Friday, May 21, 2010

Remembering, The Conclusion

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.


lesa said...

I continue to come back to your blog because you are a great writer. Through your posts I see wisdom, strength, and hope. It must have been hard to write that all out but beautifully done.

Thank you for sharing. Very much.

Heidi said...

This is a remarkable thing you have done--you have not only survived this but given it such meaning for you and those who read your story (I think you should submit this to the Ensign). In spite of all the good that has come from this, I would wish one thing different for you and that would be the forgiveness of her family. A friend I have known my entire life lost her parents in a very similar type of accident (except the teenaged driver was not looking where she was going). She attended the court hearing and when it was over, she went to the girl who did it and frankly forgave her. It has made things a bit easier for both of them. It's doubtful that Yvonne's children have gained the perspective you have (few who go through such dire trials actually do)but I hope that they have forgiven you, for their sakes as much as yours.

Anonymous said...

When I think of you I have always thought of of you as: beautiful from the inside out, courageous, and possesing a mature spirituality beyond your years. Thank you for sharing your heart and touching mine. I love you.

Lori Fawcett

Josi said...

wow, Jenna. I miss your blog and the life lessons contained there in. You're right that we just never know what goes on it other people's hearts and lives. And I'm glad you got to continue on so that our paths can cross. You've blessed my journey.

Kimberly Vanderhorst said...

Oh that refiner's fire. So painful but so worth it. I love the insights you've shared here. They apply to everyone, I think.

Jeri said...

I've been a dedicated lurker on your blog for over a year, but I just have come out of lurker status to say...

Thank you for sharing.

Andrea said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I'm sure it was hard to tell. Great reminder that we never know what's in people's hearts.
I love your perspective and your writing!

Alejandra said...

I think of this story often, I've learned from it and it's changed me. Thanks for sharing this in writing, I think it could be a book. You are amazing!

Annette Lyon said...

I'm grateful you shared this with us. It's so powerful--I really can't express how it's touched me. It'll stay with me a long time.

mindyluwho said...

I think that must have been painful, yet healing to write. I love your perspective on life. Thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I commend you for your honesty and respect the depth of your regret and sorrow but this:

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.

strikes me as extremly insensitive. Who are you to decide her family must have needed to 'learn a lesson'? It is not her fault that she was killed and her not wearing a seatbelt does not mean it wasn't a result of your error. I am very sorry for how you have suffered and it could have been any of us who made the same mistake, but your comments above are just too much.

I hope you have the courage to allow this comment to be published. Your remarks do a great injustice to Yvonne and I believe you should atone for them.

Jenna said...

It's interesting to me that you feel the need to reprimand me and call me on my courage to post your comment, when you did not have the courage to even post your name. Nevertheless...

I apologize for any insensitivity you feel I have displayed. Obviously, you are reading about this episode of my life on one particular day and I have been living it for almost 20 years. My writing and expression is limited, and for that I apologize. What I meant to express is not "learn a lesson" as in someone wagging a finger in their face like "I'll teach you!", but rather coming from my point of view that all things in life serve the purpose of teaching us lessons and helping us to grow. There are things that can only be learned through loss, and if we never suffer loss, we are void of a certain kind of compassion that we only have the opportunity to learn in that particular refiner's fire. I don't know what specific things Yvonne's family had to learn by going through such a terrible tragedy, I only believe that all trials are presented to us as opportunities to learn and grow, so IF there is a trial, THEN there is a lesson to be learned. That was all I meant.

And I would never, ever, ever absolve myself of fault because she wasn't wearing her seat belt. I think you missed my point. Either way, just because I have gotten to a point where I have forgiven myself for what truly was an accident, does not mean that I have for one second forgotten that the mistake was mine, and all mine. And I still live with that. It's part of what I have to learn.

Jacquie said...

It is unfortunate anonymous took what you said so far out of context.
Courage is something you obviously have lots of, not only for allowing that comment to be posted but for sharing such a personal part of life with us.

Bless you, bless Yvonne.

-Ross Family- said...

Dear Anonymous,

I think you are missing Jenna's point.

She was not judging what lessons another family needed; she was just stating that God sees the bigger picture. I think you were thrown off by semantics.

In a split second, seemingly tiny decisions can change someone's entire life. If such an event happens in our own lives we can spend out time saying, "what if..." (what if Jenna had not gone the the bathroom, what if Yvonne had worn her seat belt) or we can try to see the bigger picture that God sees and learn a lesson from it. Even when that event is extremely painful.

I think that you were very unkind in your judgement of Jenna. I appreciate the story she shared, and I am having my 16-year-old son (who is now a licensed driver) read it. Sometimes you need to look past the exact words of a story and see the feelings/emotion/caring that goes with it.

Such an experience could happen to any one of us at any time. It's probably scary to think that maybe we are not in as much control of our destiny or our family's destiny as we would like to believe.

Jenna--Thank you for sharing your story with us. I am a new reader and I love your posts.

Anonymous said...

Jenna, my name is Renee (AKA Anonymous). I don't have a URL or an Open ID.

I am sorry if you feel I was unkind, not my intention, but can you imagine being Yvonne's daughter and reading "For some reason, Yvonne's family needed to learn the lessons heartwrenchingly attached to losing a mother, a wife, a sister, a friend." ? I think it would be devastating. Say you are sorry, say you are heartbroken, say what YOU might hope to hear if the roles were reversed. That is my point.

With that said, I do feel your sincere regret and sadness at this tragic event. On any given day it could be any of us, glancing away for a moment, reaching for a dropped pacifier ... we all make mistakes and by God's grace we are most often spared what could be a terrible consequence.

Having lost my husband recently to a terminal illness, I can certainly appreciate that tragic events can teach us things, stretch us, grow us. But believe me, it is NEVER okay to hear "You must have needed to learn a lesson."

Jenna said...

Hi Renee. Thanks for coming forward. I'm so sorry for your loss. Losing a husband would be so painful.

I'm sorry that you feel I was harsh or unfair. I have thought about your comment now for more than a day, and I have to say that I just disagree with you. If that comment was ALL I wrote, then maybe, but I took the time for five days to write out all of my sorrow and regret and remorse. The last installment was a summary of some of the realizations I've had in dealing with that event, some of the understandings I've been given. I think anyone can tell from my story that I am not flippant or casual about Yvonne's death at all. It has been one of the hardest things I've ever had to deal with. I think if you look at the entire message of my story and the entire context, then I think even Yvonne's family, should they read this, would feel my heart and understand.

It is my belief that trials, even devastating ones, even unfair ones, even those inflicted on us by others, (as my accident inflicted this trial on Yvonne's family) are here to serve us. They are life's best and most powerful teachers, if we choose to embrace them as such. I have no shame in saying that, and I'm so sorry if that is offensive to you. I've had to forgive a very personal crime against me too, when I was a child, and I still say that there were things in that offense for me to learn from. I have friends that have lost children, spouses, parents, and I maintain my same belief. I don't believe that in doing so I undermine the pain or grief that anyone feels, and I'm so sorry if you disagree.

Thank you for reading my blog, and for your thoughts. I hope your heart finds peace as you deal with your terrible loss.

Keeler Klan said...

Wow. Such courage, Jenna. Every single time I think of you,"overall amazing person" comes to my mind. You continue, with every post, to prove me more and more correct. You are TRULY someone I admire. And will forever.

Braden Bell said...

Jenna, I have waited a while to read this because things have been crazy and I wanted to be able to read and not be rushed. I'm glad I did. There was so much feeling and emotional power in these posts. I am glad that you are to the point that you can feel peace about this. I admire your courage for writing it.

I was really struck by your final comments--about people who tease/mock you for wanting to be good. I am the same way. There is so much in my life that I wish were better--I don't understand why people seem to take issue with my trying to control the things that I can. It seems so mean spirited to mock someone who is trying their best.

Jennifer said...

Jenna...That is such an amazing story and really makes me love and respect you even more then I did before. It takes great courage to share something so personal and life changing. You are so amazing!

Saint Holiday said...

That was such a painful experience! I pulled out my journal from that time and read about that awful episode. Someday, you may want to expand your written account based upon my record of the experience. The Lord brought us through it somehow.