14 years ago

On June 12, 1998 my life changed in an instant. I’d heard that statement in an instant many times – on the news, in the papers. I didn’t know it could reach me. In an instant is something that happens to someone else. One second found me. Calculated by engineers, they read the marks on the road, assessed the damage to the cars and the curb, determining how my life changed. This speed, the percentage, my life summed up or reduced by a number.

I looked both ways before crossing the street like I’d been taught. A lifetime of looking both ways and checking for danger and it didn’t matter this time. I crossed the street, the sun setting, not seeing anyone as I left the safety of the stop sign. And then. There it was. That instant. It slammed into Betty and I, pushed us off the road and into a ravine. On impact Betty died. I was trapped upside down as my car burned and I waited and waited, pleading for someone to rescue me.

As one life left this earth another began. One I didn’t see coming. We hear that, too. I didn’t see this coming. Nothing could prepare me for what I didn’t see coming and what came later. The after. The unraveling, the pain, the loss. My life ripped apart. That night, with a signature and the heartache of my family, a surgeon took my body apart to save me.

When the first anniversary loomed near, I dreaded it, hating a date which reminded me of that instant. Anniversaries were supposed to be special, celebratory. My best friend gone, 20 surgeries and 2 prosthetic legs later, how was I still here undone by one day, by one second?

The second year I went for bigger, bolder. Let’s make this better! I decided to go hang-gliding. I wanted to be off the ground, in the blue sky. This will make it different. I was after a moment, an exhilarating moment. June 12 is the day I went hang-gliding! Except that I got sick. It was exciting climbing toward the sky until we reached it and my stomach began to turn. I shouted in the wind, to the instructor I was strapped to just inches below me, “I’m air-sick. I forget I get air-sick.” He said, “What? Why didn’t you take anything? Are you going to be okay?” “Um, no, I’m going to throw up if we don’t get back down.” I concentrated on not vomiting all over this guy until we landed and I could plant my feet on the ground. I threw up into a bush.

The first 2 anniversaries family and friends called, remembering with me. As every summer drew near, heat and invincibility making everyone drive faster, my heart raced. You don’t know how your lives can change. Careful, careful. As another and then another June 12th arrived, there were fewer calls and fuller lives. Distance grew between that day and I, too. There was less pull, less gravity as the day approached. Because I am here. Because I fought hard. Because I am living.

Today, June 12 is closer, somehow. I’ve been re-living my story as I write it over and over again. This is the year I swallowed my fear and pitched my story out loud. This is the year I signed a contract to have my story published, a signature marking a new beginning rather than an ending. It will be another kind of anniversary. The anniversary that something beautiful, something epic happened.

read to be read at yeahwrite.me

63 thoughts on “14 years ago

  1. Amanda

    Wow, this was really inspiring. I can’t imagine how difficult it had to have been to go through all of that and then to face the impending “anniversaries.” I really admire, however, how you have turned it into a starting point, how you tried to redefine the date.

  2. Kerstin

    Oh Heidi! I have read your story many times now and it never fails to touch me to the core.
    I am so glad that this year marks a new beginning – June 12th will become a day to celebrate from now on! I am so glad I know you now and I will celebrate with you.
    Also: “I forget I get air-sick”? LOL!

  3. Your Doctor's Wife

    My husband is a surgeon who has some AMAZING amputee patients who we’ve befriended. The way they have overcome and accepted their new life is inspiring. I am in awe of their accomplishments (one even ran carrying the Olympic torch) and attitude towards life. I can tell you are cut of the same cloth. It shows in your writing and fighting attitude.

  4. Delilah

    Oh Heidi, I am so anxious to read your book. I cannot wait for it to be published. Your story is so inspiring to me, as is your spirit.

  5. Joe

    Where I live, I see too many young Marines who have lost one or more limbs and I often wonder what their lives will be like. Your story could serve as an inspiration to many of them.

    Congratulations on new book.

  6. Robbie

    this gave me chills, had me in tears, smiling as i imagined you puking mid-air and thrilled to know that your published book won’t be far off.

  7. Erin

    I love how you turned a tragic anniversary into one of triumph. Your story will inspire a lot of people. Congratulations on the book.

  8. Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms

    Oh, Heidi, you are just so. . . Every word fails to capture exactly what I want to say, but your story moves me every time. The way you write it is beautiful and strong. Congratulations again on your book deal. Your story will inevitably touch others the way it has touched me. Erin

  9. Kate Coveny Hood

    I love the idea of doing something on an anniversary to make it a NEW anniversary. Even if it was the anniversary of the day you threw up in a bush…(that made me laugh!)

  10. Carrie

    Oh wow. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been to overcome. I never realized how serious the car accident was when I read it under your blurb. My husband was a crash scene reconstructionist (with the RCMP) for a while and had to measure, and photograph and assess those kind of scenes and I only ever heard about the crashes from his experience. Hearing it from a person who was in the car is even more chilling.

    Thank you for sharing.

  11. Adrienne

    I’ve got chill bumps all over, just like the first time I came by here. You are one special person! So many people will be (and have been already) blessed by you sharing your story. Inspiring!

  12. Shiftless Mommie

    “As one life left this earth another began.”

    So powerful. Sometimes I don’t even know what to comment on your posts, but I want you to know I’m reading them.

  13. Kristin

    You lived “in an instant” and now you’re living “a milestone.” Kind of glad I am reading this ON the anniversary. Well told.

  14. erin margolin

    your post…leaves me breathless and without words.

    what an inspiration you are. i am so happy you came to my blog, and your comment made me misty-eyed. you shouldn’t feel badly. there’s never enough time to read all the blogs we want, and we can’t possibly know everyone and spend time reading all day long (as attractive an idea that is to me!).

    you are phenomenal. i am exhausted and going to bed, but i plan to come back tomorrow and read more of your story. clearly this is also my first visit to YOUR blog, so call it even if it makes you feel better?!

    hugs to you, ms. amazing!

  15. Rebecca Einstein Schorr

    As another and then another June 12th arrived, there were fewer calls and fuller lives. Distance grew between that day and I, too. There was less pull, less gravity as the day approached. Because I am here. Because I fought hard. Because I am living.

    Yes you are. A full and productive life. You are. Amazing.

  16. Nicole Janzen

    I wish I could write 1/2 as well as you do. To put to words how you encourage and inspire me with the beauty that you write, whether it’s a drive with your kids, a struggle of the day or reliving the events of the past.

    Thank you.

  17. Louise Ducote

    Beautifully-told, Heidi. This December will mark the tenth anniversary of my best friend’s daughter dying in a car wreck; she was twenty-three. The first anniversary was horrific and huge, the subsequent ones different but still a massive obstacle in the year, something that must be climbed up and over. So interesting to hear your perspective as hers might have been if she had survived. You’re going to have a wonderful year, and we’re all looking forward to your book.

  18. amanda

    I totally get this whole anniversary thing. I lost my mom 3 years ago and this year instead of laying in bed and crying I took my babies to visit my grandparents because that’s what would have made my mom happy. **hugs**

  19. Kim at Mama Mzungu

    This is simply beautiful. Those instants that pivot your life so dramatically seem so arbitrary too. You have such a gift for writing and I’m so glad to see you back on yeahwrite!

  20. John

    Thank you for the reminder that anniversaries are milestones to mark how far we’ve come, no matter how we choose to acknowledge them. You’ve certainly come along way from where you unexpectedly found yourself 14 years ago. We all have in our own unique ways.

  21. kim

    YAY go Heidi!
    I can’t wait to read it. I have been following your blog for a long time.
    I am always drawn to read every entry.
    I relate a lot to what you write.
    How life can change in a moment at the hands of someone else. How being saved, is never as poetic as it sounds. I dont think words can ever cover the feelings you have, lying in hospital, dreading each day. But you cover it so well. How you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, in more ways than one. Its a fight that is always with you, but that dosnt have to be a bad thing, that is what I have taken away from your blog.
    So thank you, for being strong enough to do this.
    Take care

  22. Alexandra

    Heidi, how do you do that?

    Make it all seem, make life seem, as if there is beauty in every corner.

    How I love you.

    And how thrilled, excited, joyous, I am for you.

  23. frelle

    Im so glad that @GDRPEmpress tweeted out the link to your story today. I had never heard it, and I’m so proud of you for writing about it *HUG*

  24. Rick

    Thank you for your post and you are an inspiration.

    I lost two of my closest friends in University, one in a car accident and the other a fluke. I remember all the good times we had, but despise remembering the day of their deaths and yet I always do.

  25. Christie O. Tate

    Oh, sweetie, I so hear you on anniversaries. I have one on July 3 from an accident in Hawaii…not all of us made it home from the trip. Every year, since 1987, I have struggled and hated that day. That whole weekend. Simply awful. I am sorry the handgliding thing was marred by air sickness, but I am glad you are here. Yes I am.

  26. Shannon

    Words fail me, but your post struck a chord with me and touched my heart. Especially the way you talked about when phrases like “in an instant” hit home. I am looking forward to your book and I hope I’ll have the chance to hear you speak one day.

  27. Kenda

    What a fantastic way to mark this year’s anniversary Heidi – acknowledging that, “something beautiful, something epic happened”. You are amazing. Just amazing.

  28. deborah l quinn

    Isn’t amazing that we survive that which we think we can’t possibly overcome? Remarkable and wonderful. It is courage of a sort, but not the flashy look-at-me kind; it’s the courage that says okay, today I can do this one thing, and tomorrow I’m going to do this one thing again, and I’m going to keep doing it…determination is its own kind of courage – as is the awareness that in so many ways, big and small, we are NOT in control of our lives or our destinies – and yet we keep going forward. Congratulations.

  29. Sperk*

    My goodness. You pulled the tears right out of me. That being said (people say that a lot, too, and I try not to…but), I am unable to articulate what your story really does. It’s beyond tears. And it is so meaningful for so many people who are struggling to survive “after”. (Part of the beauty of how you tell your story is that the “afters” are applicable to so many situations…I hope I’m being articulate and fear I am not) I’m grateful you are willing to share. So much courage. Oh, I could hug you a million times until the world ends.

    I’ve been toying around with “thriving” instead of “surviving” This post is one to be filed under “thriving” . . .

  30. Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms

    You blow me away. You know truly it is astounding that in a blink of an eye a tragedy fell on you, but you were someone who 14 years later would be able to spin this into inspiration and something I can’t seem to name…awe? I don’t know. Reading through your comments I don’t seem to be the only one who is left inarticulate and speechless, breathless really.
    You killed me with the mirroring of the signatures. All I have left to say is congratulations my friend. Ellen

  31. My Inner Chick

    —Beautifully written.
    The pain never goes away, Does It?
    I mean, people go on living, but we don’t.
    But somehow, we learn to find a way to use it & fit it into our lives ….
    Thank you so much for sharing. xx

  32. Jackie

    Oh Heidi I am in tears yet again. Your tenacity is amazing and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this anniversary then as a soon to be published author! Bravo!

  33. Julia

    You are absolutely inspiring. It is strange how anniversaries can bring us closer and farther from the days our lives changed, and how those moments of intensity can surprise us years later. Your story, your strength, and your words are incredible.

  34. Ann

    “a surgeon took my body apart to save me”

    and your words (and lots of love) have helped put you back together, it seems.

    Cannot wait to read the book.

Comments are closed.