Fifteen years is really a LONG time. It’s a little less than half my lifespan. Soon, I will have lived more of my life after the accident than before. At this point the norm that was imposed on me by the accident, which includes but not limited to my inability to drive, is all I remember. At this point, remembering the Dawn I was before the accident, is hard. And yet, despite this extensive timespan and the memory lapse, the anniversary is always tough.
The dreaded anticipation of the anniversary begins each year after my January 22nd birthday. Each year, I tell myself this year the anniversary isn’t going to bother me. Again, 15 years is a long time. I should be over it already, shouldn’t I? But each year, it does bother me.
Each year the two weeks between my birthday and the anniversary goes a little like this:
- At first, I try to “forget” that the date is coming. I busy myself with the world around me. And think about everything but trucks, snow and the highway. Unfortunately, this never works. Something triggers me, like this week when a massive semi cut a turn REALLY close and nearly scraped the side of my car.
- Once the accident is brought into my awareness and “forgetting” hasn’t worked, a deep sadness sets in. I used to be despondent about the life I didn’t have. I never walked for my college graduation. After having to leave Allegheny College, when I received my degree from SUNY Empire State I didn’t feel the connection or the need. I didn’t know my peers. I’d never met my instructors. A part of me was devastated by that. Additionally, I didn’t go to graduate school. That had always been my dream and the plan. After the accident, this dream seemed impossible. These losses, and many more real and imagined, would send me into a spiral of hopelessness. At the beginning, this would be all encompassing.
- To break the cycle of this despair, the next step is I beat myself up a little. More than a little actually. I harshly remind myself it has been 15 freakin’ years and to be happy where I am in life. I have a beautiful family. A successful business. A life many are jealous of. Reminding myself of the gifts in my life, breaks the depression but a void still exists.
- In hopes of filling that void, I pray. To my guides, my angels, the universe… I pray, never quite sure what for other than hope. For love.
- Which helps… as I feel blessed for the life I have built and without the accident, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I reach an acceptance, but the sadness and sense of loss remains until after February 4th.
This has happened each year. This year has been no different.
Desiring to break the cycle, this year I have done a great deal of reflection. And I realized something. Do the steps look/sound familiar to you? If you’ve taken an introductory psychology class they probably do. They are the five stages of grief.
Realizing I have been experiencing the stages of grief, initially I was confused. I didn’t die… I lived. What did I have to grieve? Upon further reflection, the accident was a mini death and my own Near Death Experience.
It was not a typical Near Death Experience as I don’t believe that my heart stopped and no one needed to resuscitate me, but it was my brush with death. For all sakes and purposes, I should have died that day. After being hit by three 18-wheeler trucks, sliding under one and having the top of my vehicle sheared off, and being buried by thousands of pounds for metal pipes, my survival was truly a miracle.
Unfortunately, my memory of the day is shoddy. The gaps, and there are many, have been filled in over-time with details provided by court reports, bystanders and newspapers. There are two memories I believe to be my own. First, I clearly remember a gold car and bright lights ahead of me. I also recall an impassioned desire not to die.
The bright lights occurred moments before the accident. As I recall them ahead of me, I perceived them to be a gold car shining their headlights brightly in front of me. From the accident reports and investigations by accident reconstruction experts, my account is faulty. While there were eight cars in the accident, none were gold. Additionally, I was hit from behind so I would not have seen bright lights ahead of me. I know this to be fact. Experts have testified to it. But I can’t shake the memory.
I’ve spent hours trying to reconcile the discrepancy between what I wholeheartedly hold to be true and the reality of the situation. After reading about Near Death Experiences where individual after individual recount a bright white light, I’ve begun to question… could this gold light I observed be a result of a Near Death Experience? Was my belief that it was a car and headlight a rationalization of the situation I was in?
I believe that is what happened.
Especially considering my next memory. Despite being a ping pong between multiple semi’s, the entire accident likely took less than a minute from start to finish. Fortunately, I don’t recall any of those details. All I remember is the desire, in every inch of my body, not to die. I remember reaching up to rescue workers insisting I was not going to die. I needed to come back.
Needed to come back from where? That I don’t recall… but from bystanders’ accounts, noise wasn’t heard from my car immediately. In fact, from initial assessments (mind you the car was buried and so they had no access to me), I was a goner.
I wasn’t a goner. And I was insistent I was going to live. In my moments of sadness, I remind myself of that. I honor my experience. And, I get through another year.
Hopefully with this self-awareness, next year will be easier!