I am sitting alone in a quiet café, the sun unexpectedly shining on my face. It’s an unfamiliar but welcome feeling. It’s been a dark grey and very wet winter here in the Pacific Northwest. This one hit me harder than any other.
I just left an emotional appointment with my acupuncturist. I started seeing her almost a year ago to deal with pain related to a car accident I was in September 2018. Aside from a blog I wrote the night of the incident, I haven’t talked much about the accident or the deep impact it’s had on my life.
I was 11 months postpartum and driving home alone from a therapy session when a car ran a red light and hit me, the collision sending my car into opposite lanes of traffic, hitting a curb at high speed where it flipped over leaving me terrified and upside down in the middle of a very busy intersection.
Several hours later, after a trip to the emergency room and some x-rays I was sent home with a diagnosis of whiplash and was told to rest, take ibuprofen, and follow up with my physician if I experienced any residual pain.
That was 16 months ago — I’m still getting treatment.
The accident came at a time that was already emotionally charged for me. My father’s health was rapidly declining due to prostate cancer that had metathesized into his lymph nodes, I was taking medication for postpartum depression after the birth of my 2nd daughter, and I was in therapy to continue healing from the death of my first born daughter Poppy.
The morning of the accident, I said goodbye to my mother and father not knowing if I would ever see my father again. He and my mother were visiting us in Seattle for what we suspected was the last time he would travel. His body was failing him — he could barely walk and his energy levels were desperately low. Despite it all, his spirit was incredibly calm and present. He didn’t complain. He wasn’t resentful. He was a pillar of internal strength.
I, on the other hand, was an emotional wreck. We’d celebrated my 38th birthday the day before and I cried off and on throughout the day.
I was drained from a 4-day trip to Whidbey Island where we retreated together. I’d planned the whole thing and reserved a cabin on Goss Lake not realizing there was no television and no wi-fi. My dad had really been looking forward to watching some football and my husband, a software engineer, needed to work remotely. Moxie, my daughter, was 11 months old and hadn’t slept well in the unfamiliar environment. My mother was unintentionally driving me nuts and as I have so many times before, I’d lost my cool with her that morning as we were packing up and leaving for home.
I was exhausted. I was embarrassed. I was terrified that my dad was going to die and that this was the last birthday I’d ever spend with him. I was beating myself up internally because I just couldn’t pull it together to be grateful for the time that I did have with him. It was a perfect storm of overwhelm.
As I sat in therapy the morning of the accident, just hours after saying goodbye to my parents, my therapist and I took time to get present. I was seeing her specifically to continue processing the death of my first born, but that day we stepped into the present moment to consider my father and the gravity of the truth — he didn’t have long to live. I was going to lose one of the most important people in my life. Again.
I remember sitting on her couch, looking at the abstract art on the wall, box of Kleenex in my lap, trying to wrap my head around the fact that I may never see him again. That maybe saying goodbye to him on the curb while the Uber driver loaded luggage into the trunk was the last goodbye. That hug, that kiss, that totally emotionally messed up birthday the day before was it.
It was really hard. I wasn’t ready. My father was bedrock in my life. He was the ground I stood on when mine felt like quicksand. He was compassion and grace without trying.
He had a quiet, reassuring resolve and he listened. He never offered advice unless I asked. And when he had something to say, it was powerful, wise, and gentle.
The hour of therapy passed quickly. We focused exclusively on my grief for my dad’s health, my love for him. Lindsay, my therapist, listened. She reminded me that my feelings were normal and that in the context of losing my daughter, my father’s illness felt particularly heavy. She held space with my emotions and at the end of our session we confirm our next appointment 2 days later.
Walking down to the parking garage, I remember feeling a sense of calm and peace. Grateful that I had a therapist to not only deal with things that happened in the past, but to take time to process what was happening in the present. I paid $7 at the garage exit and turned right onto Boren Avenue.
Two minutes later my car was upside down, crushed, glass shards surrounded me, and a robotic voice of the emergency assistant in our CRV alerted me that the police were called. I heard someone outside my car yell that help was on the way. I reached for my purse and grabbed my cell phone to call my husband. You can read my accounting of the next couple hours here.
Today is the first time I’ve written about my therapy session 2 days later. Car totaled. Life upside down. Body sore. I sat on Lindsay’s couch. “How are you?” she asked. “I’m a mess.”
For the next hour she listened as the gravity of the accident started to sink it. Yes, I’d walked away. No, I didn’t break any bones. But my life flashed before my eyes. Two days prior, I was lamenting I might never see my father again. That he might die before I got to be with him again. Never did it cross my mind that I might be the one to go.
Nothing felt certain. Life was forcing me to examine my own mortality. I wasn’t ready for that either.
So, that was 16 months ago. I did get to see my father alive one more time. That December I flew home with Moxie and we had a wonderful visit with my daddy, my mom, and my big sister Kellee. It was peaceful and perfect. This time when I said goodbye, I was feeling the stress of getting to the airport on time and making sure I had everything in order to travel with my 1 year old. I don’t even remember that goodbye. It was rushed, perhaps. Or it was perfect, I don’t know. But I wasn’t afraid — I remember that. I remember the love.
My dad passed away last February after a long battle with cancer. He’s at peace now. And for a little while I felt peace too. But these past few months have been challenging and as the winter weather and darkness have forced me inside, so too have my thoughts and feelings about my father turned in. I am very sad that he’s gone. I am very sad that my mother is all alone. I am very sad that my little Moxie won’t grow up with her granddaddy. I am very sad that I can’t pick up the phone and be reassured at any moment that I am loved unconditionally by the man who brought me into this world.
At this point in my life, I am no stranger to grief. I am no stranger to trauma. I am no stranger to depression. Likewise, I am a goddess. I am a warrior. I am healing. I am a healer.
My story matters. Yours does too. As I continue to grow and do this deep work of sharing my insides with you, I hope you give yourself the grace to feel what you need to feel. I hope you have the courage to allow yourself the space to process your own life experiences. And if I can ever be a listening ear, or help guide you along on your journey, please let me know.