I am three. Grossdawdy and Grossmommy visit from Indiana; I watch Grossdawdy use shaving cream. Daddy just “scrapes his face.”
Mommy gets a phone call, and cries. I don’t like when Mommy cries. Grossdawdy is hurt. We travel to Indiana more often than before. I like to see Grossmommy there, and Aunt Ida and Aunt Maryann and funny Uncle Ammon. He teases me. Grossdawdy is always in a hospital bed and doesn’t look at us. They feed him with a tube.
I am four, almost five. We go to Indiana again and everyone is sad and wearing black and the hospital bed is gone and Mommy holds me up to see Grossdawdy in a coffin. They put the coffin in the ground and my aunts and Grossmommy and Mommy cry and cry. Then we all walk to the church house. At home later I dream they buried me but I shake off the dirt and go into the church so the people will know not to be sad.
There are so many things I couldn’t understand at four years old. Now that I’m nearly forty, I think Grossdawdy was a young man, not quite sixty years old when he died. But there are still many things I don’t understand.
Last year this month my cousin’s son died when a driver struck his bicycle after dark. His bride of six months suffered a miscarriage three weeks before his death. I remembered those first months of marriage. How awful it would be for marriage to stop there without even a first anniversary together.
Four years ago this month, Uncle Ammon died after an SUV hit his horse-drawn feed wagon during inclement weather. He was only fifty-one, and had lived all his life on the same farm along busy State Route 119 near Goshen. He was born there, brought his bride there, and the crash was just yards from the end of the lane. The family reeled in shock and grief: he was so needed! His youngest son was only a few years old, and for the first while wanted to put his daddy’s shoes back in the mud room for him to use. His oldest son was still in elementary school.
The entire community loved Uncle Ammon. He wasn’t perfect but he had a big heart, and lived out his faith with kindness toward others. Even for us away in Virginia, it was hard to let him go.
This past Sunday, as my Old Order Mennonite cousin Judith and her family were going to a Communion service, their buggy was rear-ended by a speeding full-size Dodge pickup. The police found skid marks only beyond the point of impact. Three of the seven children under twelve died, and both parents have serious injuries. Judith can’t attend the funeral of her own children. Their father Paul likely can’t either.
When the news first came about this crash, there were few details, and my mind churned with questions. Questions and prayers, such as they were. Would Paul and Judith live? If not both, which one? Neither? Which children had died? Did the congregation have their service anyway? How would the driver of the truck live after this tragic day? How would the eighteen month-old do until her mother could be home–if ever? Was Judith’s sister who teaches school in that community living with them? Who would help the little children at the hospital? They wouldn’t know English well, if at all!
As the days go by, I think and think of all the changes. What will it be like to suddenly go from seven children to four, and be missing the oldest ones, those with the most training and teaching already invested? Who will do their chores? Who will retrieve their school books, move their desks out? How will Alex (nearly 9) deal with going to bed alone, or to school alone for the first time ever since those who died were Cameron (11), Kayla (9), and Kendra (7)? (Another boy in this same community died in a car/pony cart crash just last March, on his way to school with his brother.)
We get some updates and answers. The injured ones are stable but Judith especially has a long road to recovery. The children who lived are Alex (8), Ammon (3), Calvin (2), and Trina (18 months). There was a very emotional and abbreviated Communion service. And yes, Judith’s sister lives at their house. Community members rode to the hospital holding the little ones who couldn’t speak English.
The driver attended the viewing of the children, a brave and very hard thing for him to face. He is twenty-nine, a family man with stay-at-home wife and two daughters. The community members would not press charges, but if the law puts him in jail, as sole wage earner he doesn’t know who will care for his family. He was overwhelmed by the community’s loving and forgiving assurance they would support his wife and children.
Over the years Mom’s large family has certainly grieved other dear ones who died. Uncle Enos (17) from head injuries from hitting a barn beam as he rode on top of a grain wagon that barely cleared the beam. Stillborn babies. A child run over by farm equipment. Grossmommy. A school boy with a brain tumor. Uncle William taken suddenly from some kind of stroke. But somehow I am most shaken when a motor vehicle and horse-drawn vehicle collide and people die. Is it because I am a car driver and most of this family drives horses? Worse, is it because I have driven faster than necessary or with distractions?
Are these tragedies reminders that life isn’t supposed to continue as we know it? That for those who died, the life that continues is much better than the life they knew here? We have the anchored hope they are in God’s good keeping, for they were either innocent or had prepared to meet their God.
Am I in God’s good keeping? There are things God has been bringing to my mind lately that I need to repent of, turn from, and replace with good habits and greater trust in Him. He can handle my problems and help me live faithfully. I can be in God’s good keeping now, and when the next tragedy strikes, and two hundred years from now.
God kept Uncle Ammon safe for fifty-one years along that busy road, and He wasn’t sleeping when the crash happened. Sunday morning He did not see fit to nudge the pickup truck driver a few feet to the left to avoid Paul and Judith’s buggy, but He did spare some lives, including little Ammon’s. Our Father God is sovereign over all, and the best I can do is trust Him with all of me.