A journey of love, loss, health, and hope
“We’ve found no survivors.”
I was standing on the side of the road when I heard the words that would forever change my life.
October 13, 2006, started out a perfect day.
My husband Rick and daughter Macy headed out that morning to kindergarten and work.
I was still on maternity leave with Caleb, my two-and-a-half week-old son. We snuggled in for a quiet day of newborn and mom bonding time.
Around 4 o'clock Macy came bounding through the door exclaiming, "This is the best day of my life!"
She went on to tell me all about her adventures climbing in a real-life fire truck as it had been fire safety week.
Her excitement continued as she told me in vivid detail that McGwire said hello to her by name. (There may have been a bit of swooning.)
She then drew a picture of the two of them riding in a carriage with crowns.
She called her Papa and Gigi who were on a trip to Florida and told the story again with the same sweet giggles and excitement.
Throughout the day I had had tightness in my chest which became progressively more painful.
Rick and I decided it would be irresponsible to take any chances, so we decided I would go to the emergency room (it was Friday at 4:30 pm by now) to get checked out.
Rick would take Macy to open gym to play on the trampolines and practice stunting with the big guys. He would bring Caleb along too as we reasoned we didn’t want him around all the nasty germs in an ER room.
After about an hour in the waiting room, I called Rick to see how things were going.
I called again.
After the fifth try, panic began to set in, and I left the ER without being examined to find my family.
As I drove, I remember screaming to God, “Please, put angels all around my family. Put angels all around my family.”
In my mind I envisioned mighty warrior angels, protecting them.
About three miles from our house, my eyes were assaulted by the barrage of flashing red and blue lights.
My fears were confirmed. There had been a wreck.
Traffic was being redirected, but I refused to turn. I asked the police officer if a white van had been in the wreck.
I faintly heard him say, “possible family member” into his radio, and then he moved the cones and motioned me to drive over to the side of the road.
After what seemed like an eternity standing on the side of the road by myself, the state trooper came over to me, took hold of my elbow, and said the words,
"We've found no survivors.”
I told them to keep looking. Find the survivors.
But I quickly learned there were none to find.
And just like that, in the blink of an eye, life as I knew it was no more.
In my worst nightmare, I could not have imagined what would soon be my reality.
They were all gone.
As I stood there numb from the shock, I vaguely remember hearing what had actually happened.
The driver of the car who hit my family was going over a hundred miles an hour… reports had been called in about an erratic driver… police were already in pursuit… the police had arrived on the scene minutes after it happened… the driver died too… my family didn’t suffer…
But the only fact that mattered remained.
My family was never coming back.
I learned the finality of death on that day. And the pain of being the one left behind.
Walking the Grief Journey
What' I’ve learned through these last many years is that grief is brutal. It’s isolating. And at times unbearable.
The pain of grief changes you.
There are times you think you are losing your mind.
It impacts every part of your life.
But what I’ve learned is that I am not alone.
During my travels speaking to tens of thousands of people, I’ve heard first-hand the loss and pain of a life that hasn’t turned out as planned.
Devastating pain isn't limited to the death of loved ones. Pain comes in a multitude of packages... divorce, infertility, domestic abuse, singleness, the list goes on and on... and it hurts the same.
grief changes you, But it doesn’t have to destroy you.
The two years immediately following the wreck I thought I was destroyed.
I so desperately didn’t want to be destroyed, but I found myself existing out my days.
When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself. There was no light in my eyes. I had no energy. It was so much effort to get out of bed.
In the dark of night, I was furious that I wasn’t in the van with them.
Why was I left behind?
My faith assured me that my family was safe in the arms of Jesus… it was being left behind to live without them that was the hard part.
I tried a hundred different things to create a new life. A life I didn’t want.
I took a year off from teaching and got my master’s degree.
I played in a free poker league. While it helped pass the time, it wasn’t a long-term option.
I moved back to a town where I had lived ten years prior. There were lots of people I loved, but it was really lonely.
And then through a series of divine events, I found myself auditioning and being picked for the Biggest Loser television show.
THe one surprising Gift of grief
I realized I had nothing to lose.
As crazy as it seems, I thought since I couldn’t fix my heart, maybe if I got healthy, I would start to heal.
I was free to do and try things that would have once been too scary to even think about before the wreck.
You see, once you’ve survived something that should have destroyed you, what else is there to fear?
The beauty of a life not ruled by fear is the opportunity for blessings you never even imagined.
One of the biggest blessings I gained during my time on Biggest Loser is the realization that it’s okay to be okay.
I wasn’t betraying my family by moving forward.
I wasn’t minimizing the devastation by laughing again.
Wasting my life existing wasn’t going to bring them back, just like finding joy again didn’t mean I had forgotten them or didn’t wish they were back with me every. single. day.
As I tried to reconcile the dichotomy of the pain of my loss and the joy and healing I was experiencing, I had peace in realizing my family would want that for me.
Our family was full of joy and laughter and happiness. They loved me. The kind of love that would never wish me to exist out my days miserable, dead inside, and just taking up space.
I shed the guilt of grief.
I found a new normal after years and years of emptiness.
Five years after the wreck I remarried.
That's a miracle.
I didn’t think I would ever be able to love again. But here I am happily married to a man who not only loves me, but the family he never met.
Does that mean that my life is perfect?
Does it mean I don’t have hard days?
But my life far surpasses anything I thought possible on October 13, 2006. And for that, I am very grateful.
The best part?
You don’t have to be destroyed by your grief either.
You can move past the guilt of grief.
You can know joy again.
Your life can surpass what you think possible too.
So much has changed in the ten years since I went on the Biggest Loser.
The biggest change has been the strengthening of my faith. I went from knowing about God to knowing Him.
I’ve had failures and triumphs.
I’ve gotten married, moved to Nashville not knowing anyone, shared my story around the country, suffered a recurring back injury, started a new business, and all the in between.
I’ve had great days and devastating days.
Basically, it’s been life.
While I lost 100 pounds while on Biggest Loser, over the last ten years, I’ve struggled putting the weight back on.
It didn’t come back all at once… just a few extra pounds each year… and now I find myself needing a reset with my health.
Can you relate?
Have you lost weight in the past only to put it back on again… then beat yourself up and secretly hate yourself for gaining the weight?
Do you feel a pit in your stomach as you scroll through Facebook and see all the before and after pictures of all the weight loss success stories?
Does it feel like an indictment against you every time you’re in a group setting and the talk inevitably goes to the latest diet everyone seems to be having success with?
Does it feel hopeless to even consider trying again?
This was me for the past couple of years. The self-loathing, the inner embarrassment and shame of my weight gain, and the full-blown depression that I battled with on the daily.
Once again I found myself desperate to feel better and not knowing where to start.
The thought of starting over AGAIN and all that goes with it felt beyond daunting.
Yet again, through a series of divine appointments, I was hanging around some new friends who were sharing that they had experienced so many health benefits by changing the way they were eating.
Yes, they had lost some weight, but more importantly they had gained mental clarity, more energy, and though they didn’t use the word depression, it was obvious their mental health improved too.
The crazy thing is I have experienced first hand all the benefits of eating a healthy diet. But just as they say small healthy changes can make a big difference… my small unhealthy choices over the course of ten years has indeed made a big difference. A big difference in me feeling like crap.
And I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of feeling like crap!
Could there be a solution that didn’t require pills or shakes or calorie limitations that aren’t sustainable long term?
I’m happy to say, I think there is.
For the past few months I’ve changed my eating habits drastically, and I haven’t even been mad about it.
I’ve found a new way of eating that’s satisfying, is working well for my body, and most importantly has eliminated my depression.
Let me state the obvious… I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist. I’ve also lived long enough to know different ways of eating impact people differently. I don’t think one way of eating works for everyone, but I do think we can all benefit from some of what I’ve been doing.
So… what have I been doing that is so life-changing?
I completely eliminated refined sugar and processed foods and increased my water intake as well as green vegetables.
It’s certainly not a new concept… its just new for me to actually implement it.
So Where do we go from here?
As I have begun feeling better and better, I realize that I am not alone in the struggle to wanting better health. There are so many of you silently battling with all the same feelings and hopelessness.
Then I had this wild, crazy idea that we could do this together.
We could allow ourselves to try one more time. We could break through the noise in our heads that it’s hopeless because we’ve failed more times than we care to admit.
We can try again.
I would love for you to join me on this journey.
The journey back to good health.