I sat alone on the couch in the ICU waiting room, eyes red and swollen, waiting for family members who were still en route from out of town. Several distraught members of another family walked into the room. After realizing who they were, I did the only thing that I, as a 19-year-old Brigham Young University sophomore, could possibly manage in that situation: I curled up on the couch, closed my eyes and pretended to sleep.
Earlier that day, my grandparents had been involved in a devastating car accident in the Provo Utah Temple parking lot resulting in my grandfather’s death and my grandmother’s life hanging in the balance. To make the situation infinitely worse, my grandfather had suffered a stroke, lost control of his vehicle and struck a university student.
That poor girl’s life was also hanging in the balance, and she shared the ICU unit with my grandmother while I shared the waiting room with her family.
A few weeks later, on the second Sunday in May, I held my dear grandmother’s hand as she took her last breath. Mother’s Day will forever be linked to that defining moment for me.
The college student lived, and I heard that she eventually recovered. But I never knew the full details, as contact with her family had long since been lost in the 23 years since the accident. Then, a few days after I published a Mother’s Day column, “My Mother’s Day heartache,” detailing the accident and my feelings about my grandmother, I received an email with the subject line: “I’m that college student.”
More than a little apprehensive, I opened the email and read the following letter (shared with permission):
My hands are shaking as I write this. My mom sent me the link to the article you ran about the death of your grandma and the circumstances leading up to it, and I knew I needed to contact you. I enjoyed reading the bits about her life and seeing the pictures. To me they were always "the couple who hit me." So it was nice to see faces and make them real. It was good to read about the other half of the story.
First, I have no hard feelings. We were all where we were supposed to be — the temple.
On the other hand, my life was forever changed after I left the hospital. I have two lives — the one before the accident and the one after. The brain once injured never fully repairs itself. However, I've learned where one part is damaged, another part takes over, and with the miracle of the priesthood and medicine I can live a normal life.
I want to tell you my story, because I feel we are already connected. We have that experience in common.
I was one month shy of my 19th birthday and just finishing my freshman year. I was wearing my favorite (and only) Jessica McClintock dress. My memories of that day were getting ready to go with my roommates to the Provo Temple and later meet one of my best friends for lunch. I remember walking through the parking lot of the temple with my roommates and turning around. I then have a vague memory of a car coming over flowers.
That is it.
The next thing I remember was being in a dark room, seeing a nurse walk out and my mom sitting next to me. All I could think was, "What is she doing here?" She would have had to fly in and I knew she wasn't supposed to be there.
I flew home with a shaved head and a black eye. I spent the summer healing and trying to retrain my brain.
I had to relearn how to read and spell. Math was gone. Writing was gone. Eventually reading comprehension returned, so my doctor encouraged me to go back to school.
When I returned in the fall, it was the first time in my life I had ever failed a class. I was failing English, what had been my strongest subject. My English professor told me that I couldn't write and asked how I got into college. I met with him later, told him my story and produced a paper I had written a few months before the accident. It was an "A" paper. "You can write," he remarked, and told me where to go for help. That was my turning point.
I began to learn that once I was reminded, it all would come back. I got extra help, and after a year or so, became better than what I had been before.
Then there was the emotional toll. The accident damaged the area of my brain that produces the chemicals that control emotion. I had no comprehension of how I was supposed to feel because I had no memory of it. My aunt recognized that I might need medication and convinced me to see a doctor. I was glad I listened — those are my "Happy Pills."
That was my outward experience. My inward was more incredible.
First, the surgeon in Provo told my mom he had never performed that particular surgery before because usually the person is dead. Second, other than my head, I only received a few minor scratches. My back wasn't broken and it should have been. My left ear drum was destroyed when I was hit, but by the time a specialist looked at it back home, it was perfect. My eyesight improved.
The president of the temple told my mom that as he was rushing to the front door to come visit us in the hospital, he met a man in a white suit. The man was dressed as a temple worker, but the president knew all the workers and he wasn't one of them. The man told him that he had given me a blessing and that I was going to be OK.
After I left the hospital and into the summer, I had a presence with me I can't describe. It was like you knew someone is in the room with you but you can't see them. You only feel them. I have had many spiritual experiences related to this one incident, many of which are too personal to write.
But I will say that because of this I now know that God lives — the greatest blessing of all. The pros outweigh the cons. My mom still keeps the dress I wore that day, bloodied and torn, to remind her of the miracle that was her daughter.
God was there that day. I don't tell this story to many, but sometimes I feel like I have to — like now. I am very sorry you lost your grandparents that day. I couldn't wish for anyone to lose a loved one that way, but I believe there was a reason. It sounds like your grandmother was a great lady. I hope I get to meet her someday, but not too soon.
Feel free to contact me. I would love to get to know you.
Smiles, Lisa B. Brown
I didn’t stop crying for a long time. I will never truly understand how difficult Lisa’s journey has been, and she would certainly have been justified in harboring feelings of bitterness or anger. But I found only forgiveness, optimism and enduring faith in her amazing narrative.
Lisa’s story is a testament to the Atonement’s healing power for all those who suffer, regardless of the circumstances.
I look forward to building my friendship with this extraordinary woman named Lisa — a friendship based on the experience that forever connected us and transformed both of our lives.