Thursday, April 26, 2012

April 26, 1985

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 My brother Bruce.

Aside from a creative writing piece I did in high school, I have never written down the events of this day before. The creative writing piece was something that did not have all of the details and was written as something to be graded in class. So, today I wanted to write down the events of this day, April 26, 1985. Each time I have ever told this story in person, I have always started to shake and my voice would get shaky and it would be hard to talk and even hard to breathe... even if I didn't cry, I have always started to shake with my voice shaking. So many of the events of the day have always remained so clear in my mind... I really feel something when I tell it. Also, for years and years and years after it happened, I could not drive past an accident scene with ambulances there and not cry and feel the emotions of the day start to return. It has been a long time since I have cried as I tell this story, but for some reason, I am extra emotional this year... and I felt like it was time to finally write down the events of the day. It may seem choppy at times, but I wanted the details in it the best I could.

We lived in a little town called Lawson, Missouri. It was a small town and we all loved living there. The people were wonderful and we all had great friends.

My parents were out of town. They were on a temple trip in Dallas, Texas. That is a long way from Lawson, Missouri, but that was the temple district that we lived in. So my parents had taken a trip with other people from our church down to Dallas to attend the temple. I don't remember how long they were meant to be gone, but I think it was going to be a few days. My oldest brother, Richard (19 years old), was on a two year mission for our church in Sweden, so he was also away. My oldest sister, Karey (20 years old), was left in charge of the rest of us kids, Nairn, Bruce, Robert, Lorianne, John, Lisa, Leslie (me), Spencer, and Mark, (all ranging in age from 17 down to 3 years old). I cannot even imagine having to deal with this type of day as a 20 year old and having to keep it together for all of my younger siblings. Karey was amazing.

April 26, 1985 was prom night at the high school. My brother Nairn had already left on his date and my brother Bruce had only just turned 16, so he didn't have a date and was to be an usher at the dance. Karey had let some of us kids invite friends over that night for a sleepover and to watch movies. She had rented Superman 4 and The Elephant Man. I still have never seen The Elephant Man and I am okay with that.

That afternoon, Bruce was going to drive into town to pick up his tuxedo. So, since we lived out in the country, the trip to town was going to include three errands: pick up Bruce's tuxedo, pick up Robert from track practice, and pick up John's, Lisa's, and my friends for the sleepover. It was fun to ride into town and Mark decided to ride along, Spencer was going to, but at the last minute changed his mind saying he was tired.

So, we headed into town on our little gravel road in our little yellow Plymouth Horizon. Seat belts were not a part of every day life back then. In fact, us kids were known to regularly be standing up in the back so that we could see out the front window. Part way to town, there was a little one lane wooden bridge that only one car could fit on at a time. I don't remember the name of the little creek that ran below the bridge. There had been fresh gravel laid down recently, which seems to make it a little more dangerous to drive on until it is packed down.

As we approached the little bridge, something started to go wrong. When all was said and done, Mark mentioned seeing a big rock in the middle of the bridge and he thought that was why Bruce started to try to brake. Anyway, that car had brake issues in the past and when he started to brake, it seemed to begin losing control and it began to fishtail in the deep gravel and Bruce yelled, "Hold On!" At that point, the car went off to the left side and missed the bridge entirely and was airborne. Who knows what was really seen in the middle of the bridge, maybe nothing... or maybe a big rock. We don't know.

After the car flew off the edge and down into the ravine, the next thing I remember after that was waking up inside the car. The car was tipped up on the passenger side. I seemed to be the first one to wake up and I looked for a way out of the car. I don't remember if a window had been rolled down or if it had broken out, but I crawled out of a window onto the embankment. I went to stand up, but something was wrong. As I tried to put weight on my left leg, it hyper extended all the way at the knee and I collapsed. I was so scared... in my eight year old mind, all I could imagine was that they were going to have to cut my leg off. I kept lifting the bottom half of my leg up because it seemed so strange that it was bending the wrong way... I was so scared.

So, I sat there looking around. I hadn't realized that Mark was not in the car, but he came walking down the hill towards me. He was 3 years old and seemed to be completely fine. I sure wish I could remember all of the conversations we all had with each other throughout this ordeal. We were all so scared.

As I looked over the situation, I realized that the car had landed on the opposite embankment from where it had traveled off of the drop off and the car was facing down the hill towards the creek. So, once it was airborne, it must have flipped over and landed on its side. As I looked down at the car, I realized that I could see Bruce, but only the back of his head. I couldn't make it down to him, but in my heart I wondered if he was still alive or not... and I figured he was not.

Lisa was the next one out of the car and she could barely walk. She said she was going to go for help. I wish I could remember our whole conversation, but it seemed like she was out and then gone pretty quickly. I do remember that she carefully went down to where we could see Bruce and gave him a kiss or a hug or something... I wish I could remember that better as well. Then she left to go and get help. She had such a hard time walking and climbing up the hill, she was hurting. She was only 9.

A little while after Lisa left, I started hearing sounds come from the car. I could hear John in there trying to get out of the car. He had been in the passenger seat and had been pinned under where Bruce was laying. I could hear him working hard to make it up to the top of the car and he finally made it out of the driver side window and rested there for a bit. He looked exhausted as though he had just run a marathon. He had to do it all using only one arm and you could tell he was in a lot of pain. He couldn't move his arm and had blood running down his face from his right cheek. Once he made it down to the ground, he asked where Lisa was and I told him she had gone for help, so he decided to go and try to find her and help her. He was only 11.

They were both so young to be having the responsibility of searching for help.

After he had left, Mark and I were left there on the hill next to the car, staring down at the creek and at Bruce. It was a hot and humid day. At one point, I remember Mark, my three year old brother, asking me if I wanted to lay on his lap, and I think I did. As I got older, when I would think back, I have always been amazed that my brother, who was only three, would think to offer his lap for me to lay on.

As we were sitting there, there were cars driving over the bridge above us. If they would have only looked down, they would have seen the nightmare we were in. But if I remember correctly, we were at least 30 feet down from the bridge. Anyway, Mark and I began yelling up to the bridge every time a car would drive over. Because it was so hot, people had their windows up with the air conditioning on. No one could hear us. We were screaming our little hearts out and we could not be heard. I don't remember how many cars and trucks drove across that bridge, but it seems like we were sitting there for so long.

Finally, a pick up truck drove across and their windows were down. We yelled and they looked down and slammed on their brakes. It was a man and his wife and they both came down to see how we were. His wife ran back up to the truck to use their CB to call for help. Over the years, I have always wished I could have told the man and his wife Thank You. They were there with us at a very difficult time. While the wife was gone to her truck, the man was crouched down in front of us, in our line of sight to Bruce, and he was talking to us. I asked him if they were going to cut my leg off. He told me no. At one point, Mark said "Bruce is dead", and the man told us that he wasn't and that he would be fine. Again, I was amazed at my three year old brother, he was just so aware of things.

His wife finally came back down and took Mark up to the truck with her. The man stayed there with me until help arrived. Paramedics came down with a stretcher and cut my pants. They carried me up the hill to the road and put me on the gravel road. I don't know it this is a true memory or if it is something that has concerned me since then, but I feel like I remember being worried about Bruce being down there all by himself once they brought me up to the road. I hate the thought of him being left down there without any of his family with him. I sure wish I could have said good bye to him.

My sister reminded me in a comment on here that she actually came down to where I was down below before they took me up to the road. I had forgotten that. She held my hand and sat with me there and then she mentioned that she went to go and find John and Lisa.

I remember they kept trying to put a mask over my mouth, but I wouldn't let them. I was so scared. I didn't know what to think or what was happening. I remember seeing Mark in the back of an ambulance. And the next thing I remember was that Karey came back. She came and told me it was okay and after she was there, I finally let them put the mask over my mouth. I needed her.

I don't remember how long I was there on the ground, but I was eventually carried over to the life flight helicopter that had landed a little way from the bridge. John was in the life flight with me. I remember trying to go to sleep, I felt so tired, but they wouldn't let me. They kept saying my  name and telling me I had to stay awake. I didn't understand why. I was so tired, I jut wanted to sleep. I know now that I was in shock and they had to keep me awake.

When we landed in Kansas City, it was at the Primary Children's Hospital there. I remember we landed on a rooftop and they rushed us on gurneys through what seemed like a big tube into the hospital. I remember the room was really white and really bright and it seemed like they were finally allowing me to go to sleep. As I layed there, I remember hearing John screaming from another room. I didn't know what was wrong. It was scary. His screams from the other room were what I went to sleep hearing.


I will insert a few details that I did not know at the time, but were told to me later.
Lisa and John had finally made it to a house and were able to call for help. The first house Lisa went to, no one was home, so she had to keep walking. Houses are not close together there.
They also called Karey, who did not have a car and had to run to the neighbors house and ask them for a ride to the bridge. Lori and Spencer were with her. Spencer had a disease in his hip at the time called leg perthes and was in a leg brace, it ended up being a blessing that he was too tired to ride along with us.
Robert, who was waiting for us at track practice, finally got a ride home with his coach. When they got to the fork in the road and it was closed off, they knew something must have happened to us, so they drove the long way around and finally arrived... Lori ran to Robert to let him know what had happened.
Karey was able to find Nairn on his date and tell him what had happened... what an awful prom night. Bruce and Nairn were the best of friends.
Lisa and Mark had been taken by ambulance to a closer hospital, treated, and then released. Lisa had torn ligaments and bruises all over her body. Mark, who had a cast on his arm from a broken arm previous to the accident, came away from the accident with only a little bruise on his ear. What a blessing. We like to think that an angel carried Mark out of the car by his ear before it hit the ground, and that is what gave him the bruise.
Poor Richard on his mission in Sweden had to find out through his mission president on the phone. He was completely alone and my heart breaks when I think about what he went through alone in a foreign country. He was missed.
It was a nightmare for all involved... such a devastating and heartbreaking time for us all, but it is also undeniable that there were miracles that took place that night as well.
Miracles in the midst of a nightmare.
The Lord was with us all.


The next day, I woke up in the hospital. I woke up and I was in traction. My left femur was broken completely in half and the bones had moved past each other, so they had drilled a hole through whatever my shin bone is called and had attached weights to it at the end of my bed so that the weights could slowly pull my bone back into alignment. John was my room mate. He had a crushed shoulder blade, a broken finger, and a huge gash on his cheek.

That day when I woke up, I remember Karey coming into my hospital room to talk to me. We were alone and she broke the news to me that Bruce had died. I remember crying and realizing that what we figured in the beginning was true. But my reaction to her news proved that I had chosen to believe that he would be okay and to have hope. What a blow. It was devastating news and our hearts were all broken.

After she told me, I remember my hospital door opening and a flood of people coming into my room. Relatives, including my parents. They had come back. I remember watching at the end of my bed and seeing my dad ask Karey, "Did you tell her?", and she said yes.

Bruce had died from suffocation. What had happened was that somehow the passenger door came open and he was thrown across the car, the door closed on his neck and must have made it so he could not breathe. We like to imagine that he was taken before the car hit... that he did not suffer. That is our hope.

The way my parents had found out about it all is so very sad. They were in the temple and after one of the temple sessions had ended, they were asked to meet with the temple president in his office. They assumed they were going to be asked to help with something, but instead, he sat them down and had to break the news to them. Here is their story in their own words:


"When the Temple President and Bishop informed us of the accident, the first words out of our mouths was "Was anyone killed?" The bishop told us that Bruce was. That news hit us harder than anything we had ever heard before or since. We were devastated.
Then they told us that there were four other of our children in the car at the time of the accident, and that some of them had to be "life-flighted" to hospitals, but they didn't know any details about who, how many, or what their conditions were.
From that moment, all our attention and all our prayers were directed toward the other four of our children. We were driven to the Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport, and sat for what seemed like hours waiting for a flight to Kansas City. We wept and prayed and wept and prayed. It was terrible, because we didn't know how many of our family members we would lose that night.
Finally, we got on the airplane, and wept and prayed, and worried about the four other children. We were picked up at the Kansas City Airport by a friend, and he was able to tell us that NONE of the other four were in danger. We had suffered the hardest blow of our entire lives, but we were instantly filled with the most intense gratitude you can imagine.
I had felt when our tenth child (Spencer) was born that Heavenly Father might take a "tithe" of our children home to him, and to learn that there was nothing further required of us was a GREAT relief. We spent the rest of that night and the next day focusing on our injured children, but thrilled to find all of them in relative GOOD condition considering. I think that gratitude is focusing on what Heavenly Father has given us; not on what He hasn't given us. Ever after that night we THANKED Heavenly Father for the sixteen years He gave us with Bruce; and that Bruce was an eternal member of our family. We have ALWAYS been so grateful for Heavenly Father's preservation and protection of the other of our children in the car."


Now that I am a mother, I cannot even imagine what my parents were going through as they were so far away from all of us when tragedy struck. I have been amazed at my parents after all of this. You could imagine them becoming bitter and not wanting to go to the temple much after losing a child while they were AT the temple, but they went the opposite direction. They attend the temple every chance they get, they have been such great examples of temple attendance of anyone I have ever known... they are drawn to the temple because of the importance of it. They chose to cling to the gospel and turn to the Lord for strength and have faith and hope in Him. I sure love my parents.

I remember a few days after being in the hospital, watching John getting dressed. I asked him where he was going and he said he was going to Bruce's funeral. I couldn't believe that I was not going to get to go to the funeral. Ever since that time, I have always felt like I was robbed of an experience that seems so necessary to be able to say good bye to a loved one. Going to a funeral of a loved one has always been sad, but uplifting at the same time. It helps to give closure and you get to feel uplifted as you hear about the wonderful things they accomplished in life and also you get to hear about the plan of our Father in Heaven, knowing that there is life after this and that we will see each other again. I always felt like I did not get to experience the closure that a funeral can bring. But it was just not possible for me to go.

John was able to leave the hospital within a couple more days for good and I remember that Karey got to come and spend the night with me some of the nights. Kansas City was about 45 minutes to an hour away from our home in Lawson and if I remember correctly, my mom came every single day to see me.

One day, I remember they gave me a shot to try to get me to go to sleep. I didn't know what they were planning to do, but I forced myself to stay awake because the last time that happened, I woke up with a pin in my leg... I didn't want to do that again. Because I was still awake, they had to do whatever they were going to do with me awake and I remember them unscrewing the screw from my bone. It was a strange feeling, but I was glad I was awake.

My mom left for the day after that happened and I remember that the tutor who would come and do school with me each day came into my room after I had come back from that. She was not a very nice lady and I didn't like her to come. I was glad that my mom had seen her enter my room because she came back and told the tutor that she didn't want me to have a tutor that day and that I needed some rest. Thanks Mom.

I remember getting a lot of cards and letters and flowers and other stuff while I was in the hospital. It made me feel special. I was in the hospital for at least 10 days, I can't remember how many for sure though.

Not long after that day, they put a cast on me. It was a full body cast. It went all the way up to my chest, down my whole left leg and halfway down my right leg, with a bar put in between my legs to keep it stable. There is a photo below.

I'm not gonna lie, I got really fast in that cast. I ran around all summer in that thing. If I remember correctly, I broke the cast at least twice near the feet from running on it so much and they had to recast it each time.

My Family.
Bruce is right in the center above my mom.
I love my family.

Losing a family member is such a devastating experience.
It is heartbreaking and the pain is so deep.
Bruce was always such an amazing person.
He was an amazing athlete and a good student, and was very well liked by all who knew him.
He loved the Lord and had a lot of faith in Him and in His gospel.
He was a good kid who loved his family and was wise beyond his years.
We all still miss Bruce so much.
The deep sorrow that is felt in your heart when you lose a close loved one cannot be described. Every aspect of life is changed by it and it can never be the same again. You have to find a way to live life in a new way and by doing that, you feel like you are 'moving on' from the memory of the one who was lost... but in reality you have to find a way to move forward while carrying them and their influence in your life with you as you go.
We are all better people for knowing Bruce and for having him as a part of our family.
We know he was called home to help do the Lord's work on the other side of the veil.
The gratitude that we can have for this experience is that it brought our family so close to each other. We all still fall short often, but having my brother waiting for us on the other side helps all of us try to keep our choices in perspective. We know where he is and having that knowledge is something that all of us are so grateful for. I am grateful for the life that Bruce was able to live. In those short 16 years, he accomplished a lot and he was one of the most amazing people I have ever known. I am grateful for the Plan of Happiness and for our knowledge of Eternal Families.

We love and miss you Bruce.

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Shauna Leavitt said...

What a moving post. I remember you telling me about this when we were in England - but I don't think you shared so many details. I love your eternal perspective that you have. What a lovely testimony. Thanks for sharing. Love you and miss you

Rebecca Adams said...

I don't think I ever knew much about what happened that day, so thanks for sharing what you can remember. Your parents are such good examples by going to the temple often. I know I need to go more often. I really believe that the trials we go through in this life are for our good--so we can learn and grow stronger. I'm looking forward to meeting Bruce someday. I like to think that I already met him before I was born (since I wasn't born until December 1985).

Mindy said...

I remember when that happened, and feeling so sad for all of you. Life sure is hard sometimes. Love you guys.

Tracie said...

So glad that families are forever, will be thinking of you and your family today!

Karey said...

It's amazing that after all these years and so many visits about that day, that there are still things here I didn't know. It was so different for everyone.

I actually was there before the ambulances and came down the hill to where you were. You told me when you stood up your leg bent backward. The man who was there with you mouthed the words that Bruce was dead. I guess he thought a 20 year old could handle it better than an 8 year old. I held your hand while they carried you up to the road on the stretcher. Then I went to find John and Lisa, so the mask thing happened when I came back to where you were.

I know what you mean about leaving Bruce. After the helicopter had taken you and John and the ambulance had taken Lisa and Mark and friends had taken Lori and Spencer, Coach Smith was going to take me to the hospital in K.C. As I looked down at the car before I left, I didn't want to leave Bruce. It felt like if I did, it would become a reality and I also had the irrational thought that it would be terrible for him when they all realized he hadn't died and he walked up the hill to the road and there was no family there. It was hard to leave.

What a hard day that was. And so many hard days since then. I love you and I love and miss Bruce.

Momza said...

I don't have a real comment. This is just so very sad. Thank you for sharing, Leslie.

LL said...

I made myself late for an appointment because I couldn't stop reading this.
So heartbreaking!
It all becomes to different when you have children of your own, I cannot imagine your sweet parents getting this news in the temple.
You guys are an amazing family, such a great example to so many.
The other thing that I think must have been EXTREMELY difficult is that your family moved to Ut. shortly after (which in and of itself is hard and lonely) but no one in the new area knew Bruce or anything about him. That would be difficult too.
But you guys, each one of you, have honored him and his memory. I can say that I feel like I know the kind of person he was.
Sending love.

Leslie said...

thank you everyone for your kind thoughts.

Laura, you are very perceptive because you are completely right. it was really hard moving to utah so soon after and leaving Bruce there alone AND moving to a place where no one knew him or what we had lost by losing him. thank you for your sweet words. you are amazing as well!!!

Brittney said...

I cannot believe all that you went through at the age of 8. I hope it was helpful to you to write down your memories of that day. Writing always seems to help me. Bruce sounds like a wonderful brother and I am so glad you get to see him again! I am in awe of you Leslie. You are amazing.

ellen said...

Thanks for sharing your story. One of my brothers died (from cancer) and I miss him every day.

Jen said...

I think you are amazing to be able to put this down in words. I'm so sorry for your loss. I've recorded my account of the day Brad was killed on a tape recorder, but I haven't written it yet. I know I need too. Thanks for the inspiration.

Lisa said...

i read this last week and cried a lot. i look at my kids who were close to the ages of us and it breaks my heart for those little kids that were us. i think we came through it pretty well, probably with some scars that still need healing...but with a greater appreciation for the life that comes after this. thanks for sharing. love you.

Jennifer Bowman said...

Thank you for sharing such a personal story as well as your sweet testimony!

This really hit home for me. When I was 15 my best friend and I were in a jeep roll over and my best friend died. Like you, it is still something I struggle to talk about - 16 years later. I can't really talk about it too in depth without crying. So I just try to avoid talking about it at all.

Reading this post has made me think about all of it and realize I should write it all down. So I will do just that.

Again, thank for you for sharing your story.

much love,
Jen Bowman

Sara said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences. Each one of your stories in your life leave such a positive impact on me in my life. Most people don't want to talk about them. I think that everyone can take something from each experience that can help them or someone else they know.

I believe that writing down our thoughts and memories help us heal in so many ways.

Thank you for being the sweet example that you are!

Sara Postma