Breanna Joy was my kid sister; my confidant, my best friend, and my steady rock. We didn’t always get along, but we lived in a small town and we were often involved in the same activities. I’m not sure if it was the age difference or the grace of God, but we had a special bond. As we grew older, we became even closer. In fact, we had some of the same friends at the local dance studio. Our lives were woven together in every possible way.
In January of 1998, we moved to a new school and I didn't have a single friend. Of course, my sister made at least 62 friends within the first week. She was a delight, a woo, a genuinely charming little girl in all the best ways.
I had recently gotten my driver’s license and our school was a 45 minute drive down the mountain pass. During these long drives I secretly cherished our special time together. Breanna played part comedian, part counselor, and part listener.
On April 2nd, 1998, we never made it home from school.
I was so proud of myself. I had been so cautious and meticulous about the drive home. There was a crazy storm that came out of nowhere and the roads were getting worse and worse by the minute. We took our time winding through the mountain pass and finally made it within two miles of our house. Two miles. Two miles away from a very different life.
As I accelerated up the hill, we started drifting into a ravine and I quickly overcorrected into oncoming traffic. Suddenly there was a loud boom and I was gasping for breath. In that moment, it was like time stood still and I stepped outside of my body to see my worst nightmare unfold.
She looked peaceful, I thought. Her left hand was resting gently by her side; palm facing upwards and fingers gently curved into a perfect ballet hand. I shifted my gaze from her lap and slowly studied her face. She looked beautiful and happy, but for a single streak of blood running down her left side. When I saw the streak of blood, I snapped out of my trance and into the harsh reality.
She's not breathing. I let out a deep cry and begged her to breathe, but I was met with silence.
The silence paralyzes me in fear. I desperately want to reach out and touch her, but I am so scared. I’m afraid I’ll make things worse if I move, so I sit there in stunned silence, unable to move or make a sound. No.....no.....no, I repeat, over and over and over again, shaking my head in utter disbelief.
I can hear the voice of a woman in the background saying, “get the baby,” as I’m being pulled from the car. When I look out into the distance, I see a familiar face. A man walking towards the car, balancing himself in the snow and slush. I recognize the man as a member of our Church and for a moment I feel comfort amidst the chaos. I don’t know what prompted me to look into the distance, but seeing a face that I know feels a lot like grace in the middle of my darkness.
When I finally get a chance to see my parents, I cry a lot and tell them how sorry I am. I'm waiting for them to tell me how disappointed and angry they are, but I see only love and compassion in their eyes.
I'm fighting hard against the guilt and shame that consumes me. But finally, I buckle under the weight of it all and lose the will to live. For the next several days, I’m in and out of consciousness and it’s mostly a blur. Every so often I wake up to hear people speaking in hushed tones around me. The darkness feels so heavy, so thick, and so ostensibly infinite that I am blinded to the world around me. It's only me and the darkness and it feels impossible to crawl out.
My parents stay by my side, proclaiming their love for me hour after hour. When my older sister and brother arrive, I can barely stand to look them in the eyes. All I can think about is how sad and disappointed they must be. I can't face them. The thought of their grief weighs heavy on my heart, but when I look into their eyes, I see only love and compassion...... again. I'm surprised. I scan their faces for anger and disappointment, but I can't find it.
My older sister leans down every so often and whispers, “Amy, you have to try. You have to keep on living. There is so much for you to live for. We love you and we're for you. Please keep breathing.”
That night in the hospital, I’m startled awake and I see my brother lying next to me in a recliner; he quickly grabs my arm and asks if I’m okay. When I realize he’s been by my side all night, I feel wrapped up in love. In this tender moment, I am reminded of all the moments I have been met with love and compassion since Breanna died and I make the choice to live again. I can’t understand why there is so much grace for me, but I’m reaching for it, grasping blindly in the darkness for a way through.
For a long time I struggled with God's place in my story. I never blamed him for the tragedy, but it was hard for me to understand why he didn't stop it......because I believed he could.
A few years after the accident, my spiritual director asked me to imagine if God were there. At the time, I was dealing with intense moments of paralyzing post traumatic stress and she challenged me to embrace my flashbacks with this new perspective. She simply said, insert God into those terrifying moments and see what happens.....what if he were there with you?
That day, I went for a long walk and remembered all the painful details. I cried bitter tears as I saw my sister slip away, once again. But this time, I heard Jesus weeping with me. For the first time ever I wasn't left feeling afraid and alone in the darkness of that moment. I felt seen and heard while we both watched a broken world crush her body and swallow her up. And then I heard God say.........this is not the end.
That was the day I stopped believing God wasn’t with me; the day I stopped believing he never saw me suffering. When God showed me that he saw the world through my eyes, everything changed. I finally felt peace. The kind of peace that settles deep down into the darkest places of who you are and gives you rest in the unwavering love of God.