At the beginning of March my two youngest kids and I were in a really bad car accident. It was snowing and the roads were incredibly slick. We were just going to the gym, which in retrospect, is incredibly silly. I could have avoided the whole thing by snuggling up on the couch instead of venturing out. But I supposed it's silly to even think about that now, isn't it?
It was around 8:30 in the morning and we were driving on a small highway road through the country. I had been driving for about 5 minutes when my wheel got pulled into some slush and I lost control of the van. I started spinning into the oncoming lane and although I tried mightily, I could not regain control. And I hit an oncoming car head on. After the impact, I looked back at my 4 and 5 year old and asked "Are you OKAY??" and they were. They were perfect. They were scared, but they were unharmed, and I was unharmed as well. Phew. We were safe. And THEN I looked in the rearview mirror and to my horror I saw another car coming right at my driver's side door. But I didn't have much time to be upset about this because we were hit, HARD, almost immediately. This impact caused the airbags to inflate (along with a super loud noise and a hot gas), windows to break, and the car to start smoking. I was terrified that the car was going to explode so once we stopped, I climbed in the back seat and grabbed my kids. Their doors were completely unusable, so I had to maneuver them up through the front passenger side, where the owner of the car who hit me was standing there to help me. I got both kids (and myself) safely out of the car in about 15 seconds, although it felt like a lifetime as I braced for an explosion. Thank goodness, the car never exploded. It was still snowing, so perhaps that with the busted radiator helped us?
Once out of the car, I knelt down and checked my kids all over. I also did a quick scan of my own body. And we were completely untouched, minus a tiny scratch on my daughter's forehead. I am still in shock that we LITERALLY walked away, hand-in-hand from that horrible 3-car accident. NONE of the drivers or passengers in the accident were injured. No one went to the hospital, no one broke anything or even had any bleeding.
There were a lot of angels working overtime that day. And I'm not just talking about angels from heaven, but angels on Earth, too. Everyone was so kind. Several men pulled over immediately to clear the road and be sure we were okay. A sweet man let us sit in his work truck to stay warm and dry while he directed traffic. The police and paramedics and firemen...everyone was wonderful.
I called my husband immediately afterwards, very calmly, and told him that we were FINE, but we had been in a serious accident. He was there within 15 minutes and we were all so happy and relieved to see him. I was strong and calm and held everything together until we got in his car to drive home. Then I lost it. I replayed the accident over and over and over in my head, but without the happy ending. It was terrifying to imagine anything happening to my sweet babies, at no fault of their own. I couldn't stop crying and looking at the picture of the accident I snapped while we waited on paperwork.
It all felt so strange because we were physically unharmed, so it seemed like our day should be pretty normal. My husband stayed home for several hours to help me settle in before going back to work. My best friend brought me a salad for lunch and took my kids to preschool (I had no car). I used those 2.5 hours to regroup and sit and reflect. And cry. So much crying, and I'm not a crier! Another friend brought the kids home. I was amazed that they didn't want to, or seem to NEED to, discuss the accident. I continued to check them up and down to verify that they were truly unharmed and every time I was just blown away that they seemed perfectly fine.
By the end of the day, I was feeling pretty sore and stiff, but again, the kids didn't have any complaints of soreness. No bruising. Nothing. Sleeping that night sucked. I woke up several times thinking about the accident. I worried about the kids and how they would feel in the morning. But when they woke, again, they were FINE! I was more sore then the first day, but nothing too extreme. I did a little yoga and stretching. But emotionally, I was still fragile. I didn't want to be alone with the kids. I needed an adult to be with me. A friend came over in the morning and sat with me, and my mom came over in the afternoon. I can't explain why I wanted company, but I just NEEDED someone to be with me. It helped me stop reliving the accident over and over and over. I could just TALK and not THINK.
The following day, I drove for the first time and attended a Body Pump class. I had a sitter for the kids so I could focus on myself. This was a big moment for my personal sanity. Driving was slow, but I was so relieved when I arrived to the gym safely. It was really important to get that first post-accident under my belt. Probably because that was the workout I was HEADED TO the morning of the accident. I went super light on the weights and monitored my body closely. All throughout, I was weepy and emotional. At one point, I felt scared when someone behind me threw their weights down. It was then that I realized the accident was affecting me on deeper levels than I even realized. That noise reminded me subconsciously of the loud crash and airbags.
By the end of the week, I was less emotional, less obsessed with looking at the picture of the crash, and confident being "alone" again. We had a new van and the accident was starting to feel like a memory, instead of something I had to think about in the present tense. And every day since then, it has gotten easier to forget. BUT, there is still aftermath.
First of all, the kids have started talking about the accident, so I know it's on their minds. While driving, they often ask me if we're going to crash, if I'm focused on the road, if my hands are on the wheel, and if we are going to go into the grass again. It breaks my heart that driving with me (which we do CONSTANTLY) makes them feel insecure or uncomfortable. I feel so sad that they even have to worry about their safety while in a car. Prior to the accident they just assumed they would be safe, as all children should! And now they question it. That hurts.
The other thing that sucks post-accident is my fear of driving. Not through town, thank God. I am fine driving in town. But driving on the interstate, or in rainy or windy weather can be scary. The wind and rain bother me because if I feel a pull on the van I am right back in the middle of the accident. The pull reminds me of the pull on our van when I got in the snow. I used to be a fearless, perhaps careless, driver.
I am very restless while driving, so I'd often be doing 10 things at once. That wasn't the case during my accident, but you can bet that I'm a much more focused driver now. I'm very aware of how a slight misstep could cause catastrophic results. I'm slower on the road, too, to help me cope with the wind (we live on the prairie!!) and the rain (Illinois!).
I hate feeling scared while driving and although my husband assures me it will dissipate with time, I can't wait for it to be over and be something of the past. I suppose it is just a reminder of how serious our accident was, and how bad it really could have been.
Immediately after the accident, and for about 2 weeks afterwards, I questioned why we were unharmed. I felt like I had been given a "free pass" and I had better make it count. I searched my soul for ways that I could do more and do better. Who could I help? How? What can I do to become a better human? This was an exhausting mental exercise and I had long talks with my husband about how to process this. I also had some really good friends to talk me through it. And while I am still working through this, I think I have found a way to process it in a way I can be happy with. Always trying to be better and more loving, yes, but not because we were unharmed. Just because.
It feels good to get my thoughts out. And it will be good to read this in a few years and see how far I've come with my driving fears. If you've been in a serious accident before and had any of these same feelings or thoughts, I'd love to hear how you got through it <3
Sorry this was so long. If you made it this far, you deserve a congratulations!