That song, by Selah, has been just about the only thing other than praying that has brought me any comfort lately.
I will apologize now if this post goes all over the place, that is just where my heart is, and honestly I'm not even certain I'm ready to blog about it but I'm gonna try.
December 22, 2009.
I got up like any normal day, got ready for work but had planned my day a little differently. Our office was having our Christmas Luncheon at Public House, a new restaurant downtown (which I highly recommend). I knew that I would enjoy a glass of wine or two so we had planned for Mom to take me to work then Josh & Addi would pick me up from the restaurant so that I could enjoy the lunch w/wine and not be on the road, that right there is incredibly ironic in itself for the turn of events that took place. We were leaving for Christmas in Knoxville from there. Josh got home before we had left that morning and mentioned that as he drove by 4th street that a pedestrian was struck. Call it intuition or whatever but at that point I got the sickest feeling in my stomach & couldn't get this person off my mind. I prayed the whole way to work for this person. Work is ridiculously busy so I immediately went to working away when I got a text from my s-i-l that read, "Did you hear about Susan's accident?", I logged onto facebook right then and had a message in my inbox from my old Team Leader from Unum, Tonya, that read something to the extent of how it was the only way she knew to contact me but gave me details and that Susan WAS the pedestrian struck. She was in surgery and that was all we knew at that point. I was in a bit of shock, I just didn't really believe this was going on. I'd read what the online reports were saying about a car-jacking then hit and run. Sick to my stomach really just doesn't explain it.
I was packing up my things getting ready to leave the office when Tonya called and I swear to you time stopped. I still have such a weird feeling that time really is still going at a turtle's pace. Her words still ring in my ear "Andrea" and there was just silence.... "Susan died." I rode to the luncheon with my boss in silence - I sat at the table, in as much silence as I could without being the "party pooper" of the bunch but my heart was & still is broken. Broken, broken, broken, broken.
So that takes us back to 2002 when I met a broken Susan Parker. I had not been at Unum long when Susan came back to work. At this time in her life her husband had left her and she was now a single mom caring for two young children. I believe Rachel was 5 and Brody 2 or 3. Keep in mind I was straight off the Lifeguard stand, a young 22 yr old who just had her first real corporate job in an entry level position. Cube world ring a bell? She was devastated. Her husband left & now she was having to leave her children to make a living and provide for them. And let me just say, she wasn't afraid to tell you all about it and in the midst of a story would burst into tears. I kept thinking how in the world am I supposed to sit here and get my work done when this woman is telling everyone everything and jeesh, can't keep it together at that. She was broken. She was attending a divorce care class at church and coming closer and closer to God. She & I became closer & closer as well. She was a friend I never knew I needed....God sure did though. Over the next few years we were attached at the hip. We went for breakfast, lunch and just strolls around the common area when we needed a break. During early spring and early fall we would leave Unum and walk down to the Walking Bridge and back for a breath of fresh air. We'd take in the birds chirping, the foliage, and all the people. Ohhhh how she LOVED fall. We shared many secrets, laughs, lunch picnics right on the lawn of Unum and even shared many tears but she was someone I knew was a forever friend. And as our friendship grew so did her love for the Lord. I watched a very dependent woman turn into someone who was standing on her own two feet and providing for two beautiful children all the while. And as she became more and more independent she grew that much closer to her Father. He knew all along what, or should I say whom, she needed. Insert Matt Wood. Matt & Susan knew each other from school & he now worked in the IT dept at Unum. They chatted occassionally but in Susan's eyes it was only friendly conversation. And low and behold he went and did something that I'm sure for a second, maybe a mili-second he wished he'd thought twice about.....he asked her out on a date. Now, if you knew Susan you know she spoke her mind and boy did she let him have it. "Didn't he know" she was a single mom of two kids, very much disliking men (YES ALL OF THEM), struggling to make ends meet, yada, yada, yada. Needless to say I'm sure he was like yikes. But you know what...God sent him again, and he asked again....AND she said yes. The rest my friends is history. Beautiful history I should say. He proved to her that they aren't all the same - they courted just like high school kids. They truly could make one sick, ha but in the most loving of ways. They went on a date to the wedding of Josh Lewis & Andrea Smith 2 months into their relationship where Matt caught the garter and Susan fought like crazy but didn't catch the bouquet. In November 2004 they married. She was the most beautiful bride and he was the most smitten groom. Brody hid under his mom's dress and Rachel gazed up at them as if she were watching Cinderella & her Prince.
Although I left Unum in January of 2005 my friendship with Susan only grew stronger. She saw me through a lot of difficulties during 2006 but was right there with daily devotions through email and phone. We met monthly at Sticky Fingers to catch up - I'd come walking down the street and see that smile blocks away, and then hear "Smith get over here and hug me." Even after I married she still called me Smith.
I was thrilled when her family joined DBBC because I knew I would not only get to see her once a week but more importantly I was getting to sing praises to the Lord with her. And I still got one of her hugs once a week too. She would always go on and on about how beautiful my family is, how great I looked or what a wonderful man I had but it was just fluff - she was genuine, she was my friend and she is gone.
We sat in the court room on January 12th and had to not only see the young man responsible but we listened to the horrific details of what happened on December 23, 2009. Horrific, unimaginable, wrong, callous.....details that weren't just the result of an accident but more a result of irresponsibility & lack of respect. It was one thing for this to happen but as most of you have seen the gentleman responsible had not only been drinking from the hours of around 3am-7am but after he struck Susan he never stopped - never hit his breaks or never even slowed down. Instead, and I understand scared, he fabricated a story that he had been carjacked - that he was the victim in this. Obviously the police did their job & it too many inconsistancies led them to what really happened. He was drinking & driving, killed a mother, a wife, sister, daughter & friend and NEVER once thought twice about stopping. It was later revealed that not only did he kill Susan he was on the phone with a friend when it happened, told her "I think I just hit somebody" and later called her back to say "Remember that conversation we had, well forget about it - it never happened...its been taken care of."
I can't imagine the strength and courage it took for a friend of this man to stand up there, only 1 person in between them and testify to all of that. She, unlike this young man, has a conscious. I thank her for that.
Although his attorney fought to keep him out of jail and the bail at a minimum cost the Judge felt no remorse. As she looked around the court room which was packed full of family members, friends, and co-workers she saw our pain and justice for the time being was served. He was taken immediately into custody and his bail doubled to $360,000. Justice WAS served.....but the pain hasn't gone away. I'm not certain that it will. Its not black and white here. This isn't over, and in fact its really only begun. There have been articles on the Chattanoogan, the news has reported it all over the TV, Unum is having a celebration of Susan's life & in fact they are now going to give an award in her name to an employee that shows the same characteristics that Susan showed every day - even to complete strangers. But you know.....the pain is still there.
Although I had everything to be thankful during the holidays they were tough. I had a hard time not just wanting to crawl into bed, cover my head and sob....and actually I did just that several times.
And all the while I'm thinking of the Wood & Berry families as a christian and well as someone who has a heart so full of compassion my heart breaks for this man's family. Its obvious with looking at records and hearing about his past that this young man was no stranger to the law. A DUI here, public drunk there, aggravatted assualt and well a list that isn't all that long but a list that is compiled of laws that were broken and who knows - if he'd paid for his actions earlier in life Susan may be here. And again, as a Christian I know that 1. Susan was ready, she never missed a day or opportunity to tell someone how ready she was to meet her Father & 2. God chose her to spend eternity with Him, it was her time. At some point though this family will need to learn that they are no longer responsible for him or the decisions he makes. They must stop trying to "help" by bailing him out, providing $ etc. At some point they are going to have to turn their backs physically but drop to their knees and pray for him & pray for tough love. They didn't get to say good bye to their son that morning, he was immediately handcuffed and taken away so yeah they'll have to visit him in jail to see him but they can.....we didn't get to say goodbye to Susan but the difference is we must visit her memory at the cemetary.
I'm thankful I no longer work at Unum - I honestly do not know how I would walk past a memorial that has been placed by her family when I haven't even been able to drive down 4th street. I've taken every route I can just to ensure I don't have to see it yet. Silly but just my own grieving I suppose.
Susan's birthday was the 19th this month, just two days after Josh & my 6 yr anniversary. Matt had commented on facebook about remembering our wedding day, how fun it was and how that was one of their first "dates" as a real couple. Its a day that I will cherish forever because Susan taught me to appreciate things in so many different ways. I know that she knew I loved her, that I was grateful for her friendship but my heart is now broken over and over again when I walk into church and see Matt with no Susan. We are all leaning on our God heavily and in all honesty that is exactly what Susan would want. And although we miss her I do know that if her death brings JUST ONE person closer to God, well.....she wouldn't have it any other way.