DISCLAIMER: Over the last several weeks, I have been encouraged to write regularly about the accident from 2004. I am working my way through writing a book about the incident. So, every Tuesday, I’ve taken the opportunity to write, remember and share snapshots of that tragic event.
I don’t know how long I was “out” but it was the voice of Harrison, my oldest son, who brought me back to consciousness. He was in the middle seat of the mini-van with his brother and sister when the wreck occurred. Doctors believe that all of us were knocked unconscious, even if for only a few seconds. Harrison’s cries that day still ring in my ears when I think back to that day.
“Daddy, what’s going on? Daddy, is this a dream? What’s wrong with mommy? Is she okay?” Over and over Harrison repeated his words until, finally, my head cleared enough to realize we had been in an accident.
I looked down at my legs which were covered with scratches and a little blood. They were pinned just enough under the crushed dashboard that I couldn’t really move them. When I tried to face my children, I realized that my left shoulder was broken and I couldn’t turn. All I could think was “What in the heck happened?” and all I could say to Harrison was, “It’s okay, buddy. You’re alright. Mommy’s going to be okay.”
At that point, I still hadn’t really looked at her. When I did, I watched as my best friend and wife of 12 years took her last breath. She rolled her head against the seat, exhaled and was at peace. It was then that I noticed the face of the unfamiliar man in her broken out window. He would become an instant hero in the minutes that would follow. But for now, he was a distraction.
Not realizing that Sarah was dead, I began to plead with her not to quit, to hang on. The voice that screamed out inside that car seemed to come from some place far away. It was filled with fear and with panic. Something told me right away that I couldn’t lose control because there were three kids watching me.
I dropped my head against my seat and began to plead again…this time with God. “God, don’t let her die. I can’t do this without her. I need her…the kids need her. Let me die instead. I won’t be able to do this.”
I’ve felt God nudge me many times in my life. He’s given me direction, helped me to make some tough decisions. I’ve been in great worships and wonderful prayer times with friends. But I’ve never felt God like I felt His presence in that van in those next few minutes. I felt Him calm my heart, literally surround that van. And I heard Him say, “You will make it, Ridley. I’ll be here to walk this journey with you. Do not be afraid.”
At that point, I knew we were going to make it. And whatever happened, we would not be alone. I still had life to live and kids to raise. His presence that afternoon reminded me that He would be the only reason we’d need to keep on going.