Shortly after Nina died, I remember well-meaning friends talking to me about hope. My reply was usually, “What was there to have hope about?” The only thing I prayed and hoped for was that my daughter would come back again, that the accident that took her life had never happened. Since that wasn’t possible, what was the point of having hope?
Our lives have been turned upside down and we feel so out of control. We feel like we have failed – that the one thing we as good parents had tried to do was to keep our children out of harm’s way. We made sure that we locked away poisons, that they got their immunizations on time, that they buckled their seat belts, to not talk to strangers—all the things that we hoped would ensure their safety and well-being. And still they died. How could that be?
With the knowledge of our total loss of control, we look for something to cling to that will help pull us out of the valley. I desperately sought out things that I could be hopeful for; I needed something that let me know that my daughter’s life went on…that at 15 ½ years old she didn’t just stop “being”.
Many of you have heard my story of what I call the “miracle picture”. I told my story and brought the pictures with me to share at a Compassionate Friend’s meeting about a year ago. But for those who haven’t heard it, I would like to share that story, because if anything brings with it a message of hope that our children live on, I think it is this story.
We were vacationing in Florida when the unthinkable occurred. We were driving back from a day at Daytona Beach en route to my celebratory birthday dinner (yes, sadly, my Nina died on my birthday). Just a mile from our destination a drunk driver fell asleep at the wheel, crossed the median, and hit the side of the car where my beloved Nina was sitting. She was killed instantly. As we know, all too well in each of our own circumstances, the next few weeks were a blur. But the one thing that I remember, and was obsessed with, was the pictures that had been taken that day before the horrific accident that took my daughter’s life. Shortly before we left the beach that day, only hours before the accident, Nina had handed the camera to her brother, Dan, and asked him to take a picture of the two of us together. It was the last picture taken that day. In the days following her death, I repeatedly cried out, “I need that picture” to anyone who would listen. They could only helplessly turn away knowing I was asking the impossible.
In our conversations with the highway patrolman who oversaw the accident, we repeatedly asked if the pictures had been found. The officer said that the trunk of the car where I had put the camera that day had been demolished and that it would take “nothing short of a miracle” to have survived the impact. For brevity’s sake, I won’t go into all the details, but I will tell you that three weeks after the accident, Corporal Gordon Jennings of the Florida Highway Patrol sent me a package. He had listened to this mother’s hopeful plea that someone look for the camera, though he knew in his heart he’d never find it. Even so, he walked that stretch of freeway and came upon a drainage ditch, looked down and saw the flattened cardboard disposable camera covered in water with a tire track mark over it! It had been immersed in water for weeks and run over by a lawn tractor! He took the smashed camera to Walgreen’s and asked them if they could try to salvage any of the pictures. Remarkably, seven of the 24 pictures that had been taken had survived.
And one of those pictures was the final picture of mother and daughter together, her head on my shoulder, arm around me, smiling her dazzling smile. The watermarks seemed to split as they stretched toward the picture of the two of us on the beach—it was as if the waters had parted to allow the picture of the two of us to remain intact!
I believe those pictures were a gift from Nina so that I could share this story of hope with all of you, to let you know that our loved ones who died are still very much with us…and that love never dies.
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