Stronger than We Think

By Diane Stark

In the last two months, our family has wrecked three cars. First, my husband backed into a cement pole in a parking garage. He was driving our seven-passenger SUV, and he just couldn’t see. He didn’t even call to tell me it happened. He just told me about it when he got home.

Then three weeks later, my 19-year-old son hit a deer on his way home from work. He texted to tell me. The text said, “I hit a deer and my car is really messed up.”

Both of these accidents were annoying, an expensive inconvenience. But they weren’t scary. Now I know that my son could’ve swerved to miss the deer and hit a tree. The deer could have broken through his windshield and hurt him. Heck, he could have been hurt by the air bag deploying. Mentally, I understand that such possibilities had existed.

But in both of these instances, the order of events prevented me from thinking about such things. I saw my husband unharmed before I even knew about the accident. And my son texted me to report that his car was damaged, so I knew that his body was all right.

Like I said, these incidents were inconvenient. We paid a deductible, and I drove a rental car for two weeks. And then everything went back to normal.

But last week, when my cell phone rang 20 minutes after my 16-year-old daughter had left for work, I wondered if things would ever be normal again.

I answered the phone and all I heard was sobbing.

“Honey, what’s wrong? Are you okay?” I asked desperately.

“Mom, a guy hit my car. It’s really bad.”

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, but my car…”

“Where are you?” I interrupted.

When she told me, I realized she was less than five minutes from my husband’s office. “I’m on my way, Honey,” I said, “but I’m going to call Dad because he’ll be able to get to you sooner than I can.”

The next 20 minutes felt like hours. I grabbed my shoes, yelling for my ten-year-old son to do the same. We were in the car in less than a minute.

“She’s okay. She said she’s okay,” I repeated over and over again as I drove.

When I finally saw her, I hugged her tight. Then I looked at the other driver. “What happened?” I asked him.

“I fell asleep behind the wheel. I think I was going about 70,” he said casually.

70 miles an hour when the speed limit was 45. I could have choked him.

A woman who’d witnessed the accident said, “He nearly pushed her into oncoming traffic.” She put her hand on my arm. “I don’t need to tell you that this could have been much worse.”

I looked at my sweet girl. I knew it could’ve been worse, but watching her standing in the street crying was still pretty awful.

By that night, it became obvious that Julia was not all right. She was dizzy and nauseous and had a terrible headache – classic signs of a concussion. The next morning, she could barely get out of bed because her neck and back hurt so much.

“It could have been worse,” I reminded myself as she cried all the way to the doctor’s office because sitting up was so painful.

The next few days were excruciating. For her, of course, but for me too. I longed to make things better for her, but there was very little I could do. I rubbed her back. I made sure she took her pain pills. And I prayed. A lot.

I asked God to heal her, and I thanked Him that she wasn’t hurt more seriously. I was incredibly grateful that we’d be able to get back to normal and prayed for families whose outcomes weren’t as positive as ours.

Five days after the accident, I was driving our rental car and Julia was in the passenger seat. A car got close to us – not dangerously so, but she grabbed my arm, squeezing so hard it hurt.

“You’re going to be fine,” I said quietly. But I had to admit that her fear worried me. I didn’t want her to be afraid to drive because of what had happened.

That same day, I sat with Julia as she spoke on the phone with our insurance agent. Before the call, she’d been nervous, worried that they’d try to blame the accident on her.

But on the phone, she was poised and professional. She told the agent what had happened in a clear, concise way. With a start, I realized she sounded like an adult.

I hugged her when she got off the phone. “You’re stronger than you think,” I told her.

“But tomorrow is the day that the doctor said I could drive again.”

“Yes, and you’re going to drive my car until yours is fixed. And you’re going to be just fine.”

I saw fear in her eyes, but I refused to acknowledge it. I also ignored the way my heart sped up when I thought about my little girl behind the wheel again.

The next day, Julia drove my car to her friend’s house. As I watched her leave with my keys in her hand, I felt nervous and proud at the same time. She texted me when she arrived, and I realized she’d felt the same way.

“She’s going to be fine,” I told my husband. “She’s stronger than she realizes.”

“She gets that from her mom,” he answered.

The tears I’d been holding back all week flooded my eyes. I’d held them in, wanting to be strong for Julia. But watching her leave the house without me for the first time since the accident was frightening. But necessary.

She was scared to go, and I was scared to let her. But she went anyway, and she was just fine.

Turns out, we’re both stronger than we thought.

About this writer

  • Diane Stark

    Diane Stark

    Diane Stark is a wife and mom of five. She loves to write about her family and her faith. Her essays have been published in over 20 Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

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One Response to “Stronger than We Think”

  1. Bobby Barbara Smith says:

    The accident could have been tragic for your daughter but it turned out to be a great life-lesson. I enjoyed your article. It also reminded me of the fear I felt getting back in my car after my first accident, so I understood your daughter’s emotions. Great job.

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