I could feel this day creeping up on me and the emotions swelling. It’s been a year since the tragic death of Adam, Elizabeth, and Jane. The grief sometimes feels manageable, sometimes feels impossible, and sometimes both at the same time.
Last night we went to eat at Chick-fil-a for dinner. We were there with some friends, so we sat in the large gathering table in the center of the dining area that seats a big group. One of my daughters said to me “I feel anxious all of a sudden, but I don’t know why.” And then a few minutes later she said, with tears starting to suddenly leak, “I realize why I don’t feel good. We were sitting at this table when you got the call.”
It was during my kids Christmas break from school last year, this day exactly 1 year ago, that I had brought them to Chick-fil-a for lunch. The dining room was so crowded that the only table left was the big one. We were sitting and eating when I got a weird call asking me if I was related to Adam Johanson.
While I am normally very suspicious about weird phone calls asking for personal information and rarely take them seriously, something about this call made the pit of my stomach clench up. I immediately called Matt and told him about the call and said “I feel like something bad has happened. I’m not sure why, but I feel sick about this call.”
Then Matt felt it too, the unnerving feeling that something is wrong. He decided to leave work and head home. He also started trying to get a hold of his brother Adam. When that didn’t work, he started a dialogue with his parents – everyone trying to get a hold of Adam and Elizabeth, and trying to find any information. Elizabeth wasn’t replying to my calls/texts either.
Matt was on the phone with his parents back in our bedroom when I answered the front door to the state troopers. They asked to come in and I waved them in, yelling to the back of the house for Matt to join us. I knew when I saw the troopers standing there. I knew. But, it wasn’t going to be real until I heard them say it out loud.
Matt came to the dining room where we sat with the officers, his parents were on speaker phone. They got to their point pretty quick and told us the devastating facts: we had lost Adam, Elizabeth, and Jane. I fell off my chair and started sobbing and screaming. I think I can remember hearing my mother-in-law yelling “no, no, no” through the phone. Our kids rushed in, afraid of what they were hearing and they all started to cry. Matt was crying too. At some point that seems fuzzy now, the troopers left.
Matt told me the other day that January 3, 2019 is the longest and hardest day of his life.
I wish I had something profound to say about all this, but I don’t. The grief is still fresh. Writing this out just now took me back like I was there again, reliving it. It’s weird when just a night out to dinner, a quick, innocent dinner at Chick-fil-a on January 2nd, could suddenly throw us into the past. There has been a million times like this all year, so I should probably stop being surprised.
There was an aspect to this day last year that I don’t mention much, but it has been on my mind a lot lately. That same day of the accident that took the lives of Matt’s brother Adam, sister-in-law Elizabeth, and niece Jane, my brother’s wife was supposed to be traveling with my niece and nephews on the exact same Texas road of Adam and Elizabeth’s accident. She decided to postpone her drive back to New Mexico another day until the weather cleared.
While I am so grateful that we didn’t lose any more family that day, lately I’ve been thinking about why. Why are some spared and some not? As tough as it is through the grief, I have to believe that it is all part of God’s plan. (However, I am adding this to my list of questions I have when I meet God someday.)
I’ve watched Matt deal with his grief in his own way this past year. He is such a rock. He is always willing to comfort me in my grief. Matt is more of the “still waters run deep” kind of guy. Matt doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve, but he feels them deeply. I can tell some of the times he is thinking about Adam, though, because he’ll lead the conversation in certain directions even though he may not come out and say the extent of what’s on his mind. We both know. He misses his brother and his best friend.
We all miss them. Our family loves their family. We were close. There is a hole in our lives where they should be.
I know from many of your messages that many of you experienced deep losses last year too. Thanks for sharing those with me. And thanks to all of those who reached out to comfort a “stranger on the internet.” Thank you, sincerely. I think of you, your kindness, your stories, and I remember that I am not alone. We are each carrying a heavy burden.
Here’s an article about the accident on ldsdaily.com if you want to read more. I’ve also shared more here and here.
From my home to yours,
My prayers are with you at this time. Grief is so unpredictable, overwhelming and uncontrollable and someday that grief will lessen and the memories will come. I live in Phoenix and remember this accident being on the news here and how it made me feel to know so many family’s lives would forever be changed.
Thank you so much. I didn’t know it was on the news there in phoenix. Wow.
Diane E Swanberg says
I’m very new to your group. Thank you so much for sharing this family tragedy. It helps others who have experienced horrible tragedies. I’m so very sorry for you loss.
Thanks, Diane! And welcome to the group!
Mary, thank you for sharing this heartfelt update. Today as I was preparing for the declutter challenge I thought about your loss, and also how the surviving children are. Like you said, it’s so strange how some are spared, and how timing changes everything. My step dad was killed in an accident, and had he been 10 seconds earlier, or 10 seconds later, he wouldn’t have been hit by the other car. Questions like these will drive us mad. I once heard a pastor say, questions like those we won’t get the answer to on Earth, but we can ask the Lord when we get to heaven. It brought me comfort, and I hope it does to you as well. Sending you hugs.
Yes, I have a list of questions going. 🙂 I’m so sorry for your loss.
Mary, thank you for sharing horrifying time in your life this and all your incredible words. My heart aches for you all as I read this. We’ve had lots of precious loved ones pass away in the past 5 years and in 2019 alone we lost a dear friend in an apartment fire, and my Dad died suddenly on 10/31. I truly feel your pain and grief. Our pastor has had some amazing messages that have helped us navigate this awful part of life on earth. If you’d like some encouragement go to http://www.eaglechurch.com and click on messages. There is also an Ap. Prayers and Blessings to you and your family as you continue to navigate your new normal and find Joy wherever you can.
Thank you so much for your kind words! I really appreciate it. Faith is really the only thing that brings a light to the darkness.
Grief is so painful. I remember reading this story last year. So sorry! I lost my grandpa a few months later in May. We were very close. Between that and having a newborn in the NICU, my house has become a clutter magnet and I hadn’t been up to battling it. I am excited to start the challenge tomorrow.
Also, I signed up for the blog emails but haven’t got one yet. I did click on the confirm email. Do your blog posts go out in a daily email or just occasionally? Thanks so much!
I searched for your email and see that you’ve been on the list for a while, but haven’t been opening emails. Can you check your junk folder?
And I’m sorry to hear that you had a tough year last year. You survived, though, and now you’ve got the determination to turn it around. You’ve got this!
Elizabeth Bruffey says
I am new to your website having found you through your declutter challenge this year on Facebook. As I prep for the rest of the week, I came to your site and noticed this post. I am so very sorry for such a tragic loss to your family. What you described near the beginning about the physical response as the anniversary approached hit so close to home. I have a precious son who lives in the arms of Jesus (along with 2 of his siblings). My son, Jonathan, was stillborn in the 2nd trimester on February 5, 2017… as February draws near, I will suddenly get anxious or feel overwhelmed and don’t know why – and then I’ll remember “oh on this day in 2017 I was pregnant and we did xyz…” The heart always remembers… and it affects the spirit and body. Again, I am so sorry for the loss of your brother-in-law and his dear family.
I’m so sorry about your losses. I agree that the heart always remembers. Thank you so much for sharing.
Amy Madsen says
I was friends with Elizabeth (who invited me to join the de-cluttering challenge when she started it) and Adam when we were in their ward in Ames. I admired them so much, for many things, and still remember the shock I felt when I heard about their accident the day after. They have been on my mind a lot for the last month, especially. I set a goal last year to learn to become more like Elizabeth, and haven’t succeeded very well, but I am still trying. I hope their other children are doing ok, as well as you guys. My hubby and I have both lost siblings suddenly (my husband’s brother/best friend was killed in the USU van roll-over almost 15 years ago) and we know how much it hurts and how fresh it is even after a year. May the Lord bless and comfort you both.