Moving Past Tragedy

Our life is made up of our experiences. Some of them are somewhat inconsequential, but we are affected by all of them to some extent. Many times we are responsible for creating them, but there are those circumstances that were created for us that are completely out of our control. This would be the case when a great tragedy engulfed our family with flames that would change our lives forever—one we never saw coming and one that would change the course of time forever.

It was June 4, 1983. I was 19 years old and the world was at my feet. It was a Friday, like any other Friday. I was working at the gas station and business was booming with people excitedly getting prepared to relax for a weekend retreat of fun at the lake or just to stay around the house. You know, the normal last day of the work week scenario.

About 10:00 that night, a storm rolled in. It was a very strong storm with torrential rains and high winds. Amidst the storm were sirens, both warning of impending tornadic danger and the emergency vehicles scrambling to help those in need. I had already moved out of my parent’s home and was living in town with roommates. I went to bed thinking how thankful I was we did not lose power, as so many homes were without electricity by that time.

At 4:00 a.m. there was a knock on the door. A single, solitary police officer knocking at your door at 4:00 in the morning is not a good sign. “Is Katrina Stanley here?” He asked. My roommate got me up and I went to the door. “I’m sorry to inform you but your dad was killed in an accident and I need you to come with me.”

Time stood still. I can remember my roommate asking the officer if there wasn’t any other way to have told me. I couldn’t breathe. Every step was in slow motion. I remember going to my room and looking for socks. I couldn’t find any socks. I couldn’t move. I was in shock.

My dad worked at a local college in the maintenance department and my uncle (his brother) was his supervisor. My uncle was able to get dad hired after he finished vocational training upon retiring from 20 years of military service. There was to be a large Girl’s State event at the college the next morning. On the night of the storm, my dad, uncle and the maintenance crew were called out at about 1:00 a.m. to repair a fallen computer wire, the wire that powered all the computers on campus. I was told a call was made to the local power company to turn off the power to the main high voltage powerline so these men could repair the computer line for the next morning when the Girl’s State event took place. The power company said no, there were hundreds of homes without power and they took priority.

Only God knows what transpired next, but directives were given and these men proceeded to repair the snapped computer wire. At some point, the wind picked up the high voltage power line and it hit my dad in his right temple and electrocuted him. Paramedics were called and I was told they were actually able to resuscitate him a few times but ultimately, their attempts failed and my father was pronounced dead at the scene. He was only 45 years old.

So many unanswered questions. Why was it so important to repair that line in the middle of the night? Why wasn’t Girl’s State canceled until a later date when repairs could be made safely? Why was my dad working in these conditions without proper gloves and boots to be properly grounded? What didn’t help matters is everyone was put on a gag order for five years. The hardest blow came when my mother refused to sue for negligence and wrongful death. Through tears she simply said, “Your dad didn’t believe in suing anyone. It will not bring him back.” But, I wanted to. My brother and I both wanted to. We were grieved and vexed beyond anything that ever existed in our framework to conceive. But, we would not dishonor our mother. To make matters worse, my uncle was working that night, side by side with my dad. In time, he finally confessed he would have been severely reprimanded if he had spoken about the details of that night before the five years had passed. In later years, he spoke of nightmares that plagued him night after night which lasted for months. This man became like a dad to me. His heart broke for us. It took me a long time to realize that in the accident, not only did my dad die, this was his brother. And, they had become very close after my dad retired from the military. Only God knows how deep the grief cuts into a person’s soul when the light of a life that brings life to their soul is snuffed out, especially when it happens suddenly, without any warning or preparation. We would be forever changed.

It had only been the week before I talked on the phone with my dad and for the first time in my life that I could remember, I told him I loved him. He said, “I love you too.” That would be the last time I talked to my dad. I never got a chance to tell him how sorry I was that I moved out the way I did, so suddenly—I just wanted my independence. I wanted to pursue my dream of singing. It was difficult for him to handle, as I was through and through a daddy’s girl. But at least I was able to tell him I loved him before he left.

Memories flooded my soul, like when I had an opportunity to join the group called “Up With People,” which was a group of youth that traveled the world singing upbeat music with upbeat, positive lyrics, but my dad said no. That was a lot to ask a man whose daughter just recently graduated from high school. But I never forgot it. My dad was a dad indeed and very protective at that. He wanted me to go to college and he worked at a job that would allow me free tuition. Otherwise, there would be no hope of me going. He became very upset when I wanted to drop out after only two years. I wasn’t adjusting well there. I thought transferring to the college across the ravine would make the difference. Not. He was not happy where he was working but stayed so I could get a college education. This would be a decision I would regret for years to come. Soon thereafter, he began the process of trying to change jobs when he died. It seemed it was simply one day to late. If only….

Then there was the time I had been chosen to go to Japan to study as an exchange student. I received a scholarship that would pay for tuition but not room and board. I would have to work teaching English to pay my way. My parents didn’t like the idea of me going to Japan for a year without having the money to support me in advance, as there were simply too many variables. What ultimately caused me to stay at home was my parents were unable to get a loan to support me while I studied abroad. At their insistence, I stayed home. Yes, my dad was very cautious indeed. After the accident, of course, I was so glad my parents insisted I not go to Japan. Otherwise, I would have missed out on spending the last year of his life with him.

All I knew was I felt empty. I remember thinking, “How am I going to help my mother?” I couldn’t imagine what she was going through. Truthfully, I wasn’t old enough to understand the soul connection she had with the man she married when she was only 18. My brother was in the Navy, so he had to ship back out to his post. Our first Christmas was spent on a cruise ship in the frigid cold winter (even in Florida it was freezing cold that year) to get out of the house. My life would never be the same. Truth is, I’m not sure you ever get over it. Not completely. He was my dad. He was my encouragement. He was my rock. He was my stability. He was my daddy.

As the years have gone by, the Lord has taught me many lessons about accepting God as our Father. I had a good dad. A really good dad who worked and made sacrifices for his family so we could have a decent life. Lesson after lesson paralleled the unconditional love of my heavenly father as provider, healer and friend and as I lovingly call him, Baba.”

Why do bad things happen to good people? There is a book written with this title. My answer is, sometimes there’s just no good answer. No reasonable explanation. It is just what it is…part of the cycle of life that we all have to live through at one time or another. It is easy to blame. Sometimes that blame is truly warranted. It is much harder to live with knowing you are just left with an empty space to fill. But God…

If we will allow him, God has a way of gently loving us into wholeness again. I can’t say what it will look like for anyone else, but I know he did this for us. It was a long, hard journey, but God has never left our side. Without his strength carrying me and sustaining me, I would have never made it through. Although we never forget, we must forgive and release to find peace, otherwise a root of bitterness will take root thus defiling every choice we make and every relationship.

I still miss my dad. Sometimes, I feel as if he’s watching over me and encouraging me. My uncle (who was my dad’s younger brother) who took on a father role in my life graduated into heaven in May of 2015. My uncle who was working alongside my dad that night, who took over being my dad, died only a few weeks ago at the time of this writing. I know I am not alone, but I can honestly say I’ve never felt more alone than I do right now.

As hard as saying goodbye is, there is still life to be found. If I have nothing else within me to give, I will always say, “Never give up. As long as there is life in your body, there is always hope. There is still life to be found.” Know where you will spend eternity. And yes, you can know for sure where you will spend eternity. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord and when these days on earth are done, we will spend an eternity in heaven with the Lord.

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