Thinking of Michelle

Kyle & Eli February 9, 2007

It was a really weird, last-minute-holiday-shopping type of day. I was buying Christmas and Kyle’s Birthday presents. With the Winter Solstice staring me in the face, it was dark early and I must admit that I let the darkness creep inside too. I was hungry, needed some sugar or caffeine and wanted to get back to Park City.

I waited and waited to make a lefthand turn out of the 33rd South Salt Lake City Red Balloon, and the holiday traffic was not letting up. Tired of waiting, I took a right instead and found myself trying to navigate a different route back to the highway.

It was really no coincidence that as I drove West down 33rd South, then made a righthand turn at 2000 East and saw La Puente Restaurant sitting there on the Northwest Corner, that I started thinking about Kyle’s pre-school friend/cousin, Sam Williams.  La Puente was the last place I saw Michelle, Sam, Ben & Ana.  Kyle & Sam are the same age and Ben & Ana were roughly the same ages Kyle and Eli are now.  Back in 2007 it was the Williams Family and their tragedy that nearly brought me back to blogging.  I have wanted to write about this, but it never felt right until now.

My Boys Today

It all began when Kyle was in pre-school.  He came home  one day, excitedly handed me an eight and a half by eleven lined sheet of paper with the name Sam and a phone number written so big the letters filled the entire sheet. “Mom. Mom. You know Sam?”

“Yes. I know Sam.”

“Guess what?”

“What, Kyle?”

“Sam says we are related and that we are cousins. Here is his phone number. We need to get together.”

Sure enough and as crazy as it may sound, Sam and Kyle are most definitely related and yes, they are second cousins, depending on which side you are coming from. A few days after Kyle brought home the phone number I saw Michelle, Sam’s mom, at Pre-School pick-up and as she stood outside with the sun glistening on her face she said, “Beth, did Kyle tell you the news?”

“I believe he did.” I replied as we both laughed.

“It is true. We are related. Beth, your mother-in-law, DeAnne, is my first cousin. Last weekend I was at Aunt Jean’s in Saint George . . .”

“I know Aunt Jean.” I excitedly interrupted and blurted out.

Michelle continued, “Well, I was at Aunt Jean’s and I asked her why she had a picture of Kyle’s parents on her piano. She told me, ‘well, that’s Davy, you know, DeAnne’s son.’ Then she told me how we are all connected, how Dave’s mom lived with my parents a long time ago and that she knew you and Dave. It is such a small world.”

“So small that sometime you find out that you are related, right?”

“Right. Sam thought it was really great and could not wait to tell Kyle.”

With this new piece of information Kyle’s friend, Sam instantly went from pre-school buddy to Kyle’s family.

Kyle & Zeke

As time and life goes, the pre-school year ended and I was not great about staying in touch.  And then one evening, as we often did with them back then, our friends Kat & Alan asked if we wanted to go out to eat.  Because we were burned out of Rubio’s and Cafe Rio, they suggested La Puente and we were on our way.  Once seated, Michelle and and I almost immediately noticed each other. She and her kids were sitting close by.  Once Kyle realized a fellow family member was sitting so close he burst out of his seat to greet them.  Then Eli, Kyle, Sam, Ana, Ben & Zeke (Kat & Alan’s son) made their way over to the “Arcade” (the entryway of the restaurant that has a few video games and gum ball machines.  Kyle and Sam quickly retold their story, proving once again even to Ana & Ben, that yes, we are related. “Sam told us about you. We are cousins, right?” Ana said making sure we all understood that she and Ben knew that we were family.  The kids had a blast. We literally had to drag them out of the restaurant with apologies that it had been so long and promises that we would see each other soon.

Shortly after that, we moved to Park City. And if you know anything about Utah, once you move to the other side of Parley’s Summit, you might as well live in Antarctica. It is strange how a half hour drive over a high mountain pass transports you into another world.

. . . Several months later found Dave, the boys and me in Hawaii for the very first time. We were there for nearly a month. Our trip magically began in Oahu and ended brilliantly in Kauai. By the end of our trip I was convinced that we would somehow find a way to move to this island paradise. The sunshine and ocean waves were the Natural Xanax I needed to conquer my seasonal Winter Blues.

Our last day arrived much to quick. We had to check out of our condo hours before our flight departed. With our bags packed, I did the one thing I always do in the morning and that is read the online news, especially the local news. I saw the initial article: Pregnant Woman and Two Children Killed in an Accident. With no other information, I needed to check the news again because somehow in the back of my mind I knew it was Michelle. I know the area well. I know the underpass the family was driving under. I knew she was pregnant. All the facts were adding up.

We had to check out of our condo and I had to wait to find out. As my boys spent their last day in paradise I knew a family back home was hurting.

Lydgate Park. Kauai.

At the same time I was reading the news the behind-the-scenes communication was happening in the Dorny family (Dorny is my mother-in-law and Michelle’s maiden name) and I received an email from my Mother-in-law with a link to an article telling us the very sad news.

I remember the weirdest things from the funeral. Dave and I were very tan. I was wearing a new Apple Green shirt I bought at Banana Republic. The line was long and I was surprised to see so many non-related people I knew. As we came closer to the caskets, we saw pictures and trinkets. The closer I came to the three caskets, the smaller I felt. My throat was tight. We stopped by Ben and Ana dressed so beautifully. We stopped and I thought about my own boys. I thought about loss. I thought about how childish I am and how short life is. We moved along until I stopped at Michelle’s casket. Of course I am crying as I write this. I was a small space in her world and I was overcome. She lay there. It was obvious that she was pregnant. I stopped and I could not move. She is a mother and she was gone. I could not stop thinking of all the times we met at pre-school. I liked her before I knew we were related. She was cool, calm and kind. I see the sun shining on her face as we talked outside the preschool. I stop and catch my breath.

I wanted to pull her up. I wanted to walk her right out of that room and tell her, “You can’t go. Not yet. Life got busy and we drifted apart. We are family.” And then it was our turn to say hello. Thank goodness. Michelle’s mom grabbed my hand, welcomed and thanked me. How can she be thanking me? And as Dave stood by Michelle’s dad it was eerie. Dave is physically a younger version of her dad. They are tall, thin and broad shouldered. Thank goodness they look so much alike because within seconds we were ushered over to the rest of the family and yes, they all look like Dave. We talked with all the aunts and then it was time to go.

And this is how they died.

On a quiet Salt Lake City Street a drunk 17 year old boy was driving alone, driving on the same road I found myself on, 2000 East. Somewhere around the I-80 underpass this boy lost control of his car. The Williams Family had no time. In a flash their life was forever changed. Almost immediately, Sam’s dad watched the last breath leave his mom’s body and in that moment he decided to forgive and then he moved forward.

Let me tell you, Kyle, Eli and I visited Sam after the accident. We knew it was not easy, yet Chris took a breath, forgave  and allowed his family to heal. I admit that on sunny days it is much easier to move forward. And on dark days, I still fight not to slip back. In my life I have been an idiot. Things that roll off will sometimes creep in. In those moments especially, I am aware that it is not always easy to heal or forgive. As I think about standing there wanting to desperately pull Michelle back into this world, I know I have to keep trying and keep healing. That is all we can do.

Then because I was not able to make a lefthand turn, I found myself turning right on 33rd South. I turned on 2000 East  right by La Puente. A few moments later I found myself driving under the same highway underpass. I was so focused on finding my way back to the highway, I was not sure how I got there until I was there. And then I thought about Michelle and healing. Seriously, it was like she was sitting right there next to me. In a drive under a dark highway underpass, I knew it was time to share my space in this. It was time to remember how grateful I am that  I met Michelle, how grateful I am that Kyle survived his ordeal, how grateful I am that I was able to have children and how grateful that somehow I am healing and the only way I heal is by forgiving and forgiving myself.  Really! Life is way too short not to heal and let go.



Because I myself, am not sure where I stand with religion, I struggled with wether I should post the following video link. I guess you can take it or leave it. This being said, I want honor the Williams family and so I am posting it. Chris tells the story of his loss and healing like no one else can. I think it is pretty cool. The message of forgiveness is amazing!

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15 thoughts on “Thinking of Michelle

  1. That was beautiful, and heart-wrenching, Beth. It’s amazing and beautiful how missing pieces makes us re-arrange our own puzzle, changing it all the time.

  2. otherB, I know this hits close. Thank you! It is true how the missing pieces make us re-arrange and rearrange and re-arrange. Thank you for getting it! I heart you!

  3. Wow. Just wow. What a heart-wrenching story. You shared it beautifully. And thank you for doing so. Life is so fragile and I know that I often need reminders like this to temper my tongues and pull those I love closer.

    Chris Williams is an amazing man. Truly. He obviously hurts but to have that sort of clarity and to possess such strength of faith is just awesome. I’m not Mormon but it is still inspiring to see. The video was so well-done and thoughtful. I’m glad I grabbed a tissue and watched it.

    It is now almost exactly 4 years ago that I was rear-ended by a drunk driver at 2 in the afternoon. Although I was basically able to walk away from the accident, it has left lasting emotional & psychological scars. A year afterward I took myself to a therapist to talk about control and anxiety and letting go. The “what-if monster” very rarely rears his ugly head, but when it (unproductively) does, it’s hard not to wonder what might have been. “What if my son (7 yrs old at the time) had been unconscious or bloody when I turned to look at him in the back seat?” “What if I had taken a different route that day?” shudder…”what if the outcome had been very different and more like Michelle’s?” See? These thoughts are so very unproductive. Instead, we need to be grateful for what we have and the time we are given together.

    I do not at all intend to make this about me, but isn’t it fascinating how our common experiences in life intertwine like this? And how we can hurt for families we have never met, like yours and Michelle’s. How we are touched by the strength of strangers, like Chris. We are all human, after all, and as you summed it up so well, we ultimately need to be forgiving and grateful.

  4. Andrea, Oh my gosh! I had know idea. I am so happy you knew to find some healing.

    I understand the “what if” monster all to well. And even though his visits seem to be rare here too, it is in those rare moments that my doubt is more than I seem to be able to manage. If I am caught off guard often fail. What I have been working on is being prepared for the off guard moments. Instead of falling apart or saying something I cannot take back, I am trying to remember and know that, “this too shall pass.” You are so good, Andrea and it comes through your words. It is ok to apply this to your own life, by the way and no, you are not making it about you. Knowing Michelle and her family, they would feel delighted that they have had an impact. 🙂

  5. What a lovely way to honor his wife, by offering forgiveness in the way that he believes she would have. It is a tragedy that Chris and Sam lost their family, and my heart aches for them both, but it is indeed beautiful to hear that forgiveness has given them a measure of release from the grief.

  6. Michelle, all I can say is, “Amen.” You are a Southern Lady and I know you get that. So once again and really, “Amen!”

  7. P.S. Beth, I love the mantra “This too shall pass.” It seems to help moms cope if we could only remember it more often!

    The one HUGE takeaway that I got from therapy was this: I am not in control. What I CAN control is how I react to things. I think this is exactly what you are saying too, about those unpredictable off-guard moments. 🙂 It’s hard.

  8. Beth, I remember this. And I remember how I felt about it then and now. Regardless of how you feel about religion, I think the link to the video about how the husband feels now about it is a really huge part of this story. I’m glad you linked to it. I think everyone should watch his video no matter what. It really puts things into perspective no matter what you believe.

    Love your guts. So glad you’re blogging again.

  9. Andrea, Don’t you love therapy? It is true. I can only control how I react. My week spots are my reactions. Something I have worked on. It is hard!

    Thank you for getting it and sharing what you have figured out. You are helping me! 🙂

  10. Alli, You just made me tear up! You get it and for that I am grateful. Thank you for being so bold and thank you for loving and supporting me. You are right. I had to post the video link. I just cannot say it like Chris Williams can. It is hard and it is beautiful!

    I think you are amazing and I can’t wait to see you and my binky [wink wink].

  11. Having lost a child I still struggle with forgiveness, no person caused my sons death so I have pretty much been blaming “God” for the last few years. Thanks for posting this Beth, so glad I watched this tonight, it was something I really needed 🙂

  12. Beautiful, painful, and hopeful to watch. Such a tragic story and yet there is happiness in knowing that Chris could find the strength to forgive Cameron and move forward. I am happy because if it is possible for Chris to go through all of this and still be able to get up and live everyday, then we all can do it. We just have to open ourselves up to forgiveness. Thank you so much for sharing this, Beth.

  13. Shane, we need to catch up. I am so sorry you have been through this, Shane. Whatever the reason, you know that it is no less painful. I am glad you read this. It means a lot to me. Thank you!

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