"Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." Allen Saunders said that, and on January 8, 1991, I learned exactly what he meant by it. It was a Tuesday.
That morning I woke up at 5:30, unable to sleep. The bus wouldn't come for another hour but I got up anyway. Nausea roiled my stomach and I left without eating breakfast. It was my first day back at the all-girls Catholic high school I attended.
My best friend Erin, greeted me with a hug as we waited for our ride. "Josee! When did you get back?"
"How's your dad?"
"Better. It's going to take a while though." I forced an optimism I didn't feel. I didn't want to talk abut my dad or the accident or how awful it all had been.
"Is he home?"
"No. He's still in the hospital in Québec City. He wanted us to get back to school. My mom is going back in a couple of days." She opened her mouth to speak but I continued, "What did you get for Christmas?"
She answered but I stopped listening. I had been doing that a lot the past couple of weeks. Ever since Christmas Eve when my world went black. None of us anticipated what would happen when my dad rented a snowmobile. We had plans to get together with our extended family for mass that night followed by our annual réveillion party. I hadn't wanted to ride the skidoo, but eventually he convinced me to come along. That first trip around the property had been fun. It had started snowing, and fat fluffy flakes danced in my father's eyelashes. We knew we'd have to go in soon, as visibility was getting worse, but he got me back on for one last ride, this time in the driver's seat while he sat behind me, his hands on mine.
I don't remember seeing the tree, but when I came to, I was face down in the snow and my dad was nowhere to be found. It took a moment for me to realize what had happened. I turned my head and saw him by the tree. I couldn't stand so I crawled through the snow, barely able to see an inch in front of me, to where my father lay in a sea of red.
Miraculously, I suffered only deep bruising but not one broken bone. My father had pushed me off the snowmobile and saved my life. He, on the other hand, was more broken than whole. But he was alive and for two weeks we clung to hope.
Doctors warned us the road to recovery would be long and treacherous. He might never fully rebound. Still, they believed he was out of immediate danger, and we all let out our breath a little.
So, at my father's request, my mom brought us home. Pulling into our driveway was surreal. His truck was parked out front, his boots were by the door, but without him there, it didn't feel like home. The plan was for her to take down the Christmas tree, pay the mortgage and utilities and get groceries. Then she'd go back to my dad. If all went well, she'd bring him home by months end.
That night we called the hospital to talk to him, each of us taking our turn.
"Dad! You should see the stacks of cards people have sent. You're on a huge prayer chain and people are bringing food."
"Josee, I want to tell you...I'm so proud of you."
"Why? I didn't do any of it."
"You're a good girl. I need you to promise me you're going to take care of your sister and help your mom."
"Yes, dad. Of course."
"I promise. I'll look out for Shirley and I'll help mom. I'll see you soon, okay, dad?" There was nothing but silence on the other end of the line. "Dad? Are you still there?"
"Yes...I love you, Josee."
"I love you too, papa."
Back at school, the words blurred on the page and I couldn't focus. Scenes of the accident kept flashing in my mind, wrenching me out of the present. No matter how hard I tried to shake it off, a heavy foreboding loomed over me. I was five minutes into the second period of the day when a nun came and got me out of my study hall.
My father had died that morning of a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in the lungs. Doctors began resuscitation at 5:30. Time of death was called at 6:35.
The ground beneath me turned to quicksand. Everything around me shrunk or maybe I was the one who shrunk. Either way, I didn't fit in the world around me anymore.
Twenty-six years have since passed. My road to recovery was long and grueling; mostly uphill for the first few years as I struggled with PTSD. There were times I thought I'd break under the weight of the grief.
Recently, my mom gave me my dad's planner. I don't recall having ever seen it. I flipped open the front cover and traced his handwriting with my finger. One by one, I turned the pages and read the entries, eventually coming upon January 8.
My dad had an important meeting that morning. He thought it would be for work. Little did he know it was a divine appointment with his creator. Thankfully though, he had planned for it.
Faith is personal, immeasurable and impossible to judge. The only time I remember hearing my dad pray was in the hospital. I thought he was asking me something but when I leaned in, he was saying the Lord's Prayer. He may not have been vocal about his faith, but his life was a beautiful reflection of it. He was a man of integrity and principle who went out of his way to improve the lives of others.
Each of us plans for the future; where we'll go, what we'll do, but how many of us plan for eternity? How many of us are even sure where we're going? My dad knew. He had long ago accepted the free gift God offers to every one of us through his Son, Jesus. So while my father wrote down his appointments and planned for the future, he made sure his eternal plans were set.
I've made the same choice to follow Jesus and I look forward to that day when I am reunited with both my Savior and my dad. Knowing him, it'll be one heck of a party.