Andrew had been away for WLC & BNCOC for a period of six weeks between November & December. I spent those weeks lying either on the couch or on my bathroom floor as I had morning sickness day in & day out until about the 18th of December, which is the day Andrew got to come home! We had wanted to leave for Tennessee the next morning, but Andrew had other obligations he couldn’t get out of for Monday morning, the 21st.
So after he got home, we headed south for what we though would be our annual “Good ol’ Country Christmas” with my family. Already being 2.5 days behind schedule, 4 hours into the trip at 4:45 we started having truck issues. Thanks to our handy iPhones, we located the nearest repair shop (who was of course preparing to shut down in 15 minutess ’til after the holidays). Thankfully, the guy was uber nice and said he would take care of us. However, we sat there for over 4 hours before getting back on the road.
We arrived at my parents house about 6:00am. I didn’t want to get out of the car. I was so nervous about Mama seeing me & perhaps noticing I was pregnant. I was right at 13 weeks, and beginning to show. However, we had planned to tell my family Christmas morning with a very prettily wrapped gift of a framed ultrasound picture & recording of the heartbeat. Plus, me, being spiteful wanted to win the bet I had with Andrew that I wouldn’t tell Mama ’til then (because I told her everything). Andrew bet Mama would notice within 13 second, so I put on my big coat and went inside. C.J. was standing in the doorway with the door wide open by the time I got to the sidewalk, Dad had already left for work, and Mama was in the shower. She hadn’t been to bed all night as she always stayed up worrying ’til we got there. We took our stuff to our room and met Mama as we were coming out in the hallway. I remember Andrew kept nudging me to go give her a hug, but I was so nervous! I did though. Then we all went to the living room where C.J. was sitting in Dad’s recliner waiting for someone to pick him up because they had to go sell tobacco that morning and Mama sat on the couch. Jade jumped right up in her lap and Mama commented on the bows in her ears. Then Daddy called to remind C.J. to get something out of the garage, which created much chaos as C.J. (being C.J.) couldn’t remember where his garage keys were. He & Mama fussed (as usual) and while C.J. was looking for the keys Mama told Andrew he had to teach C.J. how to drive while we were there. She made the comment after seeing Andrew’s expression that he didn’t have to teach him in our truck – and that he definitely wasn’t to teach him in her (my old) Camaro. We all talked some more about the plans for the day and our drive down. Then, about 7:30 C.J. left and the rest of us went to bed.
I woke up about 11:30am to Mama scurrying around. Still dog-tired, but knowing there was a lot of Christmas cooking and prepping that needed done, I got up with her. After putting on the biggest sweatshirt I could find I went in the kitchen with her. She was getting ready for her 1:00 doctors appointment. C.J. was back, and was pretty mad at me because we had decided that he would go with Mama instead of me driving her. He really wanted to stay with Andrew. But, Andrew & I had planned on redoing her bathroom while they were gone, so I didn’t want to go with. We told them we didn’t expect to be awake yet since we had been on the road for 20 hours. They left about 12:00 and I remember Mama wearing a blue sweater with gingerbread (her favorite) on it & jeans that she had almost outgrown.
Andrew & I unpacked the truck and sat down to relax for a minute before we noticed Jade had urinated in the floor. Then we noticed she did it again & that it had blood in it. After being sick the day before & eating gum (which can cause kidney failure in dogs if it contains xylitol) we took no chances and took her to the vet. It was a li’l after 2:00 and I called Mama on the way to tell her. She was leaving the doctors office, and didn’t sound right. She told me she was okay though and that she’d see me in a little while. As always, we ended the call with “I love yous”. Little did I know that would be the last time I’d ever talk to her. At 3:11 C.J. texted me to say, “how is the dog” but I didn’t reply because we were talking to the vet and checking out. At 3:15 he called, but we didn’t answer because Andrew’s brother had just called & they were talking as we were leaving the vet. After they hung up, on the literal 5 minute drive to the house he discussed going to Scott’s to play X-Box (but not wanting C.J. to go because he always shot the good guys) and then we discussed how there were to be no more emergencies this trip! After the truck had broke down, and with Jade’s UTI we had already spent $450 (way more than our budget). No sooner had I said “no more emergencies” I noticed the firetruck that we were behind stopping. I then threw Jade into Andrew’s lap & jumped out of our truck before it was ever stopped. I couldn’t believe what I saw.
This was pretty much the scene, less than 200 yards from our driveway:except C.J.’s door was still on, and my Aunt was standing there by him. As soon as she saw me she came running to me. She said, “Jaima, it’s bad. It’s really bad. Your Mama is okay, but C.J. is unconscious. He’s not breathing”. I remember collapsing about the time that Andrew got to me. He tried to hold me up from behind and kept telling me to relax that I couldn’t stress myself or the baby. Jeannie (my aunt because she married my Dad’s brother, but also my mom’s first cousin) told me that Daddy was on his way home from work and that Aunt T (her mom, and my great aunt) was right over there, and she began walking me towards her. Then they made Andrew move the truck so the ambulance could get through (that’s how close we were to the time of the accident as there were no other cars there yet). All I wanted was to see Mama, so after a preacher who had stopped at the scene stopped us to pray over us I tried to go back to the car. However, they kept ushering me away. They said the gasoline was leaking and they couldn’t let anyone near it. So, I stood up directly behind the car which is where I was when this picture was taken. It was 3:40 something because I was trying to call Mom’s sister, Terri to tell her to get up there and call Tania to tell her to come home. Both calls went unanswered. At 3:46 Tania called me back as they were putting C.J. on the stretcher (only 31 minutes from the time he had called me). In my head I knew he was dead, though my heart was hopeful. Andrew will tell you he knew he was definitely dead because C.J. was intubated, but nobody was squeezing it to give him oxygen. Then, I walked down to the field in front of the car where my cousin Lucy was standing. During that time my Terri’s husband, Reuben, called me back, and I explained where the accident was. C.J.’s best friend’s dad (also our neighbor), Timmy came running towards us asking if that was my Mama. All I could say was, “Yes! And C.J.”! Somehow they let him up to Mama’s side of the car (along with other people, but they wouldn’t let me, which I’m still eternally mad about). After seeing them allow him up there, I tried again to go up while telling Andrew, “I should have told her, I should have told her” over and over. They still wouldn’t let me up there, and I’ll never ever forget the sound of Timmy screaming, “That’s her Mama – you let her up here – that’s her mama” again and again. Then, as I was still talking to Lucy, a State Trooper came down to me and asked their names, ages, and residence. I remember telling him and pointing to our house. He then told me they were both being life-lighted to Vanderbilt and asked who Lucy was. She said she was a cousin and the Trooper walked away with her. About that time I saw life-light take off with C.J. It wasn’t but a very short minute later Lucy came back to me with the Trooper who told me I needed to get to Vanderbilt, not to wait at the wreck. Even though, I used to live a couple of blocks from Vandy I couldn’t think of how to get there. Thankfully, Lucy offered to lead the way for us as she was going too. Not being able to get to our house, we took Jade to Lucy’s to stay ’til we got home. On the way to Lucy’s I remember calling Mama’s cousin Cella because I knew she would spread the word, and I also called her cousin Cindy. Then, it was what seemed to be the longest ride ever to Nashville before we got to Vandy. Andrea, my bff, called as we were getting on the interstate. Her mom was stuck in traffic behind the scene, and heard that it was Mom & C.J. She told me she would meet me at Vanderbilt (she’s always been by my side since we were 4).
When we arrived at Vanderbilt, I hopped out of the truck & let Andrew & Lucy park the cars. Dad, Johnny, & Cella were already there standing inside the ER doors. A male came out and told us that they still had no record of C.J. being there (which could not be possible since lifelight left before I did and I had a drive). Soon, Tania, Andrea, Greg (our minister) & several other family members & friends started arriving. Then, the male & a sweet sweet social worker (named Jenna, I think) ushered us to a small private waiting room in the ER. I thought it was because there were so many of us. They told us a doctor was evaluating C.J. and would soon let us know something. Little did we know that around 7:15 the doctor would finally come in and tell us that C.J. had unfortunately not made it. You know how it goes, “I’m so sorry, but even with our best efforts, we were not able to save him/her”. They couldn’t tell us exactly what he had died from, but he guessed his aorta had been crushed (and yes, after reviewing the autopsy, that is in fact one of the internal injuries he sustained). By now, there were tons of people there. I probably couldn’t tell you everyone that was there, but my guess would be somewhere close to 45 loved ones. They allowed us to see him. Oh, poor Ceeejay. Besides being swollen, he looked just like CJ. Not a visible scratch on him. Only a few of us went in. Dad, Andrew, Terri, Reuben. I believe Jeannie, Johnny, & Aunt T went in too. After we had our time, we had to sign papers and gather his belonging (clothes, wallet, etc). Right before we started the paperwork, they told us that Mom had landed at Baptist Hospital because there were too many other helicopters landing at Vanderbilt and they needed to land her. So, while doing the paperwork, Debby, Cella, & Cindy went there to see her. As we were about to head out the door they called and told us they were bringing her back to Vanderbilt by ambulance. When they arrived, the doctors were of course with Mom, but our cousins said that she had a broken left wrist, broken left knee, a few broken ribs, and a collapsed right lung, but that she was conscious and responding to them. I had high hopes. I thought, “hey, a few broken bones, a collapsed lung, they can put her right back together”. The doctor told us they were sending her for a CT Scan and depending on their findings she would either go straight to surgery or she would be sent to the Trauma Unit where we could see her. They told us she had been sedated and was comfortable, which worried me knowing she was already on high doses of pain meds for her regular pain. Which, I mentioned to the doctor, but he didn’t seem to care. Less than 15 minutes later, they came in and told us her liver was damaged and she was going to surgery. Our sweet social worker walked us all out to the main lobby at Vanderbilt. It was 9:15 She told us the surgery could take anywhere from 2-6 hours and that they would update us on this scroll board. She also said that a nurse may periodically call to update us. Hearing this, and thinking things were still okay, Andrew left to find a radio shack to by a phone charger. About 9:40 I called him to see where he was and he said they were way too expensive so he would just make the 25 minute trip home (since the surgery would take so long) and come back. However, I protested and told him to just come back. As I was hanging up, the li’l lady at the help desk called for us. The doctors were on the phone. Dad answered. My heart sank. He has a hard time hearing, and kept saying, “hello, hello”, the receptionist took the phone back. They had hung up. They called right back, but only wanted to talk to her. They were requesting 2 family members. She said, “I have a husband and daughter… umm… okay”. We were then instructed to take the doctors elevator to the third floor, and take a right to the first waiting room on the left. As we were walking to the elevator I grabbed Dad’s hand and said, “What are we going to do”. He replied, “I don’t know. Nothing will ever be the same”. We got to the waiting room and waited. I still had Dad’s hand. I will never forget the next noise I heard. 2 sets of footsteps coming down the hall. They reached our room. They sat down beside Dad and said, “What did they tell you of your wives condition?”. Dad of course told them what we knew. The doctor then shook his head. He said, “She was bad. Really bad. As soon as we opened her up to operate, her heart stopped. We didn’t even have all of our tools ready. We tried really hard, but she didn’t make it. Sir, she had a severed liver, kidney, spleen, and the connection of her gastric bypass surgery was severed as well.”
I don’t remember what else was said. I was shaking. And rocking. About that time, Jenna had brought Andrew and Terri up. Andrew sat beside me, Terri beside him. Dad shook his head at her to say, “she didn’t make it”. She then got on her knees in front of us. Andrew was sick. Physically throwing up sick. I was numb. I was angry. I was sad. All I said was, “it’s all my fault, it’s all my fault. I was suppose to drive her. oh god.” Over and over. We finally got it together, told them we would like to see her and requested that Jenna go downstairs and be the only one to tell the 40+ loved ones down stairs. When she returned, she brought Reuben back (Terri’s husband) and we all went in to see Mama.
She looked so perfect. Her blue eye makeup was perfect. Again, no scratch, no bruise. She was beautiful. As always. I just couldn’t believe my still warm mother was dead. We stayed only a few minutes. I kissed her goodnight, and we made our way slowly to the family downstairs.
They were all sobbing, standing with open arms as we reached them. I have no recollection of who I hugged first. Though I’m thinking it was Tania. The rest is a blur. A complete blur. I do know, we left the hospital late (around 11:30 I think), got Jade, and went home to an empty house lit solely by her gorgeous Christmas Tree. Nobody slept a wink that night. I played Toby Keith’s “Crying for Me” over and over and over. I cried. I screamed. I begged to be woken up…
The next day is pretty much a blur too. I know that I had to talk to Donor Services (which was ridiculous all of the questions they ask. ie: has BAK or CJK ever had intercourse with an animal. seriously.)
On Christmas Eve, we went to the funeral home and made arrangements. The funeral home blessed us with 2 free coffins amongst other things. They were perfect (well, as perfect as one can be).
Christmas day, we spent at home with Terri & Tania’s family as usual. A few others stopped in and brought food.
Saturday we had their visitations and buried them on Sunday. The service was beautiful. Greg did a great job. It was short & sweet (like mom, per Dad’s request). And then we had the burial. Which I will never forget. Dad & Andrew (again, per Dad’s request) cast the first few shovels of dirt atop them. It was heart wrenching. It too, was beautiful though. It was hard to watch CJ’s friends all dressed in flannel shirts, bibbed overalls, and baseball hats carry him & stand by his grave.
I will never ever forget……..