She hoped a getaway would be the answer to her problems, but it was the words of a stranger that fixed everything.
- Posted on May 19, 2020
We were only 48 hours into our family’s three-week road trip when the car broke down.
White smoke billowed from the engine. The dashboard warning lights went on. “Where did all this come from?” my husband, Gareth, said. He pulled off at the next exit. I glanced at our sons in the back seat. Colin, seven, and Aidan, five, looked disappointed. We were in Michigan, in the middle of nowhere, on our way to Mackinaw Island. From there we planned to visit the Badlands of South Dakota and Mount Rushmore, then Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Glacier National Parks. It would be a grand tour! But so far, the kids hadn’t seen anything but the road, and our Honda Odyssey didn’t seem up for the adventure. Maybe I wasn’t either.
Life had been rough lately. My best friend had died of breast cancer. We’d been roommates in nursing school. I knew cancer patients who survived, and I was angry at God that she wasn’t one of them. A few months later Gareth lost his job. I took on more hours at work to compensate for our loss of income. When Gareth filled in as an independent contractor, he had to travel for weeks at a time. Colin and Aidan missed him tremendously, and I was stretched thin. Then our two beloved boxers died within weeks of each other. I wasn’t sure our family could withstand more heartbreak.
"That’s it,” I announced one day. “We need some good family time. We are taking a road trip.”
Of course, I didn’t intend for our car to break down after two days. AAA towed our car to the nearest mechanic shop with all of us crammed in the tow truck’s cab. The boys jumped out and needed to run off some energy. I spotted a playground at the fast-food restaurant next door. “I’ll take them there for a diversion,” I told Gareth. “I’ll talk with the mechanic,” he said. Walking the boys to the playground, I rubbed at a twinge in my neck. It was just one of the many aggravations I’d become accustomed to. Joint pain, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, heart palpitations— physical therapy wasn’t helping me with any of it. After a steady stream of appointments, blood work, X-rays, and medications, my doctor asked to have a sit down with me. “Kathy, have you ever talked with anyone about depression?” she asked.
Depression? Me? “I’ve just been dealing with a lot right now,” I told her. “Things will get back to normal.” She handed me a sheet of paper with a checklist on it. “I want you to fill this out. Be honest with your answers and bring it back on your next appointment.” When I got home, I shoved the checklist into a drawer. I’m fine, I thought. I could fix this myself. The next day I’d announced the family trip.
I watched Colin and Aidan run around the playground, jumping and laughing. One of the employees came out. She paused to watch the boys and was amused by their antics. Her laugh was hearty and eager as if she too wanted to crawl through those tunnels and ride down the slide. “Are they twins?” she asked. “No, they’re two years apart,” I said. “But we get that question a lot.”
She came over and sat with me at the outdoor table. Her name was Angie. She got me talking about my work as a nurse and mentioned that her mother had recently died of complications from diabetes. We shared stories while the boys played. As time passed, I thought it was odd that no one else entered the playground. None of Angie’s coworkers came out to find her or take a break. It was as if we were in our own world together at that table. Then the conversation shifted.
“Kathy, can I ask you a question?” she said. “Have you ever been really mad about someone dying?”
What a question! Did she know the feeling herself? “Yes, I have,” I said.
“Me too,” she said. “After Momma died, I was so angry. I yelled at everyone. And then I got an awful pain in my neck.” She touched the exact spot on her neck where the pain was in mine. “My doctor finally gave me this checklist,” she continued, “to see if I was depressed.” Is this for real? I thought. “I didn’t want to fill it out, but I did it anyway,” Angie said. “And once my doctor knew what was wrong, I was able to get real help. Thankfully, I’m not so angry anymore.”
I cried telling Angie about my best friend. It felt good to get it all out, especially with someone who understood perfectly. Gareth interrupted our heart-to-heart to tell us the car was ready. I hugged Angie goodbye. “Thank you for being so open with me,” I said. I’d fill out that checklist the minute I got home and find the help I needed. If Angie could do it, so could I.
“You take care,” Angie said, holding me tight. Walking back to the mechanic shop, I asked Gareth what had been wrong with the car. “Nothing,” he said, shaking his head. “The mechanic checked everything and couldn’t find any problem whatsoever. He couldn’t explain it.” Maybe I could.
I glanced back at the playground, where I’d just received the very message I needed to hear. With renewed hope, I got back in the car, ready for a family adventure.