At thirty-three years old, in a most sudden and shocking way, my friend Ellen faced a new reality: Life without her mom.
January 6, 2002 was a Sunday pretty much like any other, aside from the cranberry juice Joanne accidentally spilled on her Sunday best, changing her plans to go to church with her husband. Instead, they headed out a little earlier than expected to visit family, hopping on Interstate 4 in Florida just as they’ve done countless times before. Only this time, life would take a tragic turn. On the other side of the highway, a man driving a van clipped the car next to him, lost control, crossed the median, and slammed head-first into their car, killing her instantly. She was sixty-one years old.
A thousand miles away in Michigan, Ellen answered the phone and learned the terrible news. Her father was hurt. Her mother was gone. “She laughed at everything,” Ellen remembered. “Anyone who ever met mom can still hear that laugh. And she loved being a grandma.” Why her? Why now? Where do you go to find comfort? For Ellen, that would come two years later in a most astounding way.
Ellen decided to hire a cleaning woman to occasionally help around her house thirty miles north of Detroit. She had a busy schedule and two boys — three if you count her husband. She could use a hand. She asked a friend if she had any recommendations. Judy’s number was on the bulletin board at her friend’s church. She was perfect. And for more than a year, she did a great job.
One day, Judy was shaken. Her daughter had just been in a car accident. She was okay, but the car was totaled. Ellen listened as Judy told her what happened. “Eventually, we got around to talking about the crash in Florida my parents were in and Judy suddenly grew very quiet,” Ellen said. “She asked a lot of questions; when it happened, how it happened, what color their car was. Then she showed me her arms filled with goose bumps.” Against astronomical odds, Judy and her family were heading to Disney World on I-4 on January 6, 2002 when a van clipped their car, lost control, crossed the median, and slammed head-first into a car on the other side of the highway — the car driven by Ellen’s dad; the crash that killed her mother. Judy’s family rushed to her parent’s car seconds after it happened. They smashed out the window and did all they could to comfort Ellen’s dad before help arrived.
As Ellen shared her story with me, I pictured her and Judy staring at each other with their mouths open, shocked by their discovery, overwhelmed by their connection. And the goosebumps? A sign that even in the midst of great pain, God can bring people into our paths to help us along? “I don’t know,” Ellen said. “It comforts me to think that Mom’s checking in on me. I often think of her as my little guardian angel.” Now Ellen is smiling. There is peace in her voice that wasn’t there before. Her mother’s death changed her, but a stranger showed her life is still extraordinary. Love is still love. And Mom’s still here.
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