My husband and daughter had always been especially close. Ten-year-old Becky was her daddy's little helper, running after Don if he went to the store or handing him a tool as he fixed a leaky faucet. I had back problems and when the three of us went out walking, I'd often fall behind; Don and Becky would turn around, coaxing me to catch up. When Don started cleaning houses for extra money, he often took Becky along for company. The quiet of the house without them got to me, but it was good knowing they were together-- almost like worrying about one person instead of two.
That evening in April 1997, we were in the van on our way back to Fayetteville, Ark., after spending the weekend visiting my parents in Mountain Home, three hours away. As we pulled onto the curvy, two lane highway that would take us home, I slipped a tape into the player and glanced back to make sure Becky had on her seat belt. She looked so cute in her purple top and shorts, seated right behind her daddy. She'd follow him to the ends of the earth, I thought, smiling at my husband.
I settled back and rolled down my window a bit. Despite the gathering dusk, it was warm and I felt wonderfully comfortable, watching the trees rush by, with the dark-blue fabric of the sky stretched low overhead. We sang along with the tape, and the miles passed quickly.
By the halfway point in our trip, it was almost completely dark. Becky was looking out the window, Don focused on the road. I felt my eyes slip closed-- once, then again. I sat up straight and took a deep breath. Still I felt my eyelids drooping. Why am I so sleepy? I'd just spent a whole weekend relaxing, and usually I was wide awake on these night drives, wanting to keep Don company. But there was no fighting the drowsiness.
He covered my hand with his. "Don't worry, hon, just relax," he said.
I sank into sleep. When I woke up, the van had stopped moving. "Enjoy the peace," a voice said. "Watch." Who is that? I looked over at Don. He was unfastening his seat belt. Why is he getting up? All around I saw a dense white fog settling in the deep darkness. I started to pull myself up when again I heard a voice say, "Just relax and watch."
Don left the van. "Daddy, wait for me," I heard Becky say. I turned to see her unbuckle her seat belt and get up. Don took her hand and they walked forward. There they go again, I thought. Always together.
But where are they going? I felt like I should go, too, but a gentle force held me back. "Don't worry about where they are going," I heard the voice say. "Just know they are okay and you'll see them again."
I peered into the fog. I could see two figures and a faint fluttering glow behind them in the mist. Was that a staircase? The figures seemed to be waiting for Don and Becky.
I blinked in surprise. My husband and daughter were both wearing shinning white robes! Becky looked so beautiful, her dark hair falling into her shoulders. Then Don and Becky turned to look at each other, their faces alight. Becky picked up the hem of her gown, and hand and hand she and Don started up the staircase. In a moment they had both disappeared into the mist.
"Mom?" I whispered. "What happened? Where's Don and Becky?"
She opened her eyes and reached out to stroke my forehead. "They're gone, honey," she said.
"I know, but where did they go?"
"Honey, they're dead."
What? I saw them... Before I could think about it more, I slipped into black again.
Gradually, as I grew stronger, information filtered through. A woman in a van had crossed the center line and hit us head-on, just 10 minutes from home. The woman had been killed instantly. So had Don and Becky. I was pried out of the wreckage. "You slept through everything, thank God," said my mother.
But I didn't-- I saw Don and Becky walk away. I was told I would see them again. They can't be dead.
I had a broken cheekbone and pelvis, a damaged ankle and shoulder, and I had gone into hypovolemic shock due to internal bleeding. The paramedics hadn't expected me to make it to the hospital. But the doctors said I would recover. Each time the door to my room opened, I expected in to be Don and Becky, coming in with flowers, eager to tell me about where they've been.
After coming home from the hospital, I slept with my face burred in one of Don's shirts and Becky's nightgowns every night. I drifted from corner to corner of my room, touching Becky's favorite stuffed animals I kept near me. They've just gone off somewhere together like they always do, I kept telling myself. But day after day passed and they didn't come back.
I felt like my life was a glass ball that had been dropped and shattered. I kept trying to put all the pieces together, but none of them matched up. I had not seen my husband and daughter ashen and lifeless in our van. I had seen them walk away from it, looking more alive than ever. If what I saw wasn't what happened, then how could I ever know what was real?
Dear God, I prayed,nothing makes sense anymore. Please help me understand.
One afternoon I was lying in bed with the window open, a breeze ruffling the curtains. It was sunny and warm and lazily comfortable-- just like the drive home right before my world had broken apart. Watching the curtains and the play of the light and shadow on the walls, I was reminded of the glow fluttering behind the figures in the mist the night of the accident. Like wings, I suddenly realized. "They were angels," I whispered to myself. All at once the pieces fell into place-- the figures, the staircase, the voice, the glow on Don's and Becky's faces. I had wanted so much to believe that my husband and daughter were going to come back to me that I hadn't been able to see the wonderful gift I had been given: the chance to see them go to a better place. "You'll see them again," the voice had promised.
At last I understood. Don and Becky will never again come through the front door, laughing. But I will see them one day. They will be with the angels at the foot of those stairs in the mist-- together, as always-- waiting for me to join them.