The death of a child will undoubtedly teach you that life doesn’t go as planned. I remember, in the hours after Emily’s death, thinking, this is not supposed to happen to me! This is not supposed to be our story! As the saying goes, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” Emily’s death from fentanyl poisoning made me realize all I can control is my response to anything that happens in life.
As I write this blog, I’m sitting in Wall, South Dakota, with 50-mile-per-hour winds whipping at the door of a small house where I unexpectedly find myself staying. We had plans to go skiing in the Black Hills as a family over the holiday, but life had other ideas. While I’m not where I thought I would be, death taught me that fighting against “what is” is futile. Instead, I’m actually grateful for where I am–stranded in a small town–about a two-hour drive from my final destination.
I worked on the details of this Christmas vacation for some time because I find being home over the holiday horribly depressing since Emily’s death. Upon the advice of my meteorologist friends, due to an impending winter storm, I convinced my family we needed to leave a day early. It was smooth sailing the first few hours as we traveled, but then we literally hit a winter wall and found ourselves stranded, along with hundreds of other people in the western part of the state. We pulled off the interstate into the town of Wall, known for the famous Wall Drug, just as the barricades came down on Interstate 90.
Confusion descended upon our family. Would we be able to get back on the road to our final destination? What do we do next? The first moments of a crisis, big or small, always start with confusion. With the blizzard only expected to worsen, we figured we’d better get a hotel room. Out of all the hotels in Wall, a popular summer tourist stop, only a few are open in the winter. “Look on Airbnb,” my husband suggested as he learned the final hotel option was full. There was one small house on Airbnb in Wall, and I immediately booked it. We drove a few blocks to a small home. I was pleasantly surprised as I opened the door; it was tiny but newly renovated and clean.
My gratitude grew as I learned that 100 cars were stranded in a 60-mile stretch of Interstate. Some travelers chose to tough it out through the night in their car, as temperatures dropped to minus 20, and windchills made it feel like minus 50. The small Wall community center filled up with stranded people, as well as churches and schools in other nearby towns. This little Airbnb felt like a miracle. As I write this, my husband and one of my sons sit at the kitchen table playing cribbage. My other son and daughter are sitting on the bed, watching a show together on a laptop, laughing and talking. It doesn’t matter at all that beautiful hills and trees in a larger cabin don’t surround us. All that matters is we are together, and we are safe.
The night before, we ate greasy burgers and played a game of pool in the bar next door to where we are staying. I know my adult children will probably remember this trip more than any others we’ve taken. In a way, it feels as if Emily is here with us. I can feel her presence, and we talked about her and laughed. There are miracles, even in the most challenging situations, and I find hope in the love of my family and a warm shelter from the storm.
Faith, Hope & Courage,