It took me almost six years to finish writing that memoir, but I was able to complete it in time to give it to my dad for Father's Day this past June. As I shared with Impact last week, God can truly take a terrible situation and be glorified in it. It may be difficult to see at the time, but God is always making things work together for our good. I've decided to include some bits and pieces from the memoir that I wrote. I'm still working on editing and revising, but someday I'd like to get it out there for people to read. If it helps even one person get through a difficult situation, I've accomplished what I set out to do.
Excerpts from One Thousand Paper Cranes
On Sunday, October 29, 2006, I was enjoying a break from the busyness of life and was sleeping in. My dad and my then nine-year-old brother, Tyler, had gone out deer hunting that morning while my mom and I stayed at home. The phone rang at about 9:45 that morning, waking me from my sleep. I sat up and read the number on the caller identification. It said “private name, private number.” I heard my mom talking on the phone downstairs. I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but I could already tell that something was wrong. She yelled at me from the bottom of the stairs to get up and get dressed. I jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes, and ran downstairs. My mom frantically told me that a police officer had called and said my dad was in an accident and was being airlifted to Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Indiana, which was about an hour from where we lived. So many questions were running through my head. What had happened? Where was Tyler?
I had planned to spend the day with my best friend, Deanne. I called her to tell her what had happened and that we wouldn’t be hanging out that day. She was eating breakfast out with her father. She struggled to hear me through all of the noise and commotion at the restaurant. I tried to speak clearly through the tears I was fighting to hold back.
“My dad’s been in an accident,” I managed to say. “It’s serious.”
“Kristin, what happened?”
“He’s being airlifted to Memorial,” I cried. “I have to go.”
I hung up. My mom and I left immediately to meet the helicopter at the hospital. I tried to maintain my composure throughout the car ride to the hospital, but it was difficult to suppress the tears when I thought of what condition my dad was in and my little brother having to witness something so horrible. My uncle called my mom’s cell phone while we were driving and I picked up.
“Have you called your brother yet?” he asked.
He was referring to my older brother, Brandon, who was a college junior and lived two hours away from us.
“Let me talk to your mom.”
I handed my mom the phone, unnerved by his severe tone. My mom talked to him for a few minutes and started crying.
She hung up.
“He says it’s really serious. He’s not sure if he’s going to make it. We need to call Brandon so we can all be together,” my mom said.
A sick realization came over me. What are we going to do without my dad?
My mom called Brandon.
“Please drive safely,” she told him on the phone.
We continued to drive. My mom pulled out her insurance card. She glanced at the phone numbers on the back and made a few phone calls. My mom asked me to call my grandma and find out if she knew anything else.
“Ask her if he’s awake,” my mom said.
“Is he awake?”
“I don’t know.”
She said she would find out. She called back soon.
“Yes, he’s awake.”
I said more silent prayers. I prayed over and over again for Tyler and for my dad and for Brandon to arrive safely. My mom prayed out loud. An SUV passed us on the road. It was my grandpa and Tyler. My mom merged into the other lane and we followed them. I looked for Tyler through the tinted back window. I could barely see a little tuft of his hair over the top of the seat.
We found out later that the helicopter that responded to my dad’s accident could not take off right away because they needed to stabilize my dad first, so we arrived at the hospital at the same time as the helicopter. The helicopter pilot was waiting for us outside the emergency room as well as my brother and grandpa. I hugged Tyler tight. We found out my dad fell almost twenty feet out of his deer stand while hunting and Tyler had witnessed the entire thing.
When the paramedics and helicopter arrived to treat my dad, Tyler was scared and alone. My mom called my grandpa and asked him to meet Tyler at the accident site since they lived close to where they were hunting and we were an hour away. A police officer found my nine-year-old brother alone by a tree. At the hospital, Tyler was eventually able to tell us exactly what happened.
Tyler had shot a deer while hunting with my dad—his first one ever with a bow. My dad had shot at a deer but missed, so they decided to get down and search for my dad’s arrow and attempt to track Tyler’s deer. Tyler climbed down first and began searching for the arrow while my dad was climbing down. Since my brother was still young, they hunted from the same tree with a modified tree stand. My dad was stepping from his platform in the stand to Tyler’s, slipped, and fell almost twenty feet to the ground. Tyler turned when he heard the loud noise of my dad hitting the ground and saw that he had landed directly on his head and neck. Tyler checked to see if he was responsive or breathing and he wasn’t. He began searching for my dad’s cell phone to call for help. He couldn’t find his cell phone and we later discovered it was still in the tree stand with my dad’s backpack.
Tyler ran the one mile stretch to the nearest house for help, shedding layers of his hunting clothes as he went. The nearest house happened to belong to the family that owned the property my dad and Tyler were hunting on. Fortunately, the son of the property owner was outside when Tyler reached the clearing where the house was. He yelled for help and the man met Tyler halfway and asked what happened. The man ran inside and called for help and paramedics and police officers came initially to assess the situation until the helicopter arrived. Tyler was alone by a tree while everything was happening, and a police officer spotted him. The officer took Tyler to his car and comforted him.
They were hunting about an hour away from where we live, so my mom’s dad and brother, who live near the hunting property, went to the scene to be with Tyler and my dad. The emergency workers were back in the woods for much longer than they anticipated because it took them so long to stabilize my dad. They loaded him in the helicopter and left for the hospital. He was critical. My grandpa, uncle, and brother all watched the helicopter take off. As the helicopter struggled to avoid the trees in the wooded area, my grandpa took my little brother and left for the hospital. My dad’s truck and all of his belongings still remained in the woods.
The memories of my dad’s accident and what we went through as a family during that time are still so vivid in my mind and I don’t think they’ll ever fade. It was one of the most difficult situations I’ve ever had to face in my life because of the complete and total uncertainty of it. On October 29, 2006, I started asking myself what it would be like to live without my dad. But on November 16, 2006, I thanked God that I never had to know what it would be like to be without my father.
We were all so grateful to have my dad home to be able to celebrate Thanksgiving with us and we had a lot to be thankful for that year. My dad was still very much in the recovery process and slept quite a bit. There were nights where he could fall asleep at five in the evening and sleep until morning, but the doctors said that sleep was an important part of the healing process for his brain. He had to get x-rays on his neck and back from time to time to make sure the fractures were healing properly. My dad hated his neck brace so bad and really struggled to sleep in it. He could only lie on his back while he slept and the brace often impeded his breathing.
Shortly after my dad came home, he celebrated his forty-seventh birthday on December 8th and Tyler celebrated his 10th birthday on December 16th. Having him around was the greatest thing we could ask for, especially when it came to celebrating Christmas as a family together that December. One of the greatest milestones after his accident was on January 20, 2007. My mom, my brothers, and I all drove out to the airport at 11:30 that morning to watch my dad fly for the first time since his accident. It was emotional for all of us because it was something we never thought he would do again after his hunting accident, but he beat the odds and flew again that day. It was amazing.
My dad’s return home after his accident was nothing short of miraculous, but that’s not to say that he didn’t encounter problems on his road to recovery. Even almost six years later, my dad has had his fair share of problems that have developed as a result of his accident, but he did walk out of that hospital despite a broken neck and back and went on to fly airplanes again despite a traumatic head injury. We worried about Tyler for a long time that he would have long-term issues from what he witnessed on October 29, 2006, but he has handled it well and has grown into a great young man, although he still prefers not to talk about the incident.
My dad still continues to hunt with my brothers even though it scares me and my mom to death. They all learned from the situation and take great safety precautions when hunting from a tree stand and my dad makes sure he always has his cell phone with him. I always hear about tragic accidents and families that have lost loved ones but I never expected it to happen to me. All I know is that nothing should be taken for granted and I thank God every day that he gave our family a second chance.