The Death of Dan. The Rebuilding of Laurie.
Today is October 18, 2015.
29 years ago today — October 18, 1986 at 1:00 p.m. — my world fell apart.
My dear brother Dan was in a motorcycle accident and died eight days later from injuries sustained in the crash. I posted about Dan last October but since this week’s post is publishing on an exact anniversary, I am going to share a piece of my story again with the sliver of the world that tracks with me on-line. (Thanks to each one of you.)
Here is what happened as described in Live ABOVE the Chaos:
I woke up on a beautiful Saturday morning in October of 1986 as a twenty-five-year-old graduate student living in Maryland. The crimson, golden, and russet leaves beckoned me outdoors for my weekly run with school friends at a nearby park. I returned invigorated from filling my lungs with crisp autumn air while enjoying the crunch of dry leaves underfoot on the wooded running path. The house I shared with a single mother and her son was empty when I returned home, so I took my time showering, donned my favorite sweats, and settled in for an afternoon of studying.
Please allow me to underline the fact that I was happy that day. I had cleaned my entire room the night before so I was feeling organized, healthy, productive, and in control. Even the weather was cooperating with me! As embarrassing as it is to admit now, I remember thinking: Wow; I have the formula for a successful life down pat.
Then the phone rang.
I got up from my desk and walked across the long basement room to the phone on the wall.
“Laurie?” It was my mom. She was crying and her voice was shaky and strained. To this day the words are a blur; I just remember the devastating news that rocked my world. My dear brother, Dan, had been struck by a car while riding his motorcycle in his neighborhood. He was twenty-three. Mom explained that he was not expected to live through the night. She asked that I pack my bags and drive immediately from Maryland to a hospital in New Jersey where Dan lay in intensive care.
So grateful to be alone, I stumbled through the house screaming, “Nooooooo!” at the top of my lungs . . . over and over again. Finally, falling on my knees in the living room, I collapsed against an end table and soaked the sleeves of my favorite sweatshirt with tears. The walls of that tiny living room remain the only witness to my first soul-wrenching sobs that day.
Dan had possessed a jovial, life-of-the-party personality wrapped up in a huge football-playing body. He had played football his first three years of college at a Pennsylvania university but had taken his senior year off to give his hip, which had been causing him chronic pain, a chance to heal. He ended up finding work in New Jersey, so he moved to the Jersey Shore.
One by one, my family members traveled from Pennsylvania to the hospital. My younger, twenty-one-year-old brother, David, had arrived first, followed by my parents. Because of my distress, I asked my friend, LeAnn, to drive me to the hospital. We were the last to arrive.
We began to put the pieces together about how the accident had happened. My brother had been fixing his motorcycle and taking test drives—down a few blocks and then back. On one of those spins, a man pulled out from a side street and into my brother’s path. The collision sent Dan soaring through the air. His muscular body could not compete with the impact against rock-hard pavement. He became immediately unconscious before slipping into a coma.
Over the next week, my family members and I took turns at Dan’s bedside. The nurses explained that hearing is the last of our senses to go; so, when it was my turn to sit at Dan’s bedside, I never stopped talking. I recounted every memory I could recall and said, “I love you,” a thousand times. One tragic evening, in an effort to correct his electrolytes, fluid was added to Dan’s body. Every drop of it went to Dan’s brain and caused swelling. Throughout the night, my brother progressively lost brain function and slowly died. He was pronounced brain-dead by morning, eight days after his accident.
Since Dan was healthy when he died and was still connected to life support, we were asked about donating Dan’s organs. We agreed that if we couldn’t have Dan any longer, at least some good would come from extending life to others.
I heard later that one of my brother’s best friends, Patsy, had said, “Whoever gets Dan’s heart is getting a really big heart.” Dan had been known to lend the living room couch out to anyone who needed it. His roommates joked that they never knew which of his buddies would be in the house when they got up in the morning.
After the decision was made to donate Dan’s organs, we took turns entering his curtained sanctum to say good-bye. Dan was still on life support until organ recipients could be found, so his body was still “alive.” I laid my head on his chest and memorized the sound of his heartbeat and the steadiness of his machine-governed breathing. I inhaled deeply to remember how his skin smelled. And then I kissed my brother on the cheek for the last time and left the hospital without him.
I will never forget the silent drive home as my family traveled from the Jersey Shore to my parents’ Pennsylvania home. As Mom and I walked toward the front door, she was greeted by our dog, Holly. Mom bent over to pat her head and said, “Danny isn’t coming home.”
My brother Dan has still not come home.
After my heart took yet one more fatal blow a few months later, the truth about my faith in God was fully exposed as cracked, thin, works-oriented and flimsy. The Christian faith I had always known did not hold up when faced with such tragedy and ensuing heartbreak.
I have learned that some people think my book is about my story.
No, everyone has a story to tell.
It’s the PURPOSE of the story that makes a book.
Only the first twenty one pages deal exclusively with my story. Though further pieces of my life are shared transparently throughout the pages as supporting material and illustration, the rest of the book is about how God met with me in the deep down recesses of my heart that only He and I know about….where faith takes root and grows.
As I sat with a Bible in my lap to study and write, God kindly revealed the truth about my motivations, the reasons behind my horrid behavior, the extent of my heart-wounds and the areas of distorted thinking.
God helped me rebuild a stronger foundation that has since endured continued hardships.
God led me out of a miry pit.
Do you want a strong faith that won’t topple when life gets hard?
Do you need to get back on track?
Do you need to start over?
Live ABOVE the Chaos, is not about my story of tragedy.
It is about my journey back.
It’s crazy how much I still miss you. Pictures of you have always been present in both my home and work offices.
When I teach about grief I physically take your picture to class with me and introduce my students to your story. Each of my children have “dan” inserted somewhere in their names and I still have evenings of nostalgia when I stare at your photo or eat some Pepperidge Farm coconut cake in your honor.
But I am okay now. God did what He promised in James 1:2-4. He used the trials to further complete me. My emotions and decisions are no longer hinged to your death but to the faithfulness of God and the truth of His eternal love for me.
I love you, Daniel Clay Thompson. Always will.
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