April 1 came on a Friday that year. A young couple in their early 30’s, we’ll call them Jim and Tammy, began making their plans for the evening and the weekend. Tammy was divorced with a young son. To save money, she lived at home with her parents. Jim was what you might say “between families”. Both of his parents were divorced and each has “new” families of their own leaving Jim in need of family roots. He thought he found it when he met Tammy and when her parents cared enough for him to let him live at their home as well. They were Jim’s new family. Jim’s small business had just started to pick up a little in the midst of a great recession, and about 5 pm on Friday, he and Tammy decided to go out and spend the evening together, just like they always did. They talked about going to a movie, but decided instead to stop off at a local restaurant and bar and have a couple of drinks to, in Jim’s words, “take the edge off”. Time passed and they stayed a little longer than they had expected, but were enjoying each other’s company over a few drinks. They decided later to meet a friend of Jim’s at another bar in a small town about a half hour away where Jim grew up. When they finally arrived, the friend had already left, so they stayed and had a few more drinks before going home. They didn’t want to be out too late. That Friday evening was a cool are somewhat rainy night. They paid their check a little after 10 pm and began the trek home in Tammy’s car. At approximately 10:50 pm, the Sheriff’s Dispatch got a 911 call of a single car accident with apparent injury. Somewhere between checking out and the time of the 911 call, the car Jim was driving left the dark road near a sharp curve. It hit a couple of trees deploying both airbags, then traveled back across the road, into a ditch and came to rest after finally hitting yet another tree on this other side of the road. Witnesses said Jim was walking around outside the car in a daze. Jim remembered nothing. Emergency crews quickly arrived on the scene and took Jim to an area trauma hospital where he woke up having no idea what was going on. In his words, he thought someone was playing a cruel April Fool’s joke on him. Indeed, the story was about April Fools. Unfortunately, Tammy was not as lucky. About the time the County Coroner was taking Tammy to the morgue, my telephone rang at just about 1 am on Saturday morning. It was Dispatch. I was the Chaplain on call covering for another Chaplain who was out of town that evening. My job was to go with two Sheriff’s Deputies to the parent’s home to notify them of the accident and their daughter’s death.
Nothing can prepare you for what may happen when you knock on someone’s door in the middle of the night. When the Police and a Chaplain show up at your door at that hour, it is never good news. Tammy’s mother came and opened the door after knocking persistently. A Deputy asked “may we come in for a minute and speak with you?” As we sat down, Tammy’s father came in to see what was going on and we had to tell them there had been an accident and their daughter didn’t survive. It never fails to break my heart when I see the reactions knowing my own reaction is absolutely nothing compared to the shock they must be feeling at that moment. I can’t even imagine how I would feel in that situation. I don’t think anyone can understand unless they’ve actually experienced it. Yes, we’ve been trained in so many ways to help us prepare to make that notification, but no parent has ever had any training to receive that news about their own son or daughter, or loved one. They were in shock; almost unable to even process this information. There were only a few tears welling up in their eyes, but not the kind of reaction I might have expected. It seemed like they were asking themselves “are these people at the right house?” “Surely, there must be some mistake.” Continue reading April Fools