Coffee, angels, and the day I knew we were all going to die

I used to love snow.

I loved how clean it made everything look, how fresh it smelled, and the quiet it created.

Until last Sunday.

Now when I think of snow I think of terror, noise, and violence.

I hope I can learn to love it again.

We stopped for coffee at a gas station on I44. The weather wasn’t bad. It was snowing but the roads were still clear. Ironically, we chose I44 because it was less stress on our vehicle.  There was a cemetery next to the gas station and my husband drove through so I could take this photo:

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It’s kind of crazy now to think that at the exact time I was photographing the beauty in death, there was a man not far away that was living his final moments.

When we got back on I44 visibility was still okay. The roads were covered with white dust being blown by the wind but it wasn’t sticking at all.

About two minutes later it was like we hit a white wall. Visibility had to be less than 50 feet.

Vehicles were speeding past us on our left hand side but we had slowed to around 40 mph.

I was nervous as hell. Being from Florida I get nervous on snow and ice. I entertained myself for the next few minutes by posting on Facebook and Instagram. I was really just trying not to let my anxiety overwhelm me.

It was only a matter of minutes after leaving the gas station before we started seeing the first individual vehicles spinning out and landing on the side of the road. We didn’t stop because it was way too dangerous. We could see them on their phones, so we knew they were okay.

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Road conditions right before the accident.

We went down a large hill (I didn’t know it was a hill at the time because we couldn’t see) and onto a bridge. A gold Toyota pickup spun out in front of us and hit the rail. I remember seeing the driver looking at us in panic as we came to a stop. Turns out they weren’t looking at us – they were looking at the semi that sped past us and slammed into them seconds later.

We moved up a little on the bridge driving around the truck and a giant wall of wreckage came into view in front of us. Trucks, cars, and tractor trailers blocked the road entirely.

I looked in my mirror and that’s when I saw them. The semi and a black vehicle coming down the hill.

I knew they couldn’t see us yet.

I knew we were going to get hit.

At this point I was panicking inside, but nonetheless I managed to verbalize to my husband “we need to get the fuck off this bridge, we are going to get hit”. I knew if they hit us on that bridge we would end up in the river below.

He told me we weren’t going to get hit – but I know he knew better. He was just trying to make me feel better.

He moved our vehicle forward to try to find somewhere to escape the oncoming vehicles but there was nowhere to go. On either side of the road was a steep embankment. One led to trees, one led to a cement wall. Neither was an awesome option. He pulled as far up as he could to the tree side so that if we got hit we would go nose first, rather than roll.

We just had to sit there and wait for fate to play it’s hand.

Waiting to be hit was the worst 15 seconds of my life. My five year old twins were in the second row and my seven year old was in the third row passenger side – right in the path of the semi.

They were all yelling and begging us to get them out of there. You want to talk about feeling helpless? That’s it. We just kept saying it was all going to be alright and to just hold on.

A lot can go through your mind in a short period of time when you are preparing to die – and expecting to die when a semi is headed straight at your SUV at 70+ mph is a reasonable assumption.

I was certain, if anything, that Jude, my little light in this dark ass world was about to leave me. He was right in the path about to take the full hit of the monster that was bearing down on us. It was going to take an act of God to save him. I just had to accept that.

I remember talking to God. I remember saying in my head “Lord, if you take them, you better take me too, I don’t want to live without them.”

I thought about my daughter who we had just dropped off. “She has my parents, and they will have more than enough money to finish raising her and send her to college. She’s strong. She will be alright without us. She will move on”

“My friends know where we want to be buried. They’ll tell my parents to take us to Colorado. Mom will listen to them.”

There wasn’t sadness or worry at this point. Just acceptance. Calm even. Everything was very clear.

I even felt a bit of relief. We all spend our lives not knowing when we are going to die – but now I knew. Super Bowl Sunday 2018 was my date with death.

My brain just shut down at this point. There were no thoughts. Just silence and acceptance.

Then we got hit.

The next 5 seconds play back in my head like slow motion. It was like time slowed down. It was such a bizarre sensation.

I’ve been in my share of auto accidents, but this impact was like nothing I’ve ever felt. The force against my body was more like numbness rather than pain. It was like my soul was moving faster than my physical body and they were separated for a split second. All I saw in my head was white. I couldn’t see. I don’t know if my eyes were closed or if it was the force of the impact.

Somewhere between impact and losing my vision I saw the trailer of the semi running along our backside. That was a relief. I’m telling you – your brain can process thoughts so incredibly fast. I knew then that the worst was (probably) over.

The sedan hit us at the same time as the semi.

We flew off the road and down the embankment which I knew was a good thing. I could hear impacts behind us. At least we were off the road.

We slid sideways and landed against a tree. That’s when the third impact happened. A black SUV ran off the road, down the embankment and t-boned us on the back quarter panel on the passenger side.

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Our vehicle, left, after the accident.

We couldn’t get the doors open. Turns out, the vehicle was still in drive and we were just panicked. We needed to get the kids out and away from the scene because vehicles were still colliding above us and there was a good chance another was going to come down on top of us.

Mark got his door open and we yelled at everyone to get the kids out of the car.  The vehicle that was up against us was smoking and a fire was a very real possibility. A young guy came up and tried to help me and I remember telling him to forget me and get my kids.

You don’t really understand how traumatic an event like that is until you see it. I’ve seen videos on YouTube, but you cannot record the energy in those situations on camera.

It is absolutely horrific, tragic, terrifying, violent and traumatic.

When you are a child you are taught to call 911 in an emergency and that they will be there. Not in a situation like this.

There were no first responders. No police, no fire trucks, no ambulances. We were all alone out there in freezing temperatures. This was rural Missouri. No roads close by. No buildings for shelter. Just snow, smoke, panic, and shock.

The first emergency vehicle arrived about 45 minutes after we were hit. The roads were so bad and they could not get to the location.

There were three firefighters/paramedics on scene – but only because they were involved themselves. Thank God too, because they had the jaws of life with them and people were trapped. One man died.

Other than them, we were alone and on our own.

We eventually made it to a hotel thanks to some amazing people, but that’s a long story for another day.

While at the hotel I had these moments where I questioned if I was really alive. I was convinced in those moments that I was really in some fucked up afterlife and was going to realize we were all dead. This went on for about two days after the accident. Doctor diagnosed it as traumatic shock.

My shock really started right after the accident. I would zone in and out and have moments of clarity and fogginess where I just couldn’t function while we stood in the snow. The doctor said the cold made the shock worse.

That’s gone now and I’m glad. I was questioning my sanity.

But the noises and sounds are still there. I’ve never startled easily, but loud noises are terrible now. Those moments waiting to be hit won’t stop playing in my head. The what ifs keep me up at night.

Driving is getting easier, but I haven’t managed to drive off post yet. It terrifies me.

The kids are doing okay, but it’s obvious they’ve been affected. Especially Jude who took most of the impact.  In time though, we will heal.

For the most part I’ve resumed my daily activities. It’s important for me to do that, but I’m making sure I don’t push myself too far. I’ve had to admit to myself that my armor is a little weak right now and that it’s okay.

I don’t know how we walked away from this without injury or death. I struggle with rationalizing it.  All I know is that something was there with us that day on that highway and a miracle happened. God, angels, the universe – I don’t know – but it was more than just dumb luck and I am eternally grateful for it.

 

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