Can It Be 20 Years?

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” 2 Peter 3:8 NIV

My mom could make us laugh, snorting and all, but she didn’t always mean to. She was mostly deaf and would repeat what she thought we said. Often, what she heard and repeated back, could have landed her a spot on The Tonight Show. The best part was that she would laugh, too.

But it was one phrase that was her legacy. And it wasn’t something she misheard. Although when I repeated it back to her, she laughed like we so often had. Here’s what happened.

I grew up on a quiet street in a small town. Our house was smack dab between my mother’s cousin on one end of the block and an uncle on the other end of the block. Forget the “quiet street” part. There were always family members around. Her cousin, my Auntie Alma, was my favorite relative. She was really nice to me, and I loved everything about her. She was known for talking a lot and laughing more. She was always put together, hair perfectly coiffed, clothes impeccable.

Auntie Alma owned a boutique dress shop on Main Street. I loved it there. It was something I wished I could do, even now. As a twelve-year-old, I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. She “hired” me to help her around the store, washing windows, sweeping the floor, learning the art of making customers happy. Auntie Alma knew her customers. She kept a little box with index cards for each one, marked with what style they liked, their sizes, color preferences, upcoming occasions, etc. When a customer came into the store, she would pull out the dresses she bought “just for them.” Her taste was excellent, and her salesmanship even better. As her customers pulled back the curtain on the fitting room, Auntie Alma would ooh and ahh and have them twirl, then she would accessorize them. By the time they left the store, they had bought several dresses, along with matching purses, scarves, and jewelry. Auntie Alma was the master.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have nearly enough time with her. When I was in high school, Auntie Alma was diagnosed with breast cancer. In only a few weeks, she was gone. We all missed her terribly, and like most families, life events were measured by before or after Auntie Alma died.

One day, driving my mother to the pharmacy, after she was prescribed Thyroid medication, the measuring rod of Auntie Alma’s death was pulled out.

Mom said, “You know, Auntie Alma was on this same medication.”

“No, I didn’t know that.” I answered.

“Yes, she was.” Then came the phrase that has become our family’s tag line for anyone who has died. Mom said, “She would still be on it, if she had lived her whole life.”

I looked at her, thinking she was kidding. Yes, Auntie Alma died in her 50s but…I started laughing.

“What? What did I say?” Mom asked, seriously not knowing what was so funny.

“Mom, when someone dies, they did live their whole life.” Her brain took a few seconds to process that before she burst out laughing. Tears rolled down my face from my squinted-shut eyes. I had to pull the car over until I could see again.

And that’s how it happened. Whenever someone talked about a dead relative, it was followed by “if they had lived their whole life.”

“Nana would have turned 90 this year, if she had lived her whole life.”

“Dad would have bought a party boat, if he had lived his whole life.”

“Uncle Joe would have loved this, if he had lived his whole life.”

You get the idea. I told this story at my mom’s funeral. It got a laugh from most of the mourners, lightening the occasion. But when I said that line, “Auntie Alma would still be on it, if she had lived her whole life,” one of my mother’s cousins leaned over to another cousin and said in all seriousness, “That’s true, she would.” It must be genetic.

A Split Second

There’s a split second when you realize you’re about to hit another car. A friend’s accident this week reminded me of the accidents I’ve been involved in and that terrifying moment before impact.

Thirty-five years ago, I was headed home, delighted that my work week was over. In just two days, I would become Mrs. Douglas Radcliff. As I left work, I looked forward to celebrating Doug’s parents’ anniversary and then picking up the tuxedos. The day I had dreamed about was almost here. And then it happened.

As I neared the intersection, there was no need to slow down through the green light. But the oncoming car, who was waiting to turn left, decided not to wait any longer. He started his turn just as I entered the intersection, and that was the moment I knew. He was going to hit me. I closed my eyes. BAM! My initial reaction was to check my face in the mirror. No cuts. Great, the wedding pictures will be fine. Then I took inventory of the rest of my body. My knee was bleeding. That was OK; no one would see my knee under my wedding gown. Everything else seemed to be OK, but pain was creeping into my neck, back, and hip. I was wondering if I would be able to walk down the aisle. A knock on my window jarred me out of my wedding worries. I rolled down the window. A woman said, “I know CPR.”

“Great,” I replied, “I’ll let you know if I stop breathing.”

Sirens grew closer. A police officer and EMT were soon prying my car door open. Miss EMT looked me over and asked a few questions. Then she said, “I’m going to cut off your pantyhose.”

I complained, “But they’re my favorite pair.”

She looked a little confused. “They have a hole and blood on them.”

Some EMTs have no sense of humor. She checked me for head trauma. I’m sure she was thinking it was shock. But I was so relieved that I wasn’t seriously hurt, my sense of humor wasn’t even bruised.

The first ambulance had a backboard that didn’t fit into the contoured seats of my car. The second ambulance had a bendable backboard and a giant EMT who could wield it all by himself. As he secured me to it, I said, “I knew I should have lost some weight before the wedding.” He effortlessly lifted my 110-pounds out of the car and said, “You’re as light as a feather.” It seemed I was.

Once loaded into the ambulance, I stated more than asked, “You’re gonna turn the siren on, right?” Giant EMT looked at me quizzically. I explained, “I don’t expect to ride in an ambulance again, so I’d like to do it with the siren on.” He laughed and told the driver I wouldn’t be happy until the siren was blaring. The driver obliged. Then the question came that would punctuate that day, “What day is today?” I know they were just testing my brain function, but it got old pretty quickly. It was a constant reminder of all I was missing out on, not to mention that I didn’t trust my groomsmen to pick up their tuxes without me. I was sure I’d see jackets that were too tight or pants too short at my wedding. I can be a bit of a control freak. My answer was not the day or the date. My answer was always, “It’s two days before my wedding, and I don’t have time for this.”

Unfortunately, that was not my one and only ride in an ambulance and not my only car accident. It was also not the only time an EMT said to me, “If you hadn’t been wearing your seatbelt, we wouldn’t be having a conversation right now. I’d be calling the coroner.” Some were not as serious. I want to mention that none were my fault. But all had that one thing in common: I knew for a split second that I was going to be hit, and it was going to hurt. One minute I was driving along, happily anticipating the evening’s events, and the next, there was pain and debris, my plans ruined right along with my car.

But by God’s grace, my life has gone on, as will my friend’s this week, without lasting injury. I don’t know why God allows these things—things that seem to just take up my time and create headaches both physically and in working with insurance and finding a new car. But I know He has a purpose in everything. Maybe to teach us what is important. Maybe to help us better understand and minister to someone else. I remember at the time of that accident, I was studying and meditating on giving thanks in everything and having joy in trials. Maybe God was giving me an object lesson. I learn better from hands-on experience.

One thing I do know. If the outcome had been different. If they had called the coroner, that split second of fearful impact would have immediately been followed by the most glorious moment anyone could dream of: being in the presence of Jesus. Plans will be forgotten. Missing out on something won’t enter my mind. I wonder if I’ll know it right away or if it will take a second to sink in. I don’t know. Whether death happens suddenly or if I can see it coming for a long time, the joy of that split second of realization that I am with Jesus will be overwhelming. I look forward to it. But for now, I am content and thankful to remain in this life, preferably siren free.

“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—but we are of good courage and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9 NASB)