It was the worst June ever.
I was only a few days into a 10-day South Island road trip with my American friends who came all this way to see me, when we got the news that my lovely father-in-law was dying.
It wasn’t a shock, as he’d almost died back in April, due to heart, liver and kidney issues. We knew he was on borrowed time. He’d been back in hospital for two weeks while the doctors tried to get to the bottom of the problem. Mr G and I had even discussed what we’d do if the worst happened while I was away on holiday with my friends.
The worst did happen.
At first we were told he was dying, this was really it. I was in Omarama with my friends. Fortunately we were only two hours out of Queenstown, travelling on a familiar road. There was a flight out to Wellington (where my FIL lived) if we left in a hurry.
As I was driving my husband called with the news that his dad had passed away.
There is such a huge difference between knowing something sad and painful will happen, and it actually happening.
I felt so awful for Mr G, who had a warm and loving relationship with his dad. I was gutted for our children, who will never get to appreciate the vibrant wit and spirit of their Granddad – let alone the loss of a man who was just crazy about them, and thought everything they did was wonderful and marvellous. And there was my own grief, for the loss of a man who I loved and cared for.
I also felt anger and grief at losing precious time with my friends. We were going to explore part of the South Island I had never been to before. I was so enjoying their company, after not seeing each other for over six years. My friend J and I have been friends for over 25 years, first meeting in journalism class in a Kansas high school where I was an exchange student. J and her mom are so, so special to me. It felt cruel to have to leave them to continue the journey on their own. I still feel angry at losing this time with them, even though it is absolutely no one’s fault. But it is still there, all the same.
The next few days were a blur; organising all the things that need to be done when someone passes away. My FiL’s affairs were in a right mess, but we experienced the love and care of many, many people in our village.
Friends had our children over for playdates. Relatives looked after our children so we could concentrate on organising the funeral. We got so many messages of support from all sorts of people. The minister from our old church – where Mr G and I met – took the funeral service. A friend from that church took time off work to be on the sound desk for the funeral. Many of our church friends came to the service. A good friend of mine, who barely knew my FiL showed up to the funeral just to support Mr G and I.
My FiL died without a will, and it’s been such a headache to sort out, resulting in Mr G being on the phone to family members most evenings.
Two weeks after the funeral we got the news that Mr G’s terminally-ill aunt was on her way out. Fortunately she pulled through and is still with us. Then two days later I had a spectacular car crash.
I was on my way to Christchurch, planning to spend the day hitting a couple of shops, before going to the museum and art gallery. My idea of a great day. Mr G had been away for his ministry training and I was going to pick him up in the evening. Then we were off for a few child-free nights to stay in beautiful Akaroa.
I took the back roads because they are safer….I was singing along to music when suddenly the steering wheel jerked out of my grasp. It took me several seconds to register what had happened – the car had hit a patch of black ice. There was no visible frost anywhere – it was mid-morning on a very sunny day – so ice was the last thing I was expecting. I was on a long, straight road, going around 90kph.
As the car lost traction, there was nothing I could do.
My first thought was ‘I’m going to die!” followed by ‘this is really going to hurt!”
The car spun over to the other lane, hit a concrete race on the side of the road, spun again, hit another race, and then came to a stop on the side of the road.
When the car came to a stop, I was stunned to find myself alive, and relatively unhurt (or so I thought). I’d given my knee a huge whack on the steering column, and my seat had twisted so it was almost facing sideways, but I was okay. Luckily no cars had been coming the other way otherwise it might have been a different story.
“NOT TODAY SATAN!”, I yelled. Plus some swear words.
A lady travelling behind me witnessed the whole thing and called an ambulance, and came to check on me. She told me she thought I might be dead after seeing the accident. She couldn’t believe it when I told her I was mostly okay.
I decided to stay put in the car because I wasn’t sure if my leg was broken or not. I thought not, but decided to play it safe.
Another couple who lived nearby stopped and stayed with me until the emergency services arrived, saying that the particular stretch of road I was on was notorious for black ice. And I’d gone that road because it was safer…
I had a first responder (volunteer) turn up, followed by the fire service and police. The policeman was livid – not at me, but at the local council as he’d told them to grit that part of the road the day before! He assured me the accident was not my fault.
I was treated for possible spinal injuries which meant the ignominy of being strapped to a board and lifted out through the back of the car.
An ambulance had arrived, and by the time I was put in it, I realised that my chest and ribs were not okay. Apparently shock does that – you focus on the bit that hurts the most, and just don’t notice everything else!
The rest was like something out of a movie.
Being put in the ambulance, loaded up with painkillers, seeing the hospital only by its ceiling tiles (I was not allowed to move, and was strapped to a board for hours), having an MRI, being poked with myriad needles as my veins weren’t cooperating. The nice doctor apologising for all the needle marks. The nurse who stroked my hand and told me how well I was doing. The hospital volunteer who texted people for me because I couldn’t move. The receptionist, who turned out to be a minister herself, inviting Mr G and I to stay with her.
It was the most horrible day of my life. And I was alone – except for the amazing hospital staff, but you know what I mean. My Mil and my children were home in Pleasant Point. There was nothing they could do, and I didn’t want to worry the kids. Mr G couldn’t get to me until about 7:30pm that night – he’d had no choice but to stick to his original flight from Tauranga. His ministry school kindly organised a rental car for him.
It wasn’t until Mr G arrived until I finally burst into tears. I had survived a high speed crash with only two fractured ribs, a prolapsed spinal disc, and several bumps and bruises.
I was determined to carry on to Akaroa, which turned out to be a good thing as I had three days without my children trying to jump on me.
I had never been to the beautiful, french-influenced village of Akaroa before, and I loved it.
Despite my injuries, and the painkillers making me sleepy, I made the short walk to Akaroa lighthouse. It was a warm, sunny day and I just felt so incredibly grateful to be alive.
I said many prayers of praise and thanksgiving that day.
The awful terror I’d had, where I honestly thought I was about to die stayed with me for several days. I am still very twitchy in cars as a passenger, and now I can drive again, I am naturally very paranoid about any roads that have trees shading them. I can’t wait for warmer weather to arrive so I can relax again!
But several weeks on I am almost back to normal. My bruises are gone, and my ribs are almost mended. Life goes on.
If you are one of the people who sent me a message of support or a card, or cooked us a meal, or prayed for me, I’d like to tell you just how much it means to me. Thank you so much.
If you are a pray-er, would you please pray for Mr G? The poor man has had to look after an injured wife, whilst grieving for his father, trying to sort out the estate, plus working, study assignments, applying for a new job (his internship finishes at the end of the year)… It’s a heavy load to bear, although he’s doing it with his usual humour and grace. But prayers appreciated just the same.
“Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30