F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.”
That's how I felt after the crash that killed both my parents. The driver was drunk -- it was his third DUI.
It happened on January 22, 2007 around 7:30 p.m. in Brookfield, Illinois, in front of St. Barbara's Church, the same church where my parents got married 51 years before. My mother died in the street. My father was taken to Loyola Hospital, and for six and a half weeks he struggled to live. I worked when I could, slept in waiting rooms, got up in the middle of the night to be sure I saw him again before emergency procedures. My brothers came into town and we spent the week driving from intensive care to the funeral home to St. Barbara’s. We chose a coffin and mass cards, music and readings; we met with interns and specialists, nurses and hospital chaplains. We tried to honor my mom and be there for my dad.
Much as I appreciated everyone who cared and wanted to know how my father was doing over the next weeks, I grew to hate the phone. Every moment on the phone was a moment away from my dad. People so wanted to hear good news and the good news was, for an eighty-eight old year old man, my dad was doing amazingly well. One doctor referred to him surviving the crash and two surgeries as miraculous. But the injuries were severe, and eventually we agreed to stop treating him. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
An acquaintance who heard about my father’s death sent an e-mail saying, “At least you will be able to get on with your own life now,” and I didn’t get in touch with him again until six months later. I knew he was trying to find a bright side to an impossible situation, but I just didn’t know how to respond to anyone who didn’t understand that I would have sat at my dad’s bedside for months, years, or forever if that would have made a difference.
Most difficult for me were those who insisted everything happened just as God wanted it. The idea of a god who wanted my mom to die in the street, who wanted my dad to struggle through surgeries and pain and frustration, who wanted my nieces and nephews to lose their grandparents in such a terrible way, made me want to smash the world to pieces. I told those who said it that I knew who had been driving the car that hit my parents, and it wasn’t a god. It was a drunk driver.