When I was only thirty-three years old, suddenly one day I felt my life was over and my only future was my past.
Up until then, my life seemed magical, full of much love and happiness. Everything had been going according to plan. My husband Bart and I had just finished building our house in Idaho, where we wanted to raise our two boys, six-year-old Benjamin and four-year-old Samuel, through their high school years. We were preparing to set off on an adventure of a lifetime, to live in Avezzano, Italy, for one to two years while Bart worked there. The plan was for my sister, niece, and mother to visit us during spring break; we would show them our surrounding area and go on an exciting family road trip to Venice and Florence before returning to Avezzano.
Then one day on the road trip, just outside Bologna on our way to Florence, without warning, a semi-truck lost control, crossed the highway median, and crushed the minivan carrying me and my loved ones, killing my husband, my two boys, my mother, and my niece. My sister and I were the only survivors. From that moment, just after lunch on Monday, March 25, 2002, my life as I had always known it vanished.
Following the accident, I struggled with how to live life without a future. I existed, yet I had no idea how to live again. Throughout all my life, I had love, laughter, hopes, and dreams. Now I had nothing.
Mornings, I would awaken numb then wander aimlessly, not knowing what to do with my time. When I met people for the first time and eventually my tragedy came up in conversation, a look of horror would shoot across their faces, then fade into expressions of sadness and amazement as they wondered how on earth I could be standing there in front of them or how a person could live with such pain and absolute darkness.
The job of living life again became my full-time occupation. I had never worked so hard before. I only wanted to again recognize myself; to have hopes and dreams; and, most of all, to experience love, laughter, and true happiness. After making a conscious choice to live, and not knowing how to start, I first relied on my counselor Sharon to help me find tools to work through my grief.
As I became more forthcoming with my feelings and needs, my emotional states changed as often as there were seconds in the days. Gradually, I gained control of these ever-changing emotions by figuring out how to release my anxiety in different ways. One way was to talk to Sharon, but I also employed many other methods to release my anxiety that I continue to use today, including journaling by writing, through pictures, and even through music.
My next assignment was to make my days somehow purposeful. To do this, I started planning for the weeks ahead, struggling to structure some kind of schedule. All these steps gave me strength to carry on with life despite the ongoing feelings of grief I continued to experience and the realization that the pain I felt about loss of my family was an unalterable part of my love for them.
Now, as of August 1, 2014, I can honestly say that I am happy again. I am once more experiencing love, laughter, hopes, and dreams. I am remarried, and my husband John and I have a beautiful little six-year-old boy named Franklin, who is energetic and oozes happiness. He knows about his brothers Ben and Sam and at times feels the loss of their presence. But John and I are teaching him not to avoid the sadness in life—to embrace it and step through it. This philosophy and practice has stopped grief over our losses from dictating our lives and allowed us to be surrounded by joy.
Jill Kraft Thompson lives in McCall, Idaho, and is the author of Finding Jill: How I Rebuilt My Life after Losing the Five People I Loved Most (Mind, Body, and Soul Productions, 2013).