“Vicki, this is Sharon.” The Good Chaplain’s stepmother sounded frantic on the other end of the phone line. “Bill was in a car accident. They airlifted him to St. Anthony’s in Rockford. I’m on my way there now. He has head injuries.”
As soon as we hung up, I called the Good Chaplain to tell him that his dad was seriously injured. “Please, God, not like this,” he said, his voice faltering.
We already planned a trip to Illinois later that July 2003 for my niece’s wedding and college shopping for our twin daughters. Now it looked like we would be going earlier. As we waited for news, we reminisced about what a blessing it was that Bill and Sharon moved just a few hours from our base.
The Good Chaplain’s aunt and uncle lived a few hours away in Fillmore, CA. His cousin lived in Santa Maria, CA, a few minutes away. We were excited to have family so close for the first time in 10 years. And then Bill and Sharon announced they bought a place in Fillmore too.
We took full advantage of it. We frequently went to Fillmore, and Bill and Sharon came to our place too. We spent holidays together and had a family reunion that the Good Chaplain missed because of a deployment. In addition, Bill and Sharon stayed with the girls while the Good Chaplain and I went on a post-deployment cruise. Bill even attended a high school football game with the girls and teased them about being the “Conqs,” short for the Conquistadors’ school name.
And then we got that fateful phone call. Bill suffered a massive head injury, but was hanging on. The Good Chaplain’s brother called later in the week, saying we should come to Illinois. So, we flew out early the next morning.
When we arrived at the hospital, we all sensed Bill’s spirit was present, but the next day it was gone. It was as if he held on until we could get there. With a badly damaged brain stem, the doctors said he would never wake up. The family knew he would not want to live that way, so we settled for palliative care and let him go. He died three weeks after the accident on July 28, 2003.
It felt unfair. He was only 70 years old. We finally got to live near Bill and spend time with him, and then this happened. The girls were looking forward to him attending school functions and their graduation in 2004. It just wasn’t right.
That was 18 years ago. Hard to believe.
I tell you this story not for pity or empathy but to compel you to take full advantage if you find yourself lucky enough to live near your family. See them often, not just for holidays. Make that effort because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Make the most of your time together. You know you will be moving again all too soon.
Until next time,
Have you gotten to live near family during your military career? How did you handle it?