Pain that Never Quite Goes Away
The state of Louisiana and the southeastern Ohio town where star quarterback Joe Burrow grew up are cheering LSU’s just-concluded national championship football season.
Yet, I can imagine the thrills are much more subdued for offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger.
Losing a daughter-in-law in a plane crash the day of the semi-finals makes national accolades fade by comparison.
If Ensminger’s family is like ours, there are no “in-laws,” just family.
And I know the pain in the coach’s heart won’t go away easily.
That’s because last week marked the 15th anniversary of our second-oldest daughter’s death from a sudden—and very unexpected—heart attack.
Once a family member is gone, nothing else quite matters as much.
The shock is unlike anything else I’ve experienced in life, the pain deeper, the anguish something that is hard to put into words.
For us, the call came around 2 a.m. on a Saturday.
Because we didn’t have a phone in the bedroom, the first time I didn’t even hear the ringing.
The second time, I got to the phone too late.
The third time, our youngest daughter left a voice mail that they thought her sister had had a heart attack.
I immediately called her house, but our granddaughter answered the phone, saying her mother and father were on their way to the hospital.
The Worst News
We went back to bed, but couldn’t sleep after praying God would watch over our second-oldest daughter and keep her safe.
Thirty minutes later our youngest daughter called, choking out the words, “You better come.”
Even though I knew what that meant, I still had to ask: “You mean she’s dead?”
Our youngest daughter could barely get out a “yes” amid her sobs.
We spent the next couple hours packing, sending emails to some close friends to let them know our sad news, and straining to think what we needed to do during our unexpected, week-long absence.
I had a routine whenever we left Louisville for West Virginia. It included going to the back of the house to make sure we had engaged deadbolt on the back door and locked the windows in my office.
As I put my hand on the lock around 4:30 a.m., I thought, “What difference does it make? What could somebody possibly break in and steal that would compare to our daughter being gone?”
Easy answer: nothing.
While the shock subsides as the years ebb by, the pain never quite goes away.
Feeling like we had been hit by a ton of bricks, we put our house on the market later that year and moved back closer to family.
As often as we burned up I-64 in the 12 years we were gone, we learned that you can never be as close as when you live within miles of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
When it’s a three-hour drive, you don’t have the time nor financial resources to make every birthday party, every soccer or basketball game, every cheerleading event, or every game night.
Ironically, we had already talked about one day moving back to be closer to family. While we remain sad that this death precipitated the relocation, we are glad to be here.
For us, there is a future joy: the day we see our daughter again in heaven.
We believe she is in a better place now, happy, contented, and at peace.
The anticipation of a reunion helps us avoid melancholy and sadness. Sometimes life kicks you in the teeth, but you have to keep going, no matter how much it hurts.