This is the anniversary of the day that I died.
The date was February 18, the year was 1972.
There were 5 of us in the old crewcab truck. My foster brother Rodney was driving, my sister Judi was sitting in the middle of the front seat, my sister Kitti and her boy friend Steve were in the back seat and I was riding shotgun. The truck was a Forrest service surplus. Seating for 6 and under the hood each passenger was represented by one cylinder, the long way to say it had a small 6 cylinder engine. It was not fast.
The night was foggy and cold. It was February fog, thick and sticky. We were driving from Milton-Freewater to Pendleton. The two towns were about 35 miles apart. The Loeffelbein’s had started a great adventure in leasing Curl’s Drive in in Milton-Freewater but were having trouble selling the house in Pendleton. The trip was supposed to be a chance for us kids to see our friends and help pack up the house. We didn’t make it very far.
Just outside of town there is a long steep grade that at that time had only two lanes. (I believe it’s 3 lanes now). I don’t know the ladies name in the slow car that was in front of us, I think she was driving a Rambler. Rodney thought it would be safe to pass. We were slightly ahead of her car when we saw the lights of the on coming car, they weren’t headlights, just park lights but it was a car in the lane in front of us. Rodney tried swerve back into our lane, there just wasn’t enough time.
I’m not sure which car hit us first but both cars did. I’ve heard that by the time it was all over there were 17 cars involved. The impact tore the cab we were in free of the truck frame.
When my dad who was at work in Pendleton heard about the accident from the state patrol all he knew was that his kids were in an accident and that there had been a fatality.
When he and my brother arrived on the scene our crewcab was in pieces strewn around the hi-way. The cab was upside down just off the road.
I don’t know the sequence of events except from my experience so that’s what I’ll tell you. When I woke up I was laying on the ceiling of our truck. People were all around, there were flashlights and people were asking me questions. I tried to talk but the lower half of my face felt like jello. I would find out later that my jaw was broken in 5 places. Somehow all 5 of us stayed in the cab. None of us were using seat belts (seat belts?).
Rodney had been pushing so hard on the brake that his foot had gone through the floor. His femur was shattered. Judi broke her wrist. Kitti broke her ankle. Steve was the worst of us. He had a skull fracture. At that point we were busted up but alive. The driver of the oncoming car had died on impact. My condolences to his family.
Somehow they got me out of the truck and into an ambulance. As I lay there on the gurney I started to panic but I heard a voice in my head that said “Jesus will take care of you”. I relaxed and either passed out or fell asleep or died. I don’t know. I just know that I’ve never known rest like that before or since. It was blissful.
At the hospital things were a little hectic. My gurney was in the hallway and when my mom arrived the doctors in triage were working on me. When My mom arrived she saw the doctors walking away from me she asked if she could talk to me, one doctor answered, “well it doesn’t matter now “. She started gently rubbing my leg and I started to cough. The doctors spun around and started working on me with renewed vigor.
I remember this scene but I remember it from a view above my body. As the gurney was wheeled into a room I remember sort of sqooshing back into myself.
All of this kind of got shoved aside as the crisis of all of us was being taken care of.
(I must insert some praise for my mom here. She drove from Milton-Freewater to Walla-Walla following the ambulances. If she hadn’t come to check on me and rubbed my leg I would have stayed dead. None of my life lived since then would be. Thank you mom for your tender heart and gentle touch and thank you Jesus for a mother who loved me, loved us and came to help.)
My jaw was set with a plate. They were going to wire it shut but my burn scars were too tough to cut through so they went with the plate. At a follow up orthodontic appointment the doctor who had been at the hospital when I arrived told my mom that I was clinically dead when I arrived. She almost fainted. After we got home we talked about all the details. I remembered the weird way that I recalled the event, from above my body.
I’m not sure how to close this. I’ve given the facts but it doesn’t seem complete. Dying and coming back to life. It happened. It changed me I’m sure but since I was so young (11) I don’t know how different things would be without the experience . One thing that happened because I had the plate in my jaw. Mary and I had been dating all through high school. We broke up My senior year. It looked like she was moving on. I was trying to get out of town so I signed up to join the air force. I was going to leave early, before graduation. I had scored pretty high on my ASVAB so they were excited to get me. Everything was a go until during the medical questionnaire they asked me if I had any pins or plates. I told them About my jaw and everything came to a screeching halt. Due to the plate I would not be joining any of our armed services. I stayed in Soap Lake. I graduated in June of 1979 and eventually (August of 1979) Mary and I went to a movie and before the sun rose the next day, we were not only back together, but engaged. The rest of the story is our marriage and family.
I died, I don’t know how long I was gone. I have no other memories from that experience. I don’t know why it happened. I do know this, God works all thing together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. I do love him and he has brought good to me even though life, at times was very rough.
God can use our pain and suffering and turn it into something beautiful. Like a sculptor who drags trash out of the dump and sculpts it into a masterpiece or a potter who takes a lump of dirt and gently molds it into a thing of beauty. God did it in my life and he is waiting to be invited in to yours.