I’ll never forget the bitter winter morning a few years ago when my life would be forever changed, as it would for a woman we’ll call Rose – a young, single, working mom with another on the way. Rose wanted what we all want – a better life for her kids. I could easily relate.
That morning I’d dropped my son off at before-school care, kissed him goodbye and told him I’d be back later that afternoon to pick him up. Just like any other day, I made my way into work through pretty heavy snow and settled in for my shift. But remember, a crisis doesn’t care about your schedule.
We received a call on the crisis hotline about a fatal car accident. The road conditions were icy, making the two-car accident nearly inevitable. Two families lost three children between them. In the aftermath, a few colleagues and I went to the local hospital to offer our supportive skills. First, we comforted the driver of one of the cars, a mother whose child was lost in the accident. Then, we waited with heavy hearts as doctors brought Rose into the room where she would hear the news that no parent should ever hear. My fellow crisis workers and I stood outside the door as she was told her two beautiful children had not survived. I will never forget the wails of that heartbroken mother.
We joined Rose in the room and asked if she and her boyfriend would like our support. As I sat down, I asked if I could hold her hand. She said yes. Hospital staff told her she could see her children when she was ready. After many tears were shed and calls to family members were made, Rose was ready. With her boyfriend at her side, she stood up. I stood up with them, still holding her hand. As we walked, I could feel Rose tense, so as we entered the room I maneuvered my arm into hers to help hold her up. She moved towards the empty bed in the room and sat down. I suggested she take a few deep breaths. She did. She wasn’t able to say much — she was in such shock — but after a few minutes, she said that she wanted to touch them. I led her to their bedsides. Rose’s children were at peace, swaddled in beautiful, handmade quilts donated by volunteers.
We eventually made our way back to our office, debriefed and debriefed and debriefed what went on, what we did well and what we may have wished we had said. We talked and talked and talked and hugged, and I left that day a changed person. I left knowing I would return home with my child in tow, that the one I dropped off that morning would be waiting for me. I made it a half-mile down the road before pulling off to weep an ugly cry. The kind where you recite that mantra that gets you through, and mine was, “It won’t feel like this forever,” a mantra that has gotten me through many hard times over the years. Once I gathered myself together, I called my fiancé, my sisters, and just about every other significant person in my life. I didn’t want to waste another moment before letting them know how much I loved them. I scared the shit out of them and I’m pretty sure they all called each other before calling me again to make sure I was okay.
It’s a rare day when I see or hear from those who crossed my path in crisis, but that experience, that day in my life, has had long-lasting effects. Years later, I crossed paths with both of the mothers from that fateful day. Rose had followed up through our agency by using our available resources. She knew we were there and reached out when she needed support. The other mother – the driver – disclosed her story in a group setting. I recognized it immediately, and it left me speechless. And let me tell you that rarely happens! When you grieve, it’s hard to imagine you’ll ever smile again. Yet here she was healing through her grief. It was encouraging, it was life-affirming. I was grateful and humbled.