go down to MGH today, there may be a dent in the floor from where my mom was. She was there all day and all night. All. The. Time. She never left my sister’s side. She was there for her throughout the weeks after her accident. In those moments my mom showed such great attributes of strength, dignity, love. I truly do not know how my mom did it. I am convinced she is superwoman. She took care of our family in a way that cannot be put into words. Her inner strength, and her love, is phenomenal.
Hearing the crack of my dad’s voice as he fought back the tears, seeing my mom never give up and never leave Whitney’s side – left me in awe of the love of a parent. There is nothing like it. My parents are pretty awesome.
4. Laughter is amazing.
The road has not been easy. These past ten years have brought a lot of challenges, a lot of hardships. For those who know Whitney, most would say there is one defining part of her character, laughter. She laughs a lot. Not only that, but she makes other people laugh. Nobody on this planet can make me laugh so hard, with such ease, as Whitney does. Her stories, though pointless, are hilarious. Her antics in getting you to repeat something is aggravating, but hilarious. Her creativity and imagination is impeccable. Her wit (no pun intended) is unmatched. I leave every interaction with her having spent considerable time in laughter.
With the many challenges and difficulties that have blown through over the past ten years, Whitney’s laughter, and her ability to make others laugh has been amazing.
One example of her laughter; about a week after the accident Whitney came out of the coma and was starting to speak again. The nurses were trying to monitor the functionality of her brain and would occasionally ask “Whitney, do you know what time it is?” to see if she could recall how long she had been awake. At one point Whitney answered the nurses’ question with such confidence as she said, “it’s five o’ clock” The nurses were a bit discouraged as it was actually mid-morning, they said, “are you sure?” Whitney quickly came up with lyrics from a popular song at the time and whipped back, “Well… it’s five o clock somewhere!” Everyone burst out laughing.
5. Never give up
There are many reasons why Whitney shouldn’t be where she is. The effects of the accident left her with a long list of hardships that will never leave her. Yet she refuses to give up. She won’t give up. In ten years I have seen her overcome so many obstacles. It hasn’t always been easy. It hasn’t come without its knocks and bruises. At times, she has been knocked down. Yet, every time, she gets back up. She is strong. Oh man is she strong! She doesn’t give up.
6. Driving 135 mph is pretty cool
My mom, dad and I were driving back from the basketball game when we first heard that Whitney had been in an accident, and was taken to the hospital. Shortly after that phone call, we received a phone call from a Church friend who happened to be a state trooper. We gave him the make and color of the car we were in, and the route we were traveling to get to the hospital. Using his connections, he communicated to all of the troopers along our route, that we were going to be driving, and driving fast. We were not to be pulled over, but were allowed to get to the hospital as fast as we could. My dad has never had a heavier foot, as he pushed the car to 135 mph. It doesn’t happen often that you get to go 135 without fear of being pulled over.
7. Surround yourself with those who care about you
Since we were coming from over an hour away, many friends had received word about the accident and got to the hospital before we did. I still have a mental snapshot of walking into the hospital and seeing many friends and families waiting and praying for us. In the days that followed, we were showered with friends who cared about us, and for us. Prayers from all over the world were laid before the throne of God. Meals were given to us. People rallied around us and surrounded us.
In the ten years since, I have found how invaluable it is to be surrounded by friends who care for you. Friends that will pray with you, and for you. Who will listen to you, challenge you, be there for you. In college, I shared with a friend about Whitney’s accident. A few days later he said, “I want to make a pact with you. Each Friday I am going to pray for Whitney, and you are going to pray for my sister.” As I sat down to type this all out, I sent him a text message asking him to pray for me, knowing the heaviness hovering over my heart. He surrounded me ten years ago with his prayers. As Whitney has gone through the ups and downs over the years, he, and so many others, have continued to surround me and our family. I have a group of guys that have walked through so much of this with me, that I truly think they view Whitney not just as my sister, but as their sister.
8. You can’t change mistakes, but you can learn from them.
One of the things I struggled with for quite a while after Whitney’s accident was guilt. For a long while I felt as though I had been a complete failure at being her older brother. I had failed to protect her. Failed to look out for her. Failed in being the older brother I wanted to be. Thoughts of, “You should have done X differently” or “You did X so wrong and completely messed it up” flooded my mind and heart.
When Whitney survived the accident, I knew that she wasn’t the only one who had been given a second chance. I felt as though I had been given a second chance at being her older brother. I cannot change the mistakes I made, and the ways in which I failed to be her older brother prior to the accident. But, I hope that I have learned from them, and been different since then. I am so thankful for the second chance I have been given, and pray that I have been doing a better job in the past ten years, than I did in her first 16 years. You cannot change the mistakes you have made, rather than let that get you down, learn from the mistakes and be better because of them.
9. No day is mundane and unimportant
March 19, 2004 was supposed to be a mundane day. It was supposed to be a day that was going to slip into the pages of history without anything significant happening. As a senior in high school, its biggest purpose was to bring me one day closer to graduating from high school. Yet, it is a day that now holds great significance. A day that will never be forgotten. A day that leaves me with an incredible truth; no day is unimportant. No day is mundane. We are unaware of how many days we have left on this earth. Nobody in my family thought March 19 would be any different than March 18 was. It could have all been taken away from Whitney in a second, it nearly was.
Each and every day has a purpose. Each day we are given, we have Kingdom things we can accomplish. The day is significant because God has allowed us to breathe a few more breaths. He has laid in front of us a few more opportunities to share with others His love through our words and actions.
You can look up the definition for the word purpose and one of the things you will find is this; the reason for one’s existence. There is a reason for our being here. There is a purpose for each of us today. No day is mundane. No matter how unexciting it may appear. Regardless of how unimportant it may look on paper, God has given us today, and there is something significant we can do with it.
10. I have the greatest sister in the world.
It’s true. I do. She is amazing. She has been through so much in the past ten years. Despite all she has been through she continues to change lives with her bubbly attitude, her tremendous stories, and her incredible humor. She makes people laugh. She makes people feel valued. She provides people with courage. She has an imagination that is incredible. She walks around with a confidence that says, “I am completely comfortable with who I am.” Seeing that attitude in her, instills courage and confidence in me when I am around her. I have the greatest sister in the world.
Whitney, thank you for being the greatest sister I could ever ask for. You are such an incredible person and I am filled with such admiration for everything you have done. You haven’t had the easiest of times, but you have never given up. You are an example of courage and perseverance to myself and to so many others. As you think back to what happened ten years ago today, and all that you have been through in the past ten years, I pray that you will be filled with purpose, excitement, and passion today. In all you do, may you show people the love of Christ, and give them a reason to laugh. Whether at you, or with you…you and I know that both will happen! I am honored, privileged, and blessed to have you as my little sister. Thanks for being so awesome.