When There Are No Words

togetherThis week a tragedy hit our community. A young man – a high school senior – lost his life in an automobile accident on the way to school. It appears the rain falling that morning caused him to lose control and hit an electric pole.

School was already in session for the day and the administrators had the heavy responsibility of sharing the news with the student body. I was called along with other pastors and counselors to be present at the school. Once the news was shared, there really wasn’t much left to say. I had a few brief conversations with a handful of students, but nothing that could really touch the shock and sadness they felt.

What I did observe was what happens when there are no words. Students huddled together and talked. Some simply sat and cried. It was unique to watch students support one another. I saw teenage boys, who might usually just give a quick head nod or a “what’s up?” in the hallway, ask each other how they were doing. They offered hugs. Pats on the back. I heard several times, “how are you doing?” and “are you ok?” One student simply walked around with a box of tissues offering them to fellow students.

It is an event that occurs too often in communities everywhere. Young lives are lost and peers are left to sort through their emotions. I was reminded again of what many people call “the ministry of presence.” Words are few, but simply being present begins the process of healing and provides support for those who are grieving.

I appreciated the way the school leadership handled the situation and continue to pray for the family and friends of the young man. Sometimes, in the midst of our hurt, there are no words. But in the midst of pain, God offers comfort and hope.

Great Article for Prom Season

WNJThere is a very well written article in today’s Wilmington News-Journal by Pat Haley, who is a member of the Clinton County Commission. He recounts his experience of coming on the scene of an accident of a teenage girl. It is a good reminder to parents and teens, especially as we move into Prom season. I saw one or two people had posted the article to Facebook last night and, after reading his words, I can see why. A sobering reminder for teens, parents and all drivers on the road.

The warm May evening was slowly melting into the clear darkness of night as I headed home to Sabina from a busy day at the sheriff’s office. It would be good to be home.

The radio in the cruiser had been unusually quiet for the last hour or so, and maybe the frantic activity of the day was over.

Just as I entered the crossroads town of Reesville, the radio dispatcher broke the quiet with an urgent message: “There is a report of a Code 4, with serious injury, on State Route 72, about two miles south of 22 and 3 East. The Ohio State Highway Patrol and the life squad are en route,” the radio crackled with urgency.

I covered the last couple of miles quickly, arriving at the scene of the accident within 60 seconds of the radio broadcast. A small, blue car was smoking and leaning against a tree, with several feet of fence wrapped around it. One wheel was still spinning.

An elderly farmer was leaning into the car, quietly brushing the windshield glass away from the eyes of a young girl, lying injured on the front seat. I could see the relief in the farmer’s face when he saw my uniform.

The teenager looked to be about 16 or 17 years of age. It was apparent she had sustained a serious head injury.

Lowering myself into the front seat of the car, the farmer pulled himself clear and gladly changed places with me, but remaining nearby. I moved across the seat and gently placed the head of the young girl on a towel.

As I began talking to her, I soon found myself asking the hopeful question I had often heard asked at the scene of many accidents: “Are you OK?”

She didn’t answer. The ashen color in her face told me she was in very serious condition.

With one hand, I carefully wiped the shreds of glass from her face. As I gazed down upon the young girl, I could see the deep brown eyes that were the centerpiece of her pretty face. The two sounds occurred almost simultaneously; the slow, lazy, moan of a siren in the distance, and a soft, gentle murmur from the girl.

She had scarcely uttered the sounds, when I saw she was beginning to slip away. She opened her eyes and I felt a ray of hope. I want to think perhaps in those precious moments of her life, my face might have become a composite of her mother, her dad and maybe a younger brother still at home.

I spoke to her in a gentle, caring tone and quietly reassured her. We both knew it was too late.

A few seconds after intoning those words, the young girl who had just celebrated her last day of school for the year, began to lose consciousness. Her labored breathing began to lower the veil between life and death. She directed one last gaze at me. With time so short, there was nothing more that could be done other than to make her comfortable.

The young girl gently closed her eyes and our focus shifted from her earthly body to her spirit.

I could hear the farmer gently crying above me as I carefully lowered the young girl’s head down onto the seat of the car.

The sirens we had heard in the distance had arrived too late.

The farmer and I gazed quietly at one another for a moment, each with a heavy heart and moistened eyes. Slowly, I began to walk back to the cruiser.

My mind slowly shifted to the impending duty most dreaded by law enforcement: the delivery of a death notice to the family. How does one tell someone his or her loved one was never coming home again?
Several years before, I had arrived at a farmhouse to deliver a death notice at about 6:30 in the morning. At that time, the victim was a family’s 17-year-old son.

“Why don’t you go in?” another deputy asked me.

“I want them to have one more hour of peaceful sleep,” I told the deputy. “It may be the last peaceful night’s sleep they have for the rest of their lives.”

Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. I share these sad experiences for I know this is also the approaching time for high school proms. Throughout April and May, young men in rented tuxedos appear along with beautiful young girls dressed in gowns with flowers.
My wish for each of them is to have fun. My prayer for each of them is to be safe. It is a time for making wonderful lifelong memories.

Please don’t end-up like the young man, or the young woman on 72.