The Next Five Minutes
Written by Mike Shaw
If you have not prayed for ways to survive the next five minutes, be thankful. I have, and it is tough.
On the evening of August 20th, 2004, the night before he was to leave for college at Oklahoma State University, my son Bryce celebrated the birthday of his lovely girlfriend, Kelly. He lavished her with a variety of food and gifts, he wanted her to know how much he cared for her, and he wanted to share his joy of leaving for college. They met in the youth group at Grace Presbyterian, where my wife, Laurie, was the Youth Director. It was a special celebration as we were all taking Bryce to school the next day.
The Next Morning
We loaded everything into two separate vehicles. Bryce and Kelly drove together in his car with most of his belongings. The rest of Bryce’s gear was in our van. Our family has always been very tight, so both of his brothers, Ian and Trent, were making the trip with us to drop him off. His older brother, Ian, had just finished his Junior year at TCU and his younger brother, Trent was to start his Junior year at Plano West High School. They both rode in the van with us.
We headed off for the final trek to Stillwater
After having a quick burger for lunch, I hugged Bryce and told him how much I loved him and that I would miss having him around all the time. He told me to stop acting like such a girl.
We had traveled about 25 miles when we noticed a slowdown in the traffic and figured it was just more Oklahoma construction. We soon found out it was a car accident, and that Bryce’s vehicle was in the median area of the highway and resting upside down. I was riding in the front passenger side and asked my son, Ian, to pull over, so I could run over and see if everything was OK. When I asked what happened, I was told, “The girl is OK, but the guy did not make it.” I went into shock and could not grasp what that meant. It felt like a nightmare.
I went to the car and found my son lifeless. My wife was soon by my side and said a prayer for our family. We spent the next several minutes, acting out, moments of anger, fear, and unbelievable sadness took over.
Soon we took his girlfriend, Kelly to the hospital. My wife and younger son went with her in the ambulance. I could not leave until my son’s body was removed from the vehicle and transported to a different location. My oldest son stayed with me. Immediately afterward, we started calling people to let them know what had happened.
Faith, prayer, and community are all you have at a time like this.
The community of Grace Presbyterian rallied around our family, like nothing I could ever imagine. Four ladies took turns living in our home for just over a week and took care of our every need. I cannot begin to explain what they did over the time they were there, but I will never forget their presence and their willingness to serve our family. Each of them will forever hold a special place in my heart.
In the first few weeks and even months, I can say I attempted to keep myself busy. That way, I would have something else to keep my focus. It worked for about six months off and on, but I finally had to face what I was feeling. I was very angry with the state of Oklahoma for not having anything on the interior of the road, thus making it easier to have an accident, like this one. I contemplated taking legal action. I had to hold someone accountable for what happened to my son. Anger followed the shock and was with me longer than I would like to admit.
As I stated earlier, faith, prayer, and community were all that got me through. This experience challenged my faith, and I would not wish this on anyone. I do not think God caused it. If you do not have a regular community of faith, please keep looking.
Following the accident
I became a Stephen Minister in the spring of 2005 and discovered this to be incredibly helpful not just to me, but it gave me a way to give back to others. And in 2007 became a Stephen Leader, now I can teach others how to become a Stephen Minister. Many of those trained as Stephen Ministers do so just before they needed it to care for a loved one. Then at my church, I started a ministry for grievers in 2011, and we have now completed 15 groups. We meet twice a year for eight weeks and keep the group size small, by design. Our next group starts in September at Grace Presbyterian Church in Plano, TX.
A book that I recommend is The Collision of Grief and Gratitude by Rosanne Liesveld. The author started posting her thoughts about grief and gratitude on Facebook after the unexpected death of her husband. These posts ended up becoming the book she had planned to write with her husband. Many days she had to search for something to be thankful for, but she persisted anyway. I, too, found grief and gratitude to be unlikely partners in this journey of grief.
“Don’t pray to forget; pray for a stronger back.”
I wish I could tell you that after 15 years, I don’t ever feel the effects of grief, but I can’t do that. One of the cards I received after my son’s death said, “Don’t pray to forget; pray for a stronger back.” That made sense to me and still does. In 2007, my father-in-law died. In 2009, my mom died. In 2014 it was my mother-in-law, and in February of 2018, I lost my father. I am now the oldest living member of my family. I am confident I will see these folks and Bryce again, and we can laugh, love, and enjoy each other once again. We all need each other.
Mike Shaw is a Faith & Grief Board Member. After an extensive leadership career in retail management, he became a Gallup Certified CliftonStrengths Coach and Trainer in 2015 in addition to his leadership position in Stephen Ministry.