There are days and moments in my life that I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget my wedding day. I’ll never forget the days each of my children were born. I’ll never forget my last conversation with my mother-in-law before she passed away. I’ll never forget that “first day of school” feeling, even though I haven’t felt it for decades. I’ll never forget January 19, 2013. That Saturday began like every other, but nothing could ever prepare mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and extended family members and friends for what we would experience that day.
When I have mentioned “the accident” and how we lost my niece, to people who don’t know what happened, they are always very kind and sympathetic and usually want to give me a hug. But by the time they know the whole, devastating story, I end up wanting to hug THEM instead. I know the shock and sadness that comes. The exchange usually goes something like this:
“My niece, Kelsey, died in a car accident last winter.”
“Oh, how terrible. I’m so sorry. How old was she?”
“She was 21. And…well, it wasn’t just her. Her fiancé, Garrett, also died.”
“Oh my gosh! Oh wow….how awful.”
“Yes, thank you. It is terrible. But really, that’s not all.” (That’s when you actually see people brace themselves…because really…what could be worse?) “She was 37 weeks pregnant; Due in just a few weeks. And yes, the baby died, too.”
“Well….actually he lived. He was born via emergency c-section, even though Kelsey was already gone. The doctors didn’t know if he would survive, but after less than two hours of life on earth, he went home to be with his mommy and daddy.”
“I don’t know what to say….”
“There’s nothing to say. Except to tell you that both Kelsey and Garrett were veterinary technicians and their love for animals was truly an inspiration. They were on their way to work, in fact, at the Animal Care Center. They had their five beautiful dogs with them. And, yes…..all of the dogs died, too.”
Really, it sounds like something you might see in a movie. Only not really, because even Hollywood wouldn’t write something THAT heart-wrenching, would they? This kind of thing doesn’t happen in the real world. Ever. But it did. And when it happened, the world stopped spinning and we couldn’t eat or sleep or stop crying or stop hugging or stop asking “why?” People made phone calls that they wished they’d never had to make. And kind neighbors brought food to the families and didn’t really know what to say to them or how to console them. It was a pain felt not just in the heart (because really, our hearts were numb and broken) but the pain was felt in the very pit of our souls. The pit you never know is so deep until you’ve been through such shock. That’s a feeling you never forget.
And yet, as hurt and sad as we were, and even though the shock is sometimes still a feeling that’s only a breath away if you try to remember it, there were good things that happened. Things that will also never be forgotten. People we knew and hundreds, even thousands, of strangers put us right in the center of their thoughts and prayers. It was as if people from around the world were holding our hands and crying with us and hugging us and sending us cards and donating money and telling us that we weren’t alone. Never in my life have I been part of something where every contact I had with other human beings included expressions of love. I will never forget that love.
My home happened to be “command central” for Kelsey’s mom (my sister) and our family. People were coming and going non-stop. (There should be a planning book that nobody would ever want to buy that tells you how to plan a funeral. So much to do!) One afternoon, everyone who had filled my house with voices and busyness had to leave to visit the mortuary, plan and order items for the viewing and funeral and other errands and I was left alone. I welcomed the break….but only for about ten minutes. That’s when I realized that alone meant, alone with my thoughts. Sadness hit and I felt a panic come over me. Suddenly, the doorbell rang and when I opened it, a lovely couple stood on my front porch. They introduced themselves as close friends of my sister’s friend who was helping with arrangements. I invited them in, knowing she was on her way and I expected her to arrive shortly. They were kind and we exchanged small talk and they expressed their condolences at our loss. The husband then made an odd request. He said he had noticed my piano in the front room when they walked by, and ask if he could play while they waited for our mutual friend to arrive. I told him that would be fine. He and his wife excused themselves and told me to just do whatever I had been doing before they arrived. To “pretend they weren’t even there” because they didn’t want to be a bother. He found a church hymn book and began playing hymns. He played and played and played. And I sat, in the other room listening and was in awe. I knew as soon as he began playing that I needed to hear those sweet songs. It was only about 30 minutes, but it was one of the most peaceful experiences of my life. I will never forget that a stranger came to my home and played hymns on my piano and gave me something I didn’t even know I needed.
The kids were planning a wedding for the summer of 2013. We gave them a beautiful viewing, instead. Some of our family gathered at a rustic barn which had been converted to a reception center and decorated that place like only a prince and princess deserved. We tied dozens of white ribbon bows, made sure that hanging lights were shining, lovely music arranged, chairs were ordered for lots of seating, heaters for indoors and outdoors were delivered, and decorations that our princess, Kelsey, had “pinned” to her wedding board on Pinterest, were handmade by cousins. Somehow, some way, we put together a viewing made for a bride and groom and their beautiful son. I’ll never forget the many helping hands who gave their time and talents that day to make their day special.
When you are honoring people who came from very large, Utah Mormon families….well, you can expect a crowd. Throw in hundreds of friends, co-workers, “brothers”, and clients and you get the idea. To say the viewing was well attended is a huge understatement. People lined up in below freezing temperatures, huddled in masses and made their way into the barn to pay their respects. Several complete strangers who were friends-of-friends-of-friends from neighboring cities volunteered to drive people in their personal automobiles from a large, nearby parking lot to the viewing location, so mourners wouldn’t have to walk in the snow. Friends and family that had been out-of-touch for decades were reunited. I will never forget those who were able to attend so that we could hug each other and share in our grief.
The one year anniversary is a few days away. Life is moving forward. The pain has lessened slightly but the loss is still felt immensely. Thankfully, we have our memories. I’m honored to be a part of a family and community that came together so beautifully with a show of amazing support that gave us one last memory for our Kelsey, Garrett, and Sage that we would never forget.
Thank you so much for your love.
For more information, please visit
Video viewing https://www.youtube.com/Kelsey Garrett Viewing
News article http://www.standard.net/Local/2013/01/22/Families-plan-funeral-instead-of-wedding-for-animal-loving-couple
Facebook Memorial Page https://www.facebook.com/pages/In-Memory-of-Kel-Halterman-Sage-Garrett-Boweter-Barker/133057953527683