This is the last in a 5 part series. To read them in order, scroll down to Part One, and read up.
One evening, years ago, we were camping with a group of friends. All of our young children had been put to bed in the tents, and the adults were sitting around the campfire playing Tell-All games. The question came to me: "Jenna, what's the worst thing you've ever done?"
I know why I got that question. People tend to think I'm Molly-Mormon, prudish, and Mary Poppins-ish. They want to hear that the worst thing I've ever done is take a sip of a caffeinated soda, so they can laugh and prove their point. Believe me, in just about every realm of my life I am far, far from perfection. But I knew the answer to his question. I knew immediately what the worst thing I'd ever done was. And I knew it topped his, and nobody thought he was squeaky clean.
I hung my head. My husband slipped his arm around my shoulders. A silence fell over the group.
"What?" he probed, adding jokingly, "It's not like you ever killed anyone."
And I started to cry. I didn't mean to make him feel awkward. I told that group of friends the story of the accident. It was really the first time I'd ever told people, except for my husband and a few close friends.
It just goes to show that you never know what's locked up inside a person's heart. I get lovingly (and sometimes not so lovingly) teased about always wanting to be good. There was probably always part of that in me, just inherently in my nature, but there's something about an accident that brings you, literally, inches away from death and then releases you for a second chance, that obligates you to do your best. And, there's something about causing someone else's death, even accidentally, that forever keeps you wanting to make up for it. I owe it to Yvonne.
For many months following the accident, I was plagued with flashbacks and nightmares. True to my hopes, I was engaged that July, and married in October. We moved to Arizona and began our new life together. The first year of marriage is traditionally hard in the best of circumstances, but it was even more so as I struggled to make peace with the past and decide that if my life had been spared, then I certainly must be worthy of some semblance of happiness. That was a difficult balance to find. It seemed wrong to laugh too hard, or too often. It seemed unfair to enjoy life, in the wake of what had happened. I just got to go on with my life, and Yvonne's family was in a very different sphere.
I came to see, although slowly, that that was part of the point.
Heavenly Father loves each of His children infinitely. Each of us is on a path custom and lovingly designed for our specific journey through life. We each only have an appointed time here on earth. That particular day, her decision to not wear her seat belt was as integral as my decision to get out of my car and go back in the house for a last minute trip to the bathroom. For some reason unknown to me, Yvonne's time on earth had come to an end. Mine had not. For some reason, Yvonne's family needed to learn the lessons heartwrenchingly attached to losing a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend.
My accident was truly that. An accident. I didn't mean to do it, and I now know that despite what I feared for a long time, God does not hold me accountable for Yvonne's death. It brought about purposes only known by God above. It was a catalyst of learning and growth for both families affected. I had lessons to learn through the experience myself. Probably the biggest one being forgiveness, ironically.
I don't know how Yvonne's family views me. I don't know whether or not I have been forgiven by them. It's a difficult thing to be on the end of needing forgiveness. This has been a great life lesson for me, because what we need, we must be willing to give. I have no right to withhold forgiveness if I expect to be forgiven. And I have tried to be quick to forgive throughout my life. Heaven knows I've been tested with that one too. But in a quieter chamber of my heart, I have had to learn to forgive myself. One would think it would be easier to give oneself what one needs, but it has proven to be much harder for me.
But finally, not at once, but a little each year, it has come. I will never forget. The events of that day, and the ensuing months will forever be a sort of sacred, reverent memory, but I have forgiven myself.
I recently told my children about the accident. Funny, how children think they know everything there is to know about their parents. I wanted them to see me as a person, not just as their mother. A person who is riddled with mistakes, some of which had life-changing consequences. I wanted them to see me as real and vulnerable, and as a woman who has been humbled and endured suffering to overcome it and grow stronger.
It used to be that I thought of Yvonne and the accident every day. Throughout the years, it changed to every week, then every several weeks, then once a month, and now at varying times throughout the year. But always, without fail, I take time to remember on May 15. I think of Yvonne. I thank Yvonne. Our lives collided, literally, sending us in opposite directions in that real and metaphorical intersection. I have grown to love Yvonne, a woman I have never met, and yet hope to one day. I do not take lightly the chance I was given to keep living. Besides in my journal, where I still have the folded up newspaper article, this is the only time I have ever written out the events of the accident. Many people close to me have never heard these details, and I will probably never write them out again. The time had come to just embrace all of me, the successes, and the terrible, terrible mistakes, and give them all equal credit for helping to mold me into the woman I am today.
Shortly after my accident, two signs were posted at the intersection of Cove Road and Route 130 in New Jersey. One reads, "Dangerous Intersection." The other, "No Turn on Red". Oh, if only that sign had been there for me.
And yet, what if it had? How much more would I have lost? What life lessons have I gleaned from this experience that I would have been deprived of?
Maybe, from a more heavenly perspective, it was no accident at all.