Has it really been 5 years?
I still remember those events as if it were yesterday.
A friend came into Gerig lounge saying that he had just seen an accident on 69 and a Taylor van was involved. We were all in shock, not really sure whether to believe him. Maybe he had seen it wrong. Maybe he misunderstood. Maybe everyone was ok. And then our hall director came through putting up signs for a prayer service at the chapel. She said she didn’t know much, but that they were going to make some announcements at the service.
As we trekked across campus to the chapel, students poured out of the dorms; silent questions written all over our faces. “Who was it? How could this have happened? Do I know who it was? What’s going on?”
The chapel was filled with people praying, crying, waiting. Finally someone stepped up and gave us as much detail as was possible, which wasn’t much. “Please,” he implored us, “Please, call your families, especially if they live close. This is all over the news, and we are being flooded with phone calls and e-mails from nervous parents.” At that point I realized it was almost 11 p.m. Almost time for the news, which I was certain both my mom and grandma would be watching.
I called my mom. I told her that I loved her, and that I was ok. I told her that my dear friend Sarah who I’d grown up with was ok and that I’d make her call her mom too. I told her of some of my other close friends that I had seen and knew were ok. There were others I hadn’t seen yet. I told her to call Grandma who was sure to watch the news and flip out if she hadn’t heard from any of us. I told her I loved her again, and passed my phone to others to call their parents and relate similar messages. As I wandered around outside of the chapel still in shock, I met up with some other friends. One of them told me that she knew some of who had been in the accident. She named a couple of names that I didn’t know, and then one that I absolutely knew. “Laura VanRyn was in the accident too. She’s alive, but in critical condition in a hospital in Ft. Wayne.” I couldn’t believe it. Laura and I played lacrosse together. In fact, she was an incredible lacrosse player, always full of energy. “Squirrely” we called her because she had the energy and agility of a squirrel running around on the field. I went in search of some of the other girls on the team; they needed to know too.
Many other scenes from that long, excruciating night flash through my mind as I think back. But one that really stands, a moment I will remember forever, was the moment someone started singing. “When peace like a river attendeth my way” the voice began and others joined in “When sorrows like sea billows roll.” The whole crowd was singing now “Whatever my lot, though hast taught me to say: It is well, it is well with my soul.” As we lifted our voices in a beautiful, heartbroken unison, I felt the Lord’s presence surround and comfort us. There were still so many questions, so much pain and grief with more yet to come. But in that moment, something happened. It was as if in that one a cappella song, the Taylor family was saying, “God, we don’t understand, but we trust you. We know you love us. We know you’re here with us. Be our strength and our sustenance in this, our most painful hour of need.” And He was.
The next few days all blur together. I remember more about the events than the actual days. I remember the entire dorm gathering together to pray and just be together. I remember getting together with the lacrosse team on multiple occasions. The DC was a somber, quiet place. People ate in quiet reflections, still in shock. I remember going up to visit Laura with some of my lacrosse friends. We met her parents, some of her siblings, and her boyfriend (who most of us knew because he’d been at some of the lacrosse games.) We went in and saw Laura, told her we were praying for her, we loved her, and that she needed to get better soon. As we sat with her family in the waiting room of the ICU, it felt nice to just be around people who loved her, just be together. When we left, I remember one of us saying, “Gosh, she looks so different.” “Yea,” we all agreed, “not like the lively Laura we know.” “But what do you expect after going through a horrific car accident??” And we prayed. Driving home, we passed the site of the accident. It was almost surreal. You could still see the tracks left by the semi as it crossed the grass median. People had already left flowers and crosses on the side of the road.
It was a beautiful, sunny April. And slowly but surely, campus began returning back to life. Classes resumed, papers were turned in, exams were looming. It wasn’t that we were forgetting, it was that we were coming to a new reality, a new normal. The memories of our dear friends now celebrating with the Lord remained with us. We missed them. As a community, as a family, we still mourned our loss. I say our loss because in it all we always knew that truly the loss was ours, not theirs. We grieved, we missed them, we questioned. They celebrated, rejoiced in being in the presence of the Savior. And in that we were thankful and comforted.
Life kept going. Graduation happened, everyone dispersed for the summer. Fast forward a few weeks.
It was a few days before my friend Jenny’s wedding and my friend Katy was on her way to stay with me before we headed to the wedding. I had just finished mowing the lawn and went in to check my e-mails before showering. There was an e-mail from a lacrosse friend….
The e-mail said that there had been a mistake. A mix-up of identities. The person we thought was Laura, recovering in the hospital and doing quite well, was actually in fact Whitney. Laura had died in the accident 5 weeks earlier, Whitney had survived. I was shocked, confused, and saddened. Though those words may be putting it a bit lightly. I went to the blog that Laura’s family had been updating and I had been following. It confirmed the news. It felt like I was reliving the nightmare of the accident all over again. I thought about calling Katy to tell her, but she was driving and she would be at my house soon enough to learn the news. I sat in the office chair and sobbed for I don’t even know how long.
Eventually I heard the doorbell ring and went to open it. Katy stood on the front porch jumping in excitement to see me and ready to give me a welcoming hug….until she saw my face, saw that I was crying. Immediately her mood changed, and as the words came tumbling out of my mouth I saw all of my emotions reflected on her face. Shock. Disbelief. Anger. Pain. Confusion. Hurt. Loss. We wept and hugged and prayed.
The weekend came and with it an emotional roller coaster. Saturday was the wedding in Ohio. A beautiful, joyful occasion filled with laughter, fun, friends, and a whole lot of love. Sunday brought the funeral in Michigan. It too was a beautiful occasion, but in a very different way. It was a wonderful celebration of a life, though short, lived well. A life that reflected God’s love and direction. A life that encouraged the rest of us to love God and people as much as Laura had.
5 years have passed now. And while I don’t think about those events every day, I still think of them often. It is something that has changed and shaped who I am today. I learned a lot about the importance of Christian community through the accident. Things about how the body of Christ can and should function through times of great need. Things about how God uses circumstances like those to show His glory, to draw people to Himself. I learned a lot about His goodness and grace and faithfulness in the midst of pain. I also learned a lot about compassion and loving others when they are grieving. This is honestly a short overview of the things I learned from those days, but it would take several more hours to truly dig into all that I learned, all the ways that it changed me.
This is just my story. One out of thousands. But I felt that it was time to share it, to honor it.
Laura at a lacrosse game with my friend Tina and her sister Katie.
Taylor Women’s Lacrosse ’06-’07