Sometime in early July, I was scrubbing dried blood off my husband’s wedding ring in the bathroom sink of his fifth hospital room since the crash. The swelling in his left hand had finally gone down enough to wear his ring again, and so I decided to fish his ring out of the still-bloody bag of his personal items that I’d been carrying around with me for the past few weeks.
There in that bathroom, the thought hit me for the first time: For better or for worse, indeed.
Back in May, this year was already shaping up to be a(nother) year of Trust–new job, new baby, (still) new business. Then in June, God permitted an extraordinary thing to happen to our family.
An close friend of ours who is a pilot invited Michael to join him on a short trip to North Carolina by small engine plane. It was a guys’ trip–the excuse being to celebrate Michael’s upcoming 40th birthday–as well as a visit to the summer camp where both of our families had sent our 12-year-old sons. The camp had given permission for the guys to fly over the camps as a treat for the campers, and Michael would take some aerial photographs for the camp while they were up there.
On June 16th, I was leaving my brother and sister-in-law’s house, where the kids and I had gone for dinner, when I got a call from one of the camp’s owners. There had been a plane crash that evening on camp property. Michael, our pilot-friend Sean, and one of the camp directors, Jeff, had been in the plane. All three men were still alive and had “been alert” at the crash site, which was (incredibly) the small outdoor chapel used by the summer camp. The plane went through a tiny break in the forest canopy at the chapel, and landed just a few feet from the Cross at the front of the chapel. All three men were on the way to hospitals. No counselors or campers had seen or heard the crash. Jeff–who had jumped in the plane for the trip last minute–had miraculously been able to climb out of the wreck and find his way back to the camp to get help, despite extensive injuries.
The next twelve hours after that call are a blur. My brother came home with me to put the kids to bed and spend the night at the house. Somehow I made calls to Michael’s parents, my parents, and most of my siblings. Sometime that night I talked to a close friend who called to check on me after she heard something had happened through a mutual camp friend. The hospital called me and put me on the phone with Michael at one point before his first surgery. His speech was difficult to understand, but he told me he was sorry and not to worry. I found out later that his jaw was broken so badly it was completely separated horizontally, and there were seven other fractures in his face.
After a sleepless night, my mom picked me up early the next morning to drive to the hospital in South Carolina. Family and friends descended on my house to take care of my five children.
I’ve never been so grateful for my mom. I was a 35-year-old adult woman with five children of my own, but I often felt about five years old over the next two weeks. My mom dropped everything and stayed with me the entire time. She made sure I ate meals and tore my eyes off my phone long enough to sleep. She listened to all the doctors’ updates with me and helped me remember all the big medical terms afterwards. She reminded me to pay my bills, and helped me delegate some of the burden of the massive amounts of communication coming through my phone at all hours of the day and night. She stepped away graciously any time we had a visitor and needed someone to leave so we could keep to the Covid two-visitor rule in the hospital. She drove me everywhere and didn’t fuss or judge or complain.
Our friends and family were amazing. The overwhelm from everyone’s kindness was painful in and of itself, I have to admit. My children were generously able to attend local summer camps, and friends took them in for play dates. My aunt and Michael and I’s siblings took turns sleeping at our house–and our house has never had so much food in it. A big group of my girlfriends sent me the Most Amazing Care Package ever (it took me days to go through it). Friends drove two and three hours from surrounding cities and states to visit us in the hospital. A large group of friends gathered to pray the Rosary for Michael. Financial help came pouring in to calm my heart. Michael’s sister made a birthday video for Michael to watch on his 40th birthday, which he spent in ICU recovering from one of his six surgeries. Michael’s brother Chris came for much of our hospital stay and was a rock for Michael and me. Michael’s uncle drove from Mandeville in a borrowed handicap-accessible van to drive us from South Carolina to Baton Rouge for rehab. There are so many more things to share and people to thank and stories to tell.
After two weeks in the hospital in South Carolina–most of it in ICU–Michael and I were able to get permission to travel to put him into a rehabilitation hospital close to home in Baton Rouge. We saw our kids for the first time in more than two weeks. Then, after only a week and a half in rehab, Michael was able to come home. That day, a big group of our friends surprised us–and brought us to tears–as we pulled into our driveway for the first time since the accident.
God’s mercy is mysterious.
All three men on the plane that day survived the crash. We are so grateful for this mysterious mercy, this showing of God’s power in accomplishing His will, though we will never know the reasons for what He permits and all that He is doing while we are on this side of Heaven.
It simply was not His will that these three men die that day. It is apparent to anyone who has seen or heard the details of this plane crash that Someone’s hands guided its fall from the sky. It is apparent in listing out the many serious injuries of all three men–who all will walk again, who all were spared brain damage, who all survived–that God permitted injury and trauma to their bodies, but only up to a certain point.
The past few months have been hard. From the tasks of caretaking, to accompanying Michael in healing in mind and body, to addressing my own trauma, to tackling a fairly complicated situation with our medical bills, to the effects of all of this on our marriage and our children, to finishing a difficult pregnancy, to watching our business dissolve.
God is providing for us, however. Things are slowly working out in His timing. We have never felt so held or so hopeful. Today is the last day of months of meals we’ve had brought to us three times a week. I can’t share all of the miracles in this one post, but they will come out in my writing and in my talks–you can be assured of that. I think God wants them to be shared.
When something like this happens, I think it’s easy to put the person or family up on a pedestal. I have watched people do that in our case. Everyone thinks that just because they can’t imagine being able to hold it together if they were in our place, that we must be more put together, maybe even holier, than they are. But I can tell you now from experience on this side of an event like this, that if God permits suffering in your life, He provides grace for you in it. But not in a way that means you walk on clouds through it all and never crumple into a ball or beat your hands on the shower wall and yell or even occasionally totally snap at the invalid you’re supposed to be caring tenderly for… It’s messy, ya’ll.
The grace He has provided for me is that despite struggling, sometimes badly, I doggedly keep coming back to trusting in God.
A friend sent me a card at one point that was a wonderful signal grace for me. The card said something to this effect:
Scream, cry, pray, trust. Curse, question, faint, trust. Be human.
There’s no right way to go through a traumatic event like this, other than to keep your eyes on the Cross as much as you can, and keep coming back to the fact that it’s either all true, or it’s all a lie. The grace He sends me is often that He highlights memories and realizations of all the evidence pointing to His true presence in my life.
Our sixth baby, Joseph Luke, was born on October 14th. Back in the spring when I was starting my new job and was exhausted and nauseated for four months straight, I didn’t know what a consolation this baby would be. When I was in the hospital with Michael in June and July, and wondering with real anxiety whether he would be walking and driving by the time we had the baby, I didn’t know what a consolation this baby would be.
God is so good. We had been open to the gift of a new baby for a long time before getting pregnant with Joseph, so finding out about him just two weeks after starting the first out-of-home, full-time job I’d had in 12 years was a surprise–why yes it was. 🙂 But I could never had guessed what a gift he meant to give us this year. And by us I mean my entire family. My other children are all in love with our new baby, and he is a joy for all of us.
That’s how God works all things together for your good; His hand is in your past, present, and future, though you know it not.
Let’s swap prayers 🙂
Please pray for Michael and I to continue to navigate our insurance and medical bill situation with trust, wisdom, and unity; for complete healing in every way for Michael; for a new job for Michael; and for yet another transition for our family as I go back to work in January. Be assured that I am praying regularly for each of you and your personal intentions!
P.S. I will be giving an Evening of Reflection talk at Holy Rosary Catholic Church on Thursday, Dec. 1st! Sign up for this free event here. All women in all seasons of life are welcome. I’d love to see you. 🙂
Erin, y’all popped in my head and I googled your blog since I’m off Facebook. I’ve got tears rolling into my ears as I lay and read your account of the crash. Sending so much love and prayers and encouragement to y’all! Beautiful pictures. Amazing God. Thank you for sharing your story!!!
Erica and Chris Girouard
Oh my!!! So glad to hear that Michael and the others are okay. What a story! It’s interesting that a single moment that caused everything to pivot.
That quote from Takashi Nagai is just…so very true. Prayers for your family as you navigate this new path. <3