“That night is forever etched in our minds. Everything was so eerily still and quiet…the engine had shut off, the lights were out, and all four of you were silent. Then Jane, your dad, and you began to stir…you were all in so much pain.” Those words from my eldest cousin, Stephen, describe the moments after a horrendous car crash in March of 1982. What began in Fort Wayne, Indiana as a joyful celebration of my sister’s nursing school capping ceremony changed in the blink of an eye into a terrifying event that would change us all forever.
I remember waking up in unfamiliar surroundings. “Where am I?” I asked my brother, Terry. “In the hospital,” he replied. “Don’t you remember the wreck?” I said, “No. What are you talking about?” He proceeded to tell me the story, and that it happened one week ago.
Our family was driving home to Ohio. Stephen and his fiancée, Tina, drove behind us in his car; my brother, Terry, rode along with them. Just after midnight, while mom was driving, our car hit a mammoth patch of ice that ran across the road. My sister, Jane, remembers waking from her light sleep in the backseat as the car slid out of control. Seeing a fast-approaching row of oaks, she thought, “I hope we miss those trees.”
In a split second, our car spun around 180 degrees and was nearly cut in two as it wrapped around one of the trees. Mom was thrown up over the steering wheel, and I was pitched up over her from my seat in the passenger side, where the tree entered, demolishing my seat. Dad and Jane, seated in the back, were both pinned by the tree trunk, which broke Jane’s leg.
In the car behind us, my cousin and his fiancée both saw the wreck happen. Tina’s screams woke Terry, asleep in the backseat. Stephen fought to keep control of his car as it slid on the ice. After safely bringing it to a stop, he returned to the scene. The three of them surveyed the carnage. They thought we were all dead; no one was moving, no one was making a sound. Then a few minutes later, as we began to rouse and vocalize our pain, they decided that Terry would stay with us while they drove up and down the road, trying to find a farmhouse whose inhabitants were still awake and could call the sheriff for help.
Terry would later tell me how he was comforted in the stillness of that March night: he didn’t have a coat on but was not cold; he pushed his love toward each one of us as we began to awaken.
It took the rescue crews over an hour to extract Mom and me from the wreckage. As we were rushed to the emergency department of the nearest hospital, they continued working to free Dad and Jane. Jane says she remembers hearing one of the EMTs say, “This one is not going to make it through the night,” as they were wheeling Mom to the EMS.
At some point that night, Mom was transported into the presence of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She exclaimed, “Oh, Lord, I always knew I would be here with you someday, and now I AM!” Then she remembers His hands calming and quieting her as He said, “You will be, Lucy, but for now I have more work for you and Marvin to do in Pandora, Ohio.” And then He sent her back.
With a traumatic brain injury, broken ribs, and a shattered pelvis, Mom was in critical condition. She spent the next eight weeks in and out of the intensive care unit as her brain swelled then returned to normal several times. When she finally was released from the hospital, she couldn’t walk, so we rented a hospital bed for the first floor of our house. We worked with her at home, doing physical therapy so she could relearn how to walk and regain her strength.
I had fallen asleep on the way home from Fort Wayne on that fateful night, so I was unconscious when the wreck took place. The resulting concussion and state of shock made it impossible for me to recall any of the events of that evening or the ensuing week in the hospital. I didn’t know the extent of Mom’s injuries, or mine for that matter. When I woke up in a hospital bed the following Saturday morning, and Terry told me what had happened, I was frantic to go see Mom. He said that I was not allowed in the ICU. I balked at the idea; however, I realized later that he was protecting me from the trauma of seeing her condition. When I finally got to see her, I was shocked at her appearance. Her eyes were dull and glazed from all the drugs, and her hair was unwashed and unkempt after lying in bed for over a week. She had tubes everywhere and was on an IV. My friends, who took me in a wheelchair to see her, pushed me to her bedside. I told her, “I love you, Mom!”
And then she spoke.
Her voice was low, weak, and like that of a child. Her words were halting and their delivery painfully slow, like that of someone learning to speak a new language. Something in me broke, and I wept. I didn’t want her to see me cry, so I turned away from her and sobbed into my sleeve. I remember that once I got back to my hospital room, I cried out accusingly to the Lord, “How could You do this to my mom?” I was angry, hurt, and unsure if Mom would ever recover.
In the middle of that second week, a surgeon came to talk to me. He said that the wound on my left leg was very deep, and the dead tissue was at risk of turning gangrenous. If that happened, I could lose my left leg from the knee down. The team decided to operate, removing all the dead tissue and putting a skin graft on it. For the next five days, I had to lie completely still so the skin graft could heal properly. I spent a lot of time talking to God, thanking Him for saving my leg. I told Him that I realized He saved us all, and I was grateful He spared Mom’s life.
The next week, I worked with physical therapists to get up and walk again using crutches. Some of my classmates came to visit, bringing me get well cards and homework from my teachers so I would not fall behind in my classes. I was grateful that they were helping me keep up with my schoolwork so I wouldn’t get held back from my senior year.
Once I was released, I spent two weeks with my mom’s parents recuperating from my injuries, doing therapy, and consoling them in their grief over their only daughter’s plight. I encouraged them that she would be all right and showed them by my own recovery that things may be bad, but this too shall pass.
Two weeks later, I was strong enough to go back to school. Dad arranged for me to stay with another family with whom we were close. Their eldest son drove me to school daily. Two weeks later, Mom was released from the hospital, and I knew it was time for me to go home. I was able to drive myself to school by then, and I knew that Dad would need help with Mom’s physical therapy and all things domestic.
My mom recovered over time, although her personality changed somewhat. She went back to work for a couple of years at the nursing home in our hometown. Then she retired, and until his death, was Dad’s “Executive Secretary and Travel Agent.” Dad passed from chronic kidney disease in December 2015 after ministering in Pandora, Ohio and all over the world with Mom for another 33 years, just as the Lord told Mom that night in 1982. Terry went on to marry his sweetheart, Kim, and they raised a family of three together. He drove trucks, logging over two million miles, until his death in May 2019. Jane got married and raised three children, working in nursing homes and as a home health aide for the next 38 years. I finished high school and went to Fort Wayne Bible College, where I met my husband Rich. We have raised two children and have one child already in heaven, whom I can’t wait to meet!
That experience was a “dark night of the soul” for me, one filled with many emotions and existential questions. But in the end, the answer was that God is good, He is always faithful to the ones who love Him, and He alone has the power to work all things together (even a devastating car accident) for the good of those He has called according to His purposes. He was with us in the stillness of that cold March night. In fact, He had already gone before us and made a way for us.
~ Cathy Schrock
~ photo taken by Cathy’s cousin, Stephen