Today marks the 10 year anniversary of the death of my mother, brother, and grandmother. Many people who know me, may vaguely know what happened, but I don't talk about it often, if ever, because it makes people sad and uncomfortable. But since it's 10 years to the day, I'm gonna tell the story.
It was Winter Break 2003 and my Daddy's side of the family (minus my uncle and his children) decided to take a family vacation to Edisto Island in South Carolina. Grandma, my two aunts and their children (two girl cousins and two boy cousins), as well as this random guy one of my aunts was boarding arrived at my family's house Christmas day. We exchanged gifts, packed up a rented 15 passenger van and Grandma's car and we all headed down to the beach. It was probably one of the most perfect Christmases I remember having; there was such happiness in the air. And the week before we had gone to Grandma's house and taken family pictures for the first time in years. All was right for the first time in a while.
We, 14 of us including me, were staying in a large timeshare house and basically walked to the beach every day, ate, played games, talked, and watched movies. I imagine this is what normal family's do when vacationing together. One night we decided to go into Charleston and have some fun. But people were a little cranky and so we just ended up buying some fresh fish to take back to the house and eat. I was in the very back row of the 15 passenger van with my two girl cousins on either side of me. I don't really remember where everyone else was sitting aside from my dad driving and my grandma in the front passenger seat. Some people were chatting, others were sleeping, others were staring out the window, I was dozing off listening to music holding my treasured CD collection and portable CD player. It was a nothing-special-ride.
A dog walked into the highway, and my dad swerved to miss it. What a lot of people don't know is that 15 passenger vans are not, in fact made for passengers. They are too long and too top heavy, they aren't proportioned for safety, they are proportioned to carry tools and such in the back. Because the van is top heavy it wasn't able to recover from such an abrupt maneuver, so it toppled over and turned over into the highway median six times (we later learned that even if my dad hadn't swerved and had just hit the dog straight on, the van would have still done something similar because of its dis-proportionality). This, of course, woke me up in confusion and pain, but as it was happening I quickly realized it wasn't a dream and thought about my younger (six years younger) cousin sitting next to me and how scared she might be so I grabbed her and held her tightly.
Once the van stopped, right side up, strangers rushed to help us out the van because someone thought it might explode. It didn't. I was helped to climb out the back through the trunk by a panicky stranger and sat down. It was awful, it was chaos. We were trying to find everyone. I found one of my three brothers, who was eight at the time, and sat him between my legs, I had to lay back a little because my hips were bruised from the seat belt. As I looked around I was checking off my family members. I had seen Grandma hunched over in the front passenger seat, my older female cousin was a few feet away telling people to stop touching her and to basically go find someone else. My dad was pacing, crying, and yelling for different people. I don't remember much else of people's whereabouts, but I remember my eyes landing on my mom. She was lying on her back sprawled out with her shirt open, I think there was blood on her head. I stood up and screamed as I watched people try to wake her up. My dad tried, strangers tried. I remembered that my brother was still sitting there, so I sat back down and held him. We couldn't find my brother Aaron, he was six, and had been tossed the furthest from the van. The brother I was holding caught wind that we couldn't find his best friend, Aaron, and starting crying begging for him. I made him a promise that Aaron wouldn't die, that he would be found, but that promise wasn't kept. I never saw Aaron again, I don't even know where they found him.
It took the emergency vehicles a thousand years to get to us and they had to send so many ambulances because there was so many of us. I was put in an ambulance with with my male cousin who's three months younger than me and was living with us at the time. We held hands and I shivered and prayed. The medic was switching between us asking us questions. He asked me if I knew this guy (my cousin), if I am or could be pregnant, I laughed and said no possible way; he couldn't put the IV in, I was okay with that. My cousin and I were put in the same room and we lightly chatted. People came in and out of our rooms asking questions, looking at us and stuff. They tried giving me some ibuprofen, but it was 700mg so I asked for something smaller. This creepy lady came and just hovered in my and my cousin's hospital room, she made me feel uneasy, but I was trying to be optimistic. I heard my dad from another room give a loud cry. I was lead to his room, he told me my grandma was dead, I cried, he told me my brother, Aaron, was dead, I cried louder, and he told me my momma was dead, I imploded. I made it back to my and Cousin's hospital room and told him. He said something comforting to me, I don't remember what. Suddenly, the creepy lady's purpose was clear, she was a grief counselor. She said something, it doesn't matter what, unhelpful. I felt violated that she was there; I just found out that three people from my family died and she has the audacity to try to say something?! No! Let me have my reaction and feelings, let me process without a stranger creeping.
Everything else after that was a blur. We were pretty close to a couple of my mom's sisters so they showed up, we (eight year old brother, 10 month old brother, and me) stayed at one of their houses for some days, or maybe not, time doesn't work properly in these incidents. People were in the hospital and there were a number of physical injuries from the people who were in the accident. It was terrible, to say the least.
There's more to the story, but I can't coherently tell it. But I can say that death has a sting for those who live through it. Even now, I may feel fully healed from the horrendous event, I feel no grief, I am not mourning, but I will never forget how Death can rip apart your insides and make you think you will never stop bleeding.
But you will. I have stopped bleeding. Death does have a strong sting, but it won't always be there; there'll come a time when the swelling has gone down and the poison has drained and all that's left is a tiny puncture scar. Call it a battle wound.