The following is part one of an ongoing series. It’s taken everything in me to put my experience into words but helps to explain where I am and where I’m going.
Two months ago tonight, I got a 3:00 a.m. call that would shake up my world forever. My niece, a sweet, funny, beautiful 30-year-old hardworking paramedic had crashed into a tree on her way home from dinner with a friend.
The phone call sometimes still feels like it was a tragic movie I had seen and not the nightmare it truly is.
It was one of those dreams where you hear ringing, not realizing that it’s happening in real life. Jumping up into a stiff sitting position in bed, I could feel what was going to happen even as Jeff turns on the light and tries to somehow decipher who was calling.
Two rings… three rings… four rings… “It’s the middle of the night, just answer it!,” I yell at my husband — partly out of frustration but mostly out of fear. The call went to voice mail.
At this point, I had no clue what time it was. The room was as black as can be with no sign of dawn ahead. Was it midnight? 4 am? It didn’t matter. What I did know is that it someone was calling our house in the middle of the night and it felt very, very wrong.
I looked at the missed call on the phone. It was my sister Ellen calling from her cell phone. One would think at this point that my sister calling in the middle of the night could only mean one thing, something had happened to my 75-year-old dad. But, strangely enough, that never even crossed my mind.
As I quickly called her back to find out what was wrong, I was smacked across the face, knocked down and then kicked repeatedly by the news.
“Kristen [our niece] was in an accident. She’s gone.”
What? Am I dreaming? This doesn’t make sense at all. Kristen? How could Kristen be gone? If there’s a person on this earth that should not be gone, it’s Kristen. Kristen? The one I used to babysit when I was just 11 years old. The one who had just finished working her tail off to achieve her dream of being a paramedic? The girl who would regularly save lives and, when not working, dedicate her free time to those in need, like the people after Hurricane Katrina?
How could Kristen not be alive?
My niece, one of my parents’ 30+ grand kids and the daughter of my oldest sister, Maureen, is one of the those people who, while stunning on the outside, was seen by anyone who knew her more for her inner beauty and strong sense of self. She’s the girl who would stop by unexpectedly to see her grandparents — just because. She would be the first to ask to hold one of her baby cousins and one of the only young women I know who would not only be willing to join her uncles year after year to see some old classic rock band that probably split before she was even born, but thrilled to spend that quality time with them.
Kristen had just become an auntie for the first time to her sister’s newborn and was so excited that her brother had just brought his new wife and beautiful step kids into the family, as well as a nephew due in October. She had just been going off on her Facebook page about needing a root canal at the dentist and finishing classes. She can’t be dead. There’s just no way.
I sat in bed stunned by the news, knowing I could never go back to sleep but unable to move my body. Eventually, Jeff and I numbly made it down to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee, trying to figure out what to do next. I remember asking him over and over… is this real? Am I seriously awake? The look on his face was enough to confirm that this unthinkable tragedy was actually happening and that I was about to experience a week I will never, ever forget that would leave me seriously questioning my own choices and those that could seriously affect my family’s future.
To be continued….