Friday, April 15, 2011

The Nightmare Begins

It had been a pretty good day up to that point.  Supper was over earlier than usual for a busy summer evening.  We'd even had steak.  That morning, John had picked up the split side of beef we'd ordered from some farm friends of ours, and he was eager to try it.  He is also probably better at cooking steak than I, so he volunteered to cook.  No way I'd turn that down. So it was done, the steak was excellent, and was eaten and cleaned up already.  Yay for husbands who cook and clean. :)

The children were watching a video -- some kind of documentary I think.

I was obsessing over school, planning and such.  But at the moment I'd been conveniently distracted by the question of what kind of cat ours is, the gorgeous orange-colored, orange-eyed one who adopted us while we were away in Arizona, in June.  Did one of the children ask me?  Or did I remember that they had days before and I was stuck or overwhelmed (or both) and it seemed easier to research silly questions than to think through problems?  I don't know.

But there I was, looking online at cats, while thinking on numerous things, when to my surprise I became aware someone was coming to the door.

It was my parents.

It was almost as though we'd been waiting for them.  Except we weren't.

The house was clean.  Do you know how rarely that happens in a house with five children?  Or at least THIS house with five children?  There weren't even toys strewn all over the floor. 

So I looked around in pleasant surprise and thought in something like the following sequence:  Huh, I'm glad the house is clean.  Is that my parents?!  They never just stop by!...  Well, maybe they were in the area and decided to go ahead...

But in the back of my mind, other explanations were forming, none of them good.  I pushed them aside until I saw their faces as I opened the door.

My first question was whether Dylan was okay (my brother who is mentally disabled).  Yes, Dylan was okay, but they had something they needed to tell us.

By that time John was in the room and was aware there was something wrong.  The children had come pouring into the living room as well, thrilled to have a surprise visit from their grandparents, but John herded them back into the bedroom.

Was Grandma okay, I asked? (my grandma, my dad's mom -- she's in her 80's and recently had cancer)  Yes, she was okay.

Dad and Mom sat on the couch, Dad on the end on Mom's right, and I was on Mom's left.  John, having gotten the children back to their video for the moment, sat in a chair and we waited for Dad to speak.

This isn't necessarily an exact quote.  I was entering a dreamlike state already and everything is blurred.

We have some very bad news...

he said.

...Clint was killed in a car accident this afternoon...

he said.

Did my reality stop at "Clint" or "killed," or at the awareness that they were used in the same sentence in some form?

The next thing I was aware of was my husband's immediate crying.  Everyone grieves differently.

I don't know what I did exactly.  I was still in confused disbelief.

At some point I became aware of Mom, of the look on her face, her tears.  Did I shed a few?  We hugged.

At some point, my head was in my hands.

At some point, I questioned -- any mistake?  How? Whatever in the world there is to ask at a time like this to gain some control over the helplessness.

It was like some cruel joke.  I think I said something like that at one point, but I knew my parents would never pull anything like that...  I had fleeting thoughts hoping things as far-fetched as that it was some stunt he and friends pulled for one of their movies... anything that came to mind that could possibly make it not be true...

At some point I surrendered to the nightmare, but still hoped to awaken any moment.  Yes, just a moment more, and it will all be just a memory.  Because it couldn't possibly be real.

Not Clint.  Not him.  Not my baby brother I held and rocked and loved and watched grow up.  Not the one with the hole in his heart healed by God's goodness who the doctor said would live to see another 80 years, barring anything unforeseen.  Not the one grown strong and healthy and manly and full of life before our very eyes.  Not the one who was such a wonderful uncle to my children, who held them and played with them and loved them, who was closer in age to my firstborn than to either of his own siblings.  Not the one who was still only just turned 19.  Not the one with the brilliant mind, with all that life could offer before him, with him to pick and choose as he saw best.  Not the one who was choosing wisely in his youth, in whom young and old alike saw depth of character and wisdom far beyond his years, which could only have come from God.  Not the one who was traveling around so much recently, telling others the story of goodness, the old, old story of Jesus and His love.  Not that one.  Surely not. 



But yes, it was him.

The nightmare continued.

Dad and Mom had already been living it for hours, at the hospital with the body of their son, dead before they saw him there.

Clint had been pulling onto a busy highway near home.  He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  While he was crossing the westbound traffic, an approaching pickup truck it seems he never saw until too late slammed into the driver's door of his car at high speed.  It was a freak accident that could have happened to anyone.  Best guess is that he died instantly.  He was rushed to the hospital anyway as medical experts made every effort to try and save any bit of life that might be left in him.  All in vain.

But at the time we received the news, we knew very little about the accident.  We had no report, didn't even know where his car was.  Clint was dead, with almost no evidence that it had even happened save his dead body.  It was unreal.

Dad was in business mode.  There was a lot to do, no time for tears.  No time to feel.

He walked us through the dream.  Next scene:  children must be told.  Some in immediate tears, some trying to grasp it.  Mirrors of parents.  Sorrow for all but Liberty, who will never remember him.  Fade out.

There was a lot to be thankful for in it, Dad pointed out.  Better for him to die quickly than to linger in suffering a long time.  And he was a Christian, who died at a good point in his life, while living his life to the fullest and doing good works.  He would never have to endure any of the trials or burdens that often come later in life. 

He was right.  We had every reason to be happy for Clint.  It was for ourselves and others left behind that we would mourn.

Dad and Mom had others to tell.  They needed to catch Grandma before she went to bed.  They waited to tell Dylan until the next morning, as it would have been too late for him that night.  We were asked not to tell anyone until after Dylan had been told, as it would be awful for him to find out other than from them. 

And they left, walking into an unknown future as they had together for so many years.  One step at a time.

That was close to nine months ago.  How many times have I mentally relived that evening since it happened?  Not enough to make it seem quite real.  I wonder if it ever will.


  1. I simply can't imagine such life-changing news rocking my day-to-day, mundane routine. I've tried to imagine it before (morbid thinker that I am, I used to imagine someone coming to the door when Alan was out working an outage or a storm--esp after a coworker was killed on an outage) but I can't really imagine it b/c I always KNOW it's just my imagination. While I appreciate your reference to it having a dreamlike/nightmare quality, I can't help but think there would be an underlying reality or finality that would be completely different from my imaginings.

    I am so sorry for your loss.

  2. That same nauseous feeling comes over me every time I think of this, Amber. I have wondered several times how you heard this devastating, life-changing news, and how many times you've replayed that evening in your mind. We still think of you and your parents so often and pray. It must have really made an impression on my kids because even though they'd only met Clint a time or two at camp, they still, almost weekly, ask about Clint's death.

  3. So sorry that I never knew Clint, from all reports he was a fine Christian gentleman, Love you & yours, AL & Marlene...........

  4. Nightmare is the right word. That was the same word that replayed in my head three years ago when we found out about my dad's cancer, and the first few weeks were a constant struggle to pull the mind from a heartwrenching fog. We've since had time to "get used to the grief", and I don't know what nightmares are ahead, but I'm thankful that for now, God has given us so much more time of peace and joy with him.

    Your nightmare was different, more sudden and intense. Thank you for sharing something so personal. I could really picture it; I would imagine there are parts of that evening that are so crystal clear to you still and probably always will be. It was brutal enough news to so many of us brethren, to the point we remember the day we found out about Clint, too (almost 9/11 style, if that doesn't seem to cheesy to you). My tongue didn't want to say the words aloud to my husband that he was gone anymore than my eyes had wanted to comprehend what you typed. It's what you were saying about still trying to control the situation--willing myself to make it not be real somehow by not acknowledging it had actually happened. What cruel news indeed.

    We still pray for you, too. Thanks again for sharing; you never know how many can draw strength from reading of your brother's good life and the family who still loves him.

  5. Thanks for writing this account for us, Amber. It is very edifying. The phrase that comes to mind when I think of what happened is 'of whom the world was not worthy.' May God continue to comfort and strengthen you for the good work you do for Him every day.

  6. I am so very sorry for your loss. He was a beautiful young man. Praying for continued comfort and grace to you.

  7. Amber, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I've heard it said that doing so helps with the healing.....which might mean writing those thoughts and feelings for many years. Your Christian brothers and sisters are here to read those words and mourn with you. My prayers for you and the rest of the family continue. I appreciated Wendy's comments as well when they received the word on her dad's cancer. I can relate that to my dad's diagnosis of Pick's Disease, a rare form of Alzheimer's. Death has it's sting---whether in a quick form like Clint's or in a long, drawn-out, going down hill type that my dad went through and Pat Hermon went through with her cancer. Thank you again, Amber!