February 10th. A date on which I remind people just how precious life can be and how quickly it can be taken from us.
Thirteen years ago today my son was a passenger in the back seat of a car being driven by his best friend. Christopher was asleep, laying down in the back seat, as his friend drove a girl home from the party they had been attending. It was late; he was tired.
On a somewhat rural road in Midwest City, Oklahoma, another vehicle approached from the other direction. That driver made a left turn in front of Christopher's vehicle and they hit the right rear quarter panel it with the right front fender of their car. The car that carried my son spun around a couple of times before coming to a rest on the left shoulder of the road. The driver and the young lady in the passenger seat were shaken but not seriously injured. They turned to the back seat. Christopher was not there.
Sadly, tragically, he wasn't wearing a seat belt while laying down. The centrifugal force from the spinning vehicle threw his body out the back window. His brain died instantly when his head hit the road, the two arteries that feed blood to the brain severed by the impact. He survived the trip to the hospital thanks to a couple of well trained paramedics and he was placed on a ventilator. But testing throughout the day proved that his brain was gone. He would never survive without the ventilator.
I made the trip from Miami to Oklahoma City after his mom called me and gave me the news. It was the most difficult trip I have ever made. When I arrived at the ER there was a large group of family and friends gathered in the waiting room. Christopher wasn't there at the time. They had taken him to do one final test - the one that would show whether or not there was any blood at all reaching his brain. It took about half an hour for him to return. In the meantime, at the request of his mother, I signed organ donation paperwork because the doctor had already basically told us he wasn't expected to survive.
Do you have any idea what it's like to sign organ donation paperwork on your 17 year old son? Some of you may know. If so, you have my deepest and sincere condolences and empathy.
Christopher arrived back in the ER and his mother took me to see him. I can't describe the pain of those moments - seeing him lying there attached to the various life supporting tubes, unconscious, never to gain consciousness again. We talked to him - I let him know I was there - but he wasn't there and I already knew it.
The doctor came in and confirmed our worse fears. He said the test showed that both arteries had been severed on impact and that Christopher's brain had died within minutes of the accident. "He never knew what happened. If he was asleep I doubt he had a chance to even wake up before he hit the street. And that blow would have rendered him unconscious. He didn't suffer, if that helps at all."
It helped but it didn't help.
I tell this story once again, as I do every February 10th, not to gain attention or sympathy but to remind all of you that in an instant your life can be changed and someone you love can be taken from you without warning. I give you the same advice I give every year.
Hug your children today and tell them you love them. Hug your parents today and tell them you love them. If it's not possible to do it in person, give them a call and let them know. If that's not possible either (as is common these days) then ask God to let them know how you feel.
Life is precious and fragile. The lives of those we love are irreplaceable and can disappear in the blink of an eye. Never, ever let someone in your life wonder how you feel about them. If they're important to you, tell them so. You never know when that one time might be your last opportunity.
The memories I have of my son are wonderful and happy and I think of him every day. And while the pain will never completely disappear, it is bearable these days and the hard times are few and far between compared to the happiness I get from thinking of him. But how much better life would be if he was here. Think about that next time you look at your kid(s).
I love you, Christopher. You are never completely gone as you live on in my heart. And you always will.
God bless you all.