Read an Excerpt
The End and the Beginning
You know as well as I there's more.
There's always one more scene no matter.
Catastrophic loss wreaks destruction like a massive flood. It is unrelenting, unforgiving, and uncontrollable, brutally erosive to body, mind, and spirit. Sometimes loss does its damage instantly, as if it were a flood resulting from a broken dam that releases a great torrent of water, sweeping away everything in its path. Sometimes loss does its damage gradually, as if it were a flood resulting from unceasing rain that causes rivers and lakes to swell until they spill over their banks, engulfing, saturating, and destroying whatever the water touches. In either case, catastrophic loss leaves the landscape of one's life forever changed.
My experience was like a dam that broke. In one moment I was overrun by a torrent of pain I did not expect.
Lynda, my wife of nearly twenty years, loved to be around her children. Each one of them was a gift to her because, after eleven years of infertility, she never thought she would have any of her own. Though she earned a master's degree in music from the University of Southern California, became a professional singer, choir director, and voice coach, and served church and community, she could never entirely let go of her longing for children. When she delivered four healthy children in six years, she was overjoyed. She relished the wonder of motherhood.
In the fall of 1991 Lynda was teaching a unit of home school to our two oldest children, Catherine and David, on Native American culture. She decided to complete the unit of study by attending a powwow at a Native American reservation in rural Idaho. So we piled our four children into the minivan on a Friday afternoon to drive to the reservation, where we planned to have dinner with the tribe and witness our first powwow. My mother, Grace, who had come to visit us for the weekend, decided to join us on the excursion. At dinner we talked with tribal leaders about their projects and problems especially the abuse of alcohol, which undermined so much of what they were trying to accomplish.
After dinner we strolled to a small gymnasium, where the powwow had already begun. Once again we sat with several tribal leaders, and they explained the dances that tribal members were performing and the traditional dress the dancers were wearing. One dance in particular moved me a dance of mourning for a loved one from the tribe who had recently died. I was mesmerized by the slow, understated movement of the few who danced before us. The dance, chant, and drumbeat created a mood reflecting the sorrow that they and now we felt.
After about an hour of watching the powwow, several children from the tribe approached us and invited our two daughters, Catherine and Diana Jane, to join them in a dance. The boys decided to explore the gymnasium for a while. That gave Lynda and me an opportunity to learn more about the tribe.
By 8: 15 p.m., however, the children had had enough. So we returned to our van, loaded and buckled up, and left for home. By then it was dark. Ten minutes into our trip home I noticed an oncoming car on a lonely stretch of highway driving extremely fast. I slowed down at a curve, but the other car did not. It jumped its lane and smashed head-on into our minivan. I learned later that the alleged driver was Native American, drunk, driving eighty-five miles per hour. He was accompanied by his pregnant wife, also drunk, who was killed in the accident.
I remember those first moments after the accident as if everything was happening in slow motion. They are frozen into my memory with a terrible vividness. After recovering my breath, I turned around to survey the damage. The scene was chaotic. I remember the look of terror on the faces of my children and the feeling of horror that swept over me when I saw the unconscious and broken bodies of Lynda, my four-year-old daughter Diana Jane, and my mother. I remember getting Catherine (then eight), David (seven), and John (two) out of the van through my door, the only one that would open. I remember taking pulses, doing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, trying to save the dying and calm the living. I remember the feeling of panic that struck my soul as I watched Lynda, my mother, and Diana Jane all die before my eyes. I remember the pandemonium that followed people gawking, lights flashing from emergency vehicles, a helicopter whirring overhead, cars lining up, medical experts doing what they could to help. And I remember the realization sweeping over me that I would soon plunge into a darkness from which I might never again emerge as a sane, normal, believing man.
In the hours that followed the accident, the initial shock gave way to an unspeakable agony. I felt dizzy with grief's vertigo, cut off from family and friends, tormented by the loss, nauseous from the pain. After arriving at the hospital, I paced the floor like a caged animal, only recently captured. I was so bewildered that I was unable to voice questions or think rationally. I felt wild with fear and agitation, as if I was being stalked by some deranged killer from whom I could not escape. I could not stop crying. I could not silence the deafening noise of crunching metal, screaming sirens, and wailing children. I could not rid my eyes of the vision of violence, of shattering glass and shattered bodies. All I wanted was to be dead. Only the sense of responsibility for my three surviving children and the habit of living for forty years kept me alive.
That torrent of emotion swept away the life I had cherished for so many years. In one moment my family as I had known and cherished it was obliterated. The woman to whom I had been married for two decades was dead; my beloved Diana Jane, our third born, was dead; my mother, who had given birth to me and raised me, was dead. Three generations gone in an instant!