The heavens had remained silent to my incessant plea, "Why did I survive?" I knew there was a reason God kept me here, but why? With a broken mind and body, a deceased husband and daughter, what did God need me to do that superseded a joyful reunion with those I had lost? I pleaded daily for relief from this pain of existing, reasoning with God in prayer, pressing for the reason I had survived.
Depression still weighed me down heavily even though I had been prescribed anti-depressants while in the hospital. They had helped to stabilize the deep depressive lows, but despite this small improvement, I was still struggling to find any happiness or joy. Time drifted slowly onward; the days blurred and passed into weeks, and weeks into months. I became restless at home and returned to being a hairstylist to work part time. I was hopeful that my work would keep my hands and mind occupied by something other than my condition and the missing pieces of my family. Cutting hair used to be something I was passionate about, but everything I did felt meaningless now.
There were a few friends I relied on heavily during this time because they gave me the nonjudgmental space I needed to vent how I was feeling at times, or when I was in the mood to put it out of my mind, they knew not to bring up what had happened. My marital happiness became the focus of some, and a few dates were arranged—some I declined and others I hesitantly accepted. I imagine people figured that the cure to my sad condition was in finding another person to marry. While I appreciated their efforts, these gaping wounds left in my heart by the death of my husband and daughter couldn't be healed by just transplanting someone else in to replace them. My heart was in lock down, and I had accepted my new life as a 23 year old widow and the accompanying persistent lows that would remain until I could pass into the next world.
About three months had passed since leaving the hospital, and I was mailed a notice that the state had scheduled the sentencing of the man who killed my family. I was in the hospital during the trial where he plead guilty to driving under the influence and accepted responsibility for what had happened. Ironically the date they selected for the sentencing fell on Sage's birthday, where if she had been alive, she would be turning 1 year old. I had been planning that day to be a special celebration where I would honor her birth and life, not her death. This sentencing, and the man responsible for it all, had taken them away from me, and I would not allow him to steal this day away from me too. I told my mother, "I will not go if it's on Sage's birthday!" My mother understood and communicated to the attorneys for me. Out of respect they changed the date of his sentencing to six weeks later.
Just a week before the scheduled sentencing, I met with the prosecuting attorney representing Shawn, Sage, and me in this case. The attorney was very polite as we made our introductions. Following our "nice to meet you’s", she asked me, “Do you realize this wasn't an accident, this drunk driver KILLED your husband and your daughter?" My breathing became shorter as she continued, "I was called late the night of your car crash and after arriving on the scene, I saw your husband's body, laying on the freeway a bloody mess, and your daughter laying dead in her car seat, with blood dripping out of her ears.”
Sitting very still and in silence, I listened to her elaborate in great detail how this horrible man had taken the life of my husband and daughter. I steeled myself against the images she was conveying, becoming nauseous and gritting my teeth to keep me from groaning out. My body ached in pain as she explained the postmortem results and the many destructive and violent ways in which they both had died at the hands of the offender. With every word she spoke, I could feel pressure inside me growing, like a volcano building before an explosion, and I felt a surge of anger and hatred for the man who had done this. It felt "good" to feel something different than the numbing iciness of sadness and despair. I didn't resist this fiery flood of anger and hate, and I easily surrendered to it, allowing it to flow unhindered until it had filled me.
The attorney sensed her words effectiveness, and she kept pressing the point that my family was killed by this man. Eventually, I had reached the breaking point emotionally, and I indicated I didn’t want to hear anymore. She skillfully relented after my request, recognizing the signs that I was near an emotional breakdown. I wanted to be alone so I could process it. Our discussion lasted roughly an hour but resulted in creating a vivid picture of the night that filled in many of the holes in my memory of what happened. The anger and sorrow that flowed through me, like hot magma, had also left me feeling "burned out" and completely exhausted. A darkness had taken root in me and began to change the way I viewed everything that had happened. Most damaging was the way she demonized the man responsible.
Driving home from that appointment, filled with sorrow and trembling from the floods of hot anger, I grieved over my poor husband and baby daughter who had been killed so violently. My anger swelled again as I thought about the enormity of damage he had done. It was he who made this terrible decision and should have lost his loved ones, not me! It was he who should have suffered a broken body and mind, not me! There wasn't any amount of time he could spend in prison, or any worldly possession he could give me, that would equal what he had taken from me. I hated the unfairness of this situation. I hated that my broken family, body, and heart were the result of his decisions. He was responsible for all of it and I was the one paying for it. I hated him—and I wanted to make sure he suffered for what he had done.
I eventually made it back to my parents and made my way into the house. I couldn't hold back the angry sobbing, as I ran up the stairs to my bedroom. I was spent emotionally and physically and once arriving at my room, flung myself onto my bed exhausted. My older brother was visiting my mother at the time I had come home and had heard me running up the stairs sobbing. He knocked on my door before he stepped in and asked, “Hey Nat, tell me what’s going on?” Feeling his genuine love and concern, I was encouraged to tell him what I had just experienced.
I gathered my strength and through anger and tears I tried to retell everything that had happened and what the attorney had said. Tyler hugged me and after a few moments said, “I am so sorry Natalie. That must have been very hard.” We sat on my bed while I calmed down. Once he could see the intense feelings had abated, he continued, “Because you can’t do anything to change what has happened, maybe you could pray and ask God to replace these negative feelings with peace and forgiveness." He paused to let his words sink in before continuing, "If you live like this the anger will overtake you and destroy you.” He sat with me a while more before leaving me to my thoughts.
I laid back on my bed processing the words he had spoken. Rolling them over in my mind several times, his words felt like cool water to my fevered anger. I decided that later that evening before bed I would do as he suggested and pray to God and ask for His help in overcoming these hateful feelings. For now I wanted to process and think about what had happened and how I was feeling. Even though these emotions were difficult and negative to experience, it was different than what I had been feeling since the crash, and I guess I wanted to feel it for a little while longer.
When the evening prayer time finally arrived, my soul was still a myriad of emotions when I knelt down to pray. "Father..." I began with tears streaming through my squeezed eyelids. I couldn't continue my prayer out loud. The anger and sorrow I felt earlier surged again as my soul communicated to Him in thought and feeling. I placed all my burdens and emotions I had experienced that day into my prayer, including the hateful thoughts I had for the man responsible for my condition. My hands were in fists and hot tears streamed down my cheeks when I finally finished my prayer.
Immediately I felt a connection to the divine as I could feel this darkness of hatred and rage inside me lessening it's hold on me. I remained in this state of communion with God, grateful for the release I was feeling, but eventually having to end the prayer as I was mentally and physically exhausted. Sleep quickly arrived as my mind repeated the warning my brother had spoken, "If you live like this the anger will overtake you...and destroy you."