Saturday, 21 May 2005

Au revoir but not goodbye

Tonight Chris, Ben and I said goodbye to someone we loved.

Not forever, but for a long time - the rest of our lives.

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Clever words don't work.

Poetry is pretentious on my lips.

Sarah, we'll come to you but you will never come to us again.

The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.


It's 1.30 am here. Neither Chris nor I can sleep. Tomorrow we've got to visit Chris's parents to tell them - it's unlikely they can cope with just a phone call.

I'm going to describe what happened. If you're sensitive, don't read on.

We spent the afternoon with Pete (my brother) and Alison (his wife). Ben had come home early because the baby sitting he was doing had been cancelled, and we were having dinner. Around 7.30pm we got a call from Sarah's boyfriend's mother telling us Sarah had been in a car accident and was hurt, could we come immediately.

The road was closed to the site of the crash, and we were delayed initially by a policeman who promised to be back "in 2 minutes" but never returned. He requested that we parked in the nearby petrol station and waited. After about 5 mins we could bear it no more, and walked down the road. As we got closer the seriousness of things became apparent, with 3 fire tenders, half a dozen police cars and an ambulance all in the road. I think we knew even at this point - Chris could certainly feel the wrongness of it all. We were met by more police, and when we identified ourselves they did everything they could to keep us away from the crash site. That they were gtalking BS was completely apparent, and their attempts to calm us by hiding the truth just made things worse, although we were still suspecting major injury at this stage.

The car was visible in the woods off the edge of the road. It had gone down a bank across a stream, and was facing the opposite direction from which it had travelled. The driver's door had been cut off, and the front seats had their backs removed. Around 20 to 30 personnel were working on it at this stage.

We were told that the girls that had been in the back of the car were still in there, and that one was badly injured. We described Sarah to the police and asked for details, but they became very vague, again trying to get us out of sight of the crash. Eventaully we managed to get a minute free of them and walked behind a fire tender on the raised grassy bank so that we could look between the fire engines directly at the car around 90 feet away.

As we were watching, a stretcher was carried away from the car to an ambulance. Again we tried to find out who was on the stretcher, but were prevented and given vague answers. All the time this had been going on I'd been able to pray, and was aware of God's grace there for us and at the same time reasonably certain Sarah was dead. Once the stretcher had gone all the crash team lost interest in the car, began breaking down the cutting gear and left the site. At that point I could see what appeared to be a blanket wrapping something person sized, and although I was trying to reassure Chris to wait and see, since we couldn't be certain, I was pretty sure she was in that blanket.

We requested more information again, and were again held off with nothingness. Further officers appeared and suggested that the site wasn't safe and that we couldn't go down in case we disturbed anything that might indicate why the car had crashed. At this point we became somewhat sharp, since there had been 30 firemen in wellis crawling over the entire site, and the 2 of us could not make the least difference. At this the officer in question went to seek permission from his sergeant, and after more BS, we were told that there was a girl in there who had failed to respond to all resuscitation attempts, and yes, she had shortish blond hair, and if we would wait another "2 minutes" (we had lots of "2 minutes" - enough for nearly 2 hours) then they could finish the investigation there and we could see the body. Although there was quite a bit of blood, we were told it wasn't really horrible like some accidents.

All the 2 minutes were done with best intentions, and without wishing to hurt us, but really didn't help.

Eventually we stumbled down the bank to the car. I was shaking a little, but still able to pray into the situation, again aware of God being there. I climbed into the car and pulled the blanket from Sarah's face. She had blood drying onto her forehead and neck where it had run from her ear. It was still dripping from her nose, and had soaked the clothes she was wearing. The back seat was also soaked in blood, so that touching it put a coating on our hands. Her face was quite un-damaged, and she almost appeared asleep although her right eye was slightly puffy and was going blue where blood had seeped below the skin. The rear passenger side of the car had been stoved in, and it's likely that she started on that side. The impact almost cetainly fractured her skull and mangled her brain, although mercifully that wasn't visible outside.

She was still warm, and her hair soft and silky. We both kissed and hugged her and said goodbye as her body lay there, beautiful in death as in life. I said she lay there - that wasn't true. We knew Sarah had left, and it was just a body remaining. We both felt a certainty that she was with Jesus now.

Then there was more shuffling around, people talking because they needed something to do and it was their job to do it. Dan, who had been driving, was still there. He was desperately upset, and we hugged both him and his mum, reassuring them that we didn't hold him responsible. It was at this point my first tears came. Then we walked back up the road to our car with another policeman who was assigned to us to help deal with things.

I returned later with Ben. He wanted to say goodbye too, and we had been assured the body wouldn't be moved for a couple of hours, and he was able to express himself.

What now? There's no sleep in either of us. We lay there but it just didn't work. Every time I shut my eyes I can see her face and the blood dripping from her nose. In Hollywood style my brain does the "turn the clock back" thing, but that isn't real, and pain and sorrow are. We all 3 know that everyone has a time to die, and this time was Sarah's.

Why Now?


We are thankful for the life and love we've had with her, the friendship and excitement. We've both had a relationship with her that most parents can only envy with their teenage daughters, and we're truly grateful. There is an enormous gap, and that will never completely disappear. But time and God's love WILL heal us, and we will go on again.

If you want to pray, pray for us to cope with everything that's going to be thrown at us in the next few weeks and that we will not become solitary in our grief.

Thanks for reading this far.

Toni Ertl

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