“Do you have a pastor we can call?” If I had not already come to terms with the fact that my daughter was gone, this should have been the question that confirmed the truth. Just thirty minutes earlier our life was normal, comfortable and predictable. Now the future was bleak and uncertain.
It was Monday, February 24, 2020. My husband, Robert was at his clinic where he serves as a primary care sports medicine physician. I had just dropped off our oldest daughter, Emma, for her weekly piano and drama lessons. I was on the way home with our three youngest children and my emerging baby bump. Five children. In less than five months, we would have five children in our home under the age of 8. It was an overwhelming blessing.
As I drove home, the sun was shining and astonishingly it wasn’t raining. It had been a record breaking month of rain. The weather was cool and crisp. The kids were singing in the car and asking what we were having for dinner. It was the most typical Monday and we were content.
When we pulled back into our driveway, the kids were making plans to play dress up and perform plays before we had to go back to pick up Emma. Leah, George and Jane adored playing dress up, as most children under the age of six typically do. It was about 4:20pm in the afternoon, and I knew I would have just enough time to sit down with a book before I needed to start dinner. It was one of my favorite ways to spend a winter afternoon. The fire was on in the living room, the kids were singing and playing on the rug in front of me and I had a good book to muse over in between elaborate songs and performances from my children.
My youngest, Jane went to retrieve another dress up costume from her room at the same time I got a text message from my husband. It was 4:37pm. The text read “Do you want me to pick up Emma from piano?” I responded, “if you can.” At that same time, Leah and George began to bicker about something insignificant. In an attempt to stop the fighting and change the subject, I sent Leah to find Jane. “Go find Jane and make sure she isn’t getting into your stuff,” I said. It had only be a couple of minutes since I had seen her, so I wasn’t concerned, but I knew it would pull Leah away from the argument with her brother.
Within minutes Leah returned, looking concerned and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with Jane.” She was pointing to her own neck and said, “She might be asleep or,” I didn’t catch the last part of her phrase as I was already up and running, screaming, “Where is she?!” Maybe it was mother’s intuition, or the sheer moving of the Holy Spirit, but either way I knew the matter was urgent. I found Jane lying in her closet unconscious. The next several minutes were a blur.
CPR was performed and 911 was called. There was crying and fear from George and Leah, who were huddled together on the living room couch. I screamed “God please, no! God please save her!” while performing chest compressions and listening to the 911 operator tell me that help was on the way. I yelled to Leah, “Unlock the front door! People are coming to help!” A trooper from the sheriffs department was the first to enter the room, followed closely be EMS.
I retreated to the living room. I was sobbing, still crying out to God and occasionally dry heaving. At some point, I picked up my phone and called my husband. In my memory, even through sobs, I was being coherent. He told me some time later that he couldn’t understand anything I was saying. A kind trooper asked who I was talking to and took the phone from me. Into the receiver she said, “Mr. Martin, this is Kelly from the sheriff’s department. You need to come home immediately.” She hung up the phone and immediately pulled me tight into a hug. I know now, this was the moment they were transferring Jane out of the house and she didn’t want me to see.
A first responder took Leah and George into their rooms, and distracted them from the trauma that was unfolding. They sat me down in a dining room chair and I stared out of the open front door. I was still praying, “God please.” Our nearly quarter of a mile long driveway was full of first responder vehicles. I noticed a friend, our neighbor, standing in the driveway too. The sun was setting and it had begun to rain a miserable drizzle. Someone asked me if there was someone near that could take our children, so that we were free to go to the hospital. I pointed to my neighbor in the driveway and a trooper went to retrieve him. Someone helped Leah and George with their shoes and then they went next door to our neighbor’s home. I kept staring out the front door, waiting for Robert, waiting for a miracle. I was surrounded by people, but I felt utterly alone.
I was surrounded by people, but I felt utterly alone.
Robert got home and came straight to me. I looked at him and through tears, said “I think she’s gone. I tried. It’s awful. It’s awful.” He was calm, but clearly overwhelmed. He asked me if there had been a pulse. I shook my head no with tears streaming down my face. Robert then asked the first responders for more information and called another friend to ask if they would please pick up Emma from piano lessons. “We’ve had a family emergency” he said into the phone. At some point in this exchange, I received the question, “Do you have a pastor we can call?” I responded with our pastors name. Deep down, I knew what this all meant. Then Robert and I were ushered to a trooper’s car to be driven to the hospital.
It was a ride that I will never forget. It was gray outside and the rain running down the windows felt like an outward expression of the emptiness and sorrow I felt inside. Robert sat behind me and his hand never left my shoulder. The car was quiet with the exception of radio calls back and forth between law enforcement. The calls may have pertained to us or they might not have, it was a series of disjointed words muffled in my ears.
We arrived at the hospital as the sun had nearly set. It was the same hospital where I had given birth to Jane almost two and a half years before. On that day in September, the sun was shining brightly and we pulled away from the hospital with a new bundle of joy. The future was bright and joy was sure. On this day in February, I would be leaving the same hospital in the darkness of night and gloom of rain, without my child. The magnitude of this opposite reality hadn’t settled on me quite yet.
As we were shown the way into a private family waiting room, I noticed a few familiar faces. Friends lined the hallway. They looked concerned, upset and distraught. Why were they here? How did they know? The situation felt baffling. Our pastor met us in the private room. He gave Robert a hug and we all sat down. At this point, time didn’t seem to exist anymore. I don’t know how long we waited, but I don’t think it was long before a doctor and nurse entered the room.
The doctor, clearly burdened, walked towards us and introduced himself quickly. He then bent down to be eye level with us and said, “I’m sorry, it isn’t good news.” That was a fact, it wasn’t good news. Jane, my two year old had died. He explained they had done everything and tried everything, but she was gone. I cried, Robert cried, our pastor and all the professionals in the room cried. Robert has had the unfortunate experience of relaying tragic news like this to families. I know it is never an easy task. But we had never been on the receiving side of such catastrophic news. Robert and I said something along the lines of “Thank you, we know you did everything you could.” We were left with our pastor again and I asked for a Bible. Hands moved to pockets and I quickly interjected, “No, not a phone, I need to hold the Bible in my hands.”
A Bible was provided and my hands fumbled over pages to find the Psalms. I kept smoothing the pages beneath my hands, finding comfort in the solid and tangible Word of God. I sat and read quietly with my husband. To this day, I’m not exactly certain what we read, but it was what we needed in the moment. I kept whispering the same prayer, “Jesus, please be near.” Jesus answered and He was near. I have never felt the presence of the Almighty as strongly as I did in that moment and for the remainder of the evening.
Again, time was irrelevant at this point, but over the course of what I assume was a couple of hours, people came in and out of the room. Someone came in to ask us registration questions, but they were asked to leave and please come back. Someone told us they would come back to get us in a little while to see Jane, but they didn’t give an approximate amount of time. The county coroner, criminal investigator and troopers came to ask us questions about what had taken place. I answered their questions, told the story exactly as it had happened, through sobs and anguish.
The criminal investigator, explained that they didn’t suspect any foul play and they felt confident the entire situation had been a terrible accident. Jane had slipped, fallen and struck a toy basket just right. I remember thinking “You should take me away. You should arrest me. What kind of mother am I?!” I’m sure this is part of why the term “freak accident” was used multiple times that evening and for the next couple of weeks. It was an attempt to alleviate my own personal blame. It was an attempt to explain the unexplainable, the improbable.
Eventually, Robert and I were allowed to see Jane one last time. It’s an experience you never anticipate and hope will never transpire. We knelt down next to the hospital bed. I stroked Jane’s hair, traced her fingers and asked to see her feet. This was it, and I knew it. Soon all I would have were photographs and memories. Robert was beside me and did the same thing. How could this be? Jane, our perfectly healthy, full of life little girl, was now just a shell. Lifeless and cold. I was holding the same hand that hours earlier she had begged me to trace on a piece of paper. I’ll never regret tracing her hand. But now her fingers weren’t clutching my fingers in return. It felt as if the life had been drained from the entire room. Everything was quiet with the exception of occasional sobs and sniffs.
Her fingers weren’t clutching my fingers in return. It felt as if the life had been drained from the entire room.
After we had been given what a professional determined was enough time, we were taken out of the room. Robert made calls to immediate family, while I let tears stream down my face. The tissue in my hand seemed insufficient for my eyes, but I rubbed the edge of it repeatedly between my thumb and forefinger. It was soft, I could feel it and it was real. The entire situation was real. Someone told us that the hardest part would be leaving the hospital without our daughter. It was going to be hard, but the entire experience was horrific. We left the family waiting room and walked down the hall towards the exit. I saw more faces I recognized, more sadness, more questioning eyes. The gaze of strangers even felt sympathetic and uncomfortable. Then we left the hospital, empty handed.
Our pastor and his wife drove us home. It was another dark and quiet drive. At the entrance to our driveway, our pastor stopped the car. “I know this may sound hard, but I think it is important to try to stay strong for your kids. We called your friends and neighbors to bring the kids back to your house, but they don’t know anything yet” he said. I knew we needed to be strong, I knew we were about to deliver the most devastating news and I knew we were completely incapable. Our flesh was failing, but Jesus was still near.
We made our way down the driveway and met our surviving children at the door. It was near bedtime now. The kids had pleasant demeanors, but the questions were written all over their face. Never in my life have I understood more what Jesus meant when He said “My power is made perfect in your weakness.” My flesh failed me that day repeatedly, but the Holy Spirit helped and moved us. Here we were with our children, sitting in the same place we did every night, about to embark on the same bedtime routine, but everything was different.
“Where is Jane?” It was the first question. I don’t remember specifically what was said. I know we explained, through tears that Jane had passed away. I know I said a phrase I speak often in our home, “Who made you?” Without missing a beat our children replied “God”. I went on, “Does God make mistakes?” Unwavering, they said, “No.” Then our tradition, our bedtime routine, our family worship began. Robert read from our Bible History book, it was about Timothy. Who was taught from toddler hood to hold on to the Christian faith. It included reading 1 Timothy 1:17 that says, “To the King…. the only God, be honor and glory forever. Amen.” We sang the Doxology. Through tears the words came broken and in unison. “All praise to Thee my God this night, for all the blessing of the light. Keep me, O keep me King of Kings, beneath Thine own almighty wings. Forgive me Lord, for Thy dear Son, the ill that I this day have done. That all the world, myself and Thee, I ere, I sleep at peace may be.” We sang the last verse with more certainty. It was familiar and how we closed nearly every evening as a family. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him above ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.” At the conclusion of our song of praise, we prayed as a family. “God you are holy and you are sovereign. God please forgive me for my doubt and unbelief. God thank you for Jane. Thank you for letting us be her family, thank you that she is with you now. God please help us, please be near.”
Does God make mistakes? Unwavering, they said, No.
People started to arrive at our house. Dear friends helped get the kids dressed in pajamas and we put them in their beds, thanking the Lord for his strength. I have no recollection of all the people that came to our home that night. I know many were friends from church, neighbors and some family members that lived near by. I’m sure many prayers were offered in our home that night and around our community. At one point, some women sang Amazing Grace.
I sobbed on shoulders and looked around utterly perplexed by my present reality. Robert found me in the sea of friends, sat with me for a little bit and then took me to our room. He helped me get dressed in pajamas and get into bed. I assume someone saw everyone out of the house and locked the door. The rest of the night was a horrific blur of tears, panic attacks, prayers and shock. I slept maybe a couple of hours and dreaded every passing moment. My cell phone continued to ding through out the night, but I couldn’t bring myself to look and read all the messages.
Our life that was once predictable, normal and comfortable just hours before had been permanently altered. The only truth I knew was that Jesus was near and God was still good. He alone would sustain us.