The program went well that night, and it was followed by a fellowship time. Eventually Michael told me he was leaving, so we gathered our things together and followed him outside. It was so warm that we didn’t need our sweaters, which is unusual for Maine in May. We stood outside laughing with teens, enjoying the warm weather. Then Michael climbed on his motorcycle and started home.
We left shortly after, but stopped at a store to buy graduation cards. We kept finding funny ones, and were showing them to each other, giggling over the messages that were written inside. Sarah and Stephanie, ages 22 and 20, were light-hearted as they helped me make my selections. Their 18 year-old brother, Mike Jr. was graduating the next day from a Christian college in NH. We were planning to leave early in the morning to watch him graduate from that school’s one-year program.
It was dark by the time we headed home. When we were only three miles from home we came up behind a long line of traffic stopped in the road. Up ahead we could barely see the red flashing lights of an emergency vehicle. After awhile, when I realized we weren’t moving at all, I dialed home to tell Michael we were held up. He didn’t answer. That was strange. Time went by, and I tried to reach him again, but there was still no answer. A detour to get home would be twenty or thirty miles out of our way, so we waited. I dialed several more times, but Michael still didn’t pick up. I didn’t say anything to Sarah, Stephanie or Benjamin about my growing sense of uneasiness.
Finally, a volunteer emergency worker started going to each car to tell people they had to turn around and go another way. When the man came to tell us to turn around, we asked him if the accident was a car or a motorcycle. He said it was a car and a motorcycle.
We parked the car by the side of the road, I told the others to wait there, and I started walking toward the front of the line of traffic. My heart was pounding in my chest, dreading what I might find ahead. As I neared a fire engine parked in the road, I could see a big motorcycle on the ground. But I couldn’t tell in the dark if it was Michael’s, because it was banged up pretty badly, and hard to recognize. Then a man stopped me, and gently guided me to the other side of the fire truck, where I couldn’t see the accident. “My name is Linda. My husband Michael is driving a motorcycle, and I just want to know if that’s his bike.” The man answered: “My name is Chris, and I’m a volunteer for the fire department. Someone will come talk to you in a minute.” I didn’t understand.
A few minutes went by, and a friend of our family, Craig, came toward me from the accident. He was the fire chief for the next town over. (Sometimes the towns answer each other’s calls.) “Hi Craig, I just wanted to know if that’s Michael’s bike.” Craig spoke quietly: “Someone will come talk to you in a minute.” I still didn’t understand. “Craig, if it’s not Michael’s bike, just tell me, and I’ll go back to the car.” Again he replied: “Someone will come talk to you in a minute.” Then the two men stood there in kindly silence. My mind raced through a hundred different thoughts. Why didn’t someone tell me the answer to my question?
Finally a sheriff came and stood behind the other two men, looking at me over their shoulders. “My name is Sheriff Cote, and your husband was involved in that accident tonight.” I don’t remember if he said anything else. I looked at Craig as panic started to rise up into my throat. He opened his big, burly arms and I collapsed into them, sobbing. My mind couldn’t accept that my husband had crashed his motorcycle. He was so careful, he had never had an accident in the 25 years I had known him! I pulled away from Craig’s embrace and tearfully begged: “Craig, tell me you made a mistake! Tell me it’s not Michael!” He simply pulled me back into his arms, and for a moment he didn’t answer. Then he told me Michael’s accident was serious.
I don’t know how much time passed. Craig went back to the accident scene, but Chris put me into the seat of a paramedic truck. I asked for a phone right away and called the church, asking someone to start the prayer chain. Then I called my friend Rozina and asked her to bring her two daughters, Laura and Brittney to help me tell my children. Those girls were older than my daughters, but they had always been special friends. They lived only a couple of miles up the road from the intersection where the accident took place.
I knew the children would be waiting for me in the car, but I could not bring myself to go back alone, so I waited. Chris stood there silently beside me. “It doesn’t matter how this turns out. I know God is in control, and that He will take care of us.” Chris nodded quietly. I don’t think he knew how to answer my ramblings about God.
By now Craig had told me that the accident was ‘very serious’. My mind was numb. Still later Craig came back to the truck again, and told me they were doing CPR on Michael. I knew Michael would be all right, they would ‘bring him back’ I was sure!
At some point an ambulance pulled away, and headed past the line of traffic toward the medical center, located 30 miles away.
After a time Rozina came with her two daughters. Then Craig, Chris, Rozina, Laura and Brittney all walked back to my car with me. When we came into view of the headlights, Sarah jumped out of the car, and started running toward me. She grabbed me and held on for dear life, sobbing into my arms: “Mom, you were gone too long!!” I could barely muster a reply: “Yes, I was gone too long!” I looked over and saw that Craig had somehow wedged his husky form into the back of our car, and was hugging both Ben and Stephanie at the same time. Everyone was sobbing.
We couldn’t move the car out of the line of traffic, and I lost all track of time. Craig kept wiping tears from his face. At some point I called Mike Jr. to tell him about the accident, saying I did not have any details, except that it was very serious.
After awhile Craig said he was going to let us drive through. Brittney drove our car, and Rozina followed with Laura. The emergency workers planned to move the fire truck to block our view of the accident, but somehow communications broke down, and it did not happen. As we passed by the accident, it was clear that the Michael’s motorcycle was under the front of a car.
As we pulled into our driveway, Mike Jr. called: “Mom, if Dad is in the hospital, I don’t want to stay for my graduation, I want to come home now.” I calmly told him that he didn’t need to come home until we knew how Dad was. I would call him as soon as I talked to the doctors at the hospital. I was still SURE that Michael would be all right!
We hastily packed a few necessities, in case we ended up spending the night at the hospital. I closed the windows, and walked the dog. I called my neighbor, who came over immediately. I knew the doctors would take care of Michael, and thought we would just sit in the waiting room all night anyway, so I wasn’t worried about rushing to the hospital. Instead I was trying to make sure everything was properly taken care of before I left. I did not realize it was already 10:30 PM. Finally Rozina spoke urgently: “Linda, we have to GO!”
At Rozina’s urging I called the children and turned toward the door, and then As we headed for the door, the phone rang. Our cordless phones weren’t working right, so I ran upstairs to the study to answer the one dependable phone that we had. My voice trembled as I answered: “Hello?” I did not know the voice on the other end: “Hello, is this Linda Handzel?” I affirmed that it was. “This is Dr. _____, and I work in the emergency room at the medical center.” I collapsed into the chair at the desk. Rozina stood beside me and Ben listened behind her. The doctor continued: “When the paramedics arrived at your husband’s accident tonight, he had no pulse, no blood pressure and no respiration.” Then he said something else, but for the life of me I cannot remember what it was, but I instantly knew that something was terribly wrong! I couldn’t breathe, My breath caught in my throat, and my heart started pounding in my chest, but and the line was silent.
Finally I caught my breath enough to choke out the words: say: “Could you repeat that, please?” Around me the whole house was quiet. Everyone was standing on or near the stairs, listening to my conversation. The doctor repeated all the information about Michael’s vital signs. Then he stopped and I waited, but he did not say anything more. Somehow I found struggled to find my voice to and ask: “And Could you repeat the other sentence?” His voice was filled with regret: “We were unable to revive him.”
I dropped the phone, and put my head on the desk and started sobbing. Ben clutched onto me, lunged at me with such force that the wheeled desk chair I was sitting in rolled across the floor. He clutched onto me and followed the chair. His voice was filled with desperation as he demanded: “Mom, what, Mom? What did he say?” I choked out the words: “Daddy’s gone to Heaven.” Rozina picked up the phone and tried to talk to the doctor, but she had to keep asking him to repeat himself, because Ben was howling crying so loudly into my arms that Rozina couldn’t hear.
Somehow we all ended up outside, and the sounds of crying could be heard across our lawn. Both Sarah and Stephanie were on their cell phones, sobbing as they choked out the news. Mike Jr. called back again before I could call him. When I told him the news his voice went into a soft scream mixed with a wail: “My Dad died?!?” I don’t remember any more of that conversation. There are many things I don’t remember about that evening, and the weeks that followed. I believe that is another way that God protected me. Even years later, it would be too overwhelming to remember every last detail.
From that time on even until this day, I was, and still am so amazed by God’s tender, loving care of our family. He has always known ahead what we will need, and has faithfully provided it! I’m so thankful that we needed to stop for graduation cards that night, or else we might have been the first ones to arrive at the accident, and seen Michael’s body stretched out face-down on the ground. At the time of the accident I did not know anyone on my small town’s rescue squad, but our whole family knew Craig. And through a strange set of rare circumstances he was the first responder to the accident, and was there that night for us. After he left the accident, Craig went home to get his wife Corinne, who was Michael’s secretary at work. They came to the house together that night and stayed with us for hours. Craig took Ben on a walk alone that night, and encouraged let him to ask questions about the accident.
Even though Rozina had a son getting married the next day, she and her daughters stayed for hours until I sent them home.
People came all night, including our pastor and his lovely wife, who asked if they could stay until Mike Jr. got home. He was living with a family in NH, and was planning to move home after his graduation the next day. Phil (the father of the house) put Mike Jr. in his own car, and drove the four hours necessary to get him home. They arrived around 2:30 AM, and when Mike came through the door our pastor held him in a bear hug while they both sobbed in unspeakable grief. In the meantime, Kathy (the mother of the house), and their two children, Meg and Chris, packed all of Mike’s belongings into his car and drove it to our house, arriving around 4:30 AM. Phil had slept for a couple of hours outside in his car, but they declined my offer to nap at our house before they drove home. They had stayed up all night for us!
I could write a thick book detailing all of the kindnesses that have been bestowed on us since that fateful night. The one couple I will tell you about is Jim and Sandal, dear friends from NH who always camped with us. A short time after Craig and Corinne went home Craig called them to tell them about the accident. Sandal called me, and at the sound of her voice I started crying uncontrollably. I don’t remember much about the phone call with Sandal, but this one thing I will never forget, she said: “We’re coming.” They didn’t go back to bed, but instead, took their motor home out of storage, contacted their employers, and set out on the four hour trip to our house, arriving by 11:00 AM. While their motor home stood sentinel in our yard, they took care of us for eight days. They nursed, chauffeured, delivered messages, cleaned, and did many other endless tasks for us. They worked very hard every day, never once asking for recognition or recompense! Later that summer we found out that Jim lost his vacation time because he gave it to us. They were forced to miss a vacation that they had taken every year for 25 years. They gave it up for us!
The purpose of this story is not to extract pity from its readers. Instead, it is to give praise to our wondrous God, Who never fails. Within hours of Michael’s death I felt the presence of the Lord fill our home! As I walked from room to room, it was as if I was walking through a cloud filled with the Glory of God. I had never experienced anything like it before, nor have I since. His presence was palpable to me. The intense awareness of His Presence stayed with me for over a week, reminding me that we were not alone.
I have never been angry with the man who killed my husband. The police report says that the driver of the car did not see my husband, even though the driving conditions that night were perfect. Michael was going straight down the road, and the man driving the car turned left into the motorcycle. His car broadsided Michael, who died instantly. I know the police report calls it an accident, but Michael loved the Lord, and God has never had an accident. It was Michael’s time to go Home, and that was how God chose to take him. It really is that simple.
When Michael died I didn’t know how to do a lot of things. I did not know how to run the snow blower, how to order garage doors or how to use power tools. Since then I have learned all of that, and a whole lot more! At first if something came up that I did not know how to handle, it felt like I was taking a sharp corner in life’s road and I held my breath, wondering how I would figure out what to do in that next situation. Then, as I rounded the bend in life, I discovered that God had already been there, and taken care of the situation ahead of me! I have learned not to worry about the next turn in the road because I know that He God is already there, getting things ready for my arrival!
That night at the accident as I walked up the road toward the red flashing lights, I was filled with dread at what I might find at the front of the line. Then these words started going around and around in my head: “An open door, I set before you an open door….” That weekend I found those words in Revelation 3:8. “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” I realized that God’s will for me was to walk through a different door, down a different path, and into a different life. I chose to accept that door, and to go through it. I have never regretted that decision! Honestly, this new journey has been sweet! Although there have been barrels of tears, dark days, sleepless nights, and incredible heartaches, I still give God thanks! I could never have come this far without His tender hands guiding, holding, and reassuring me! He is indeed a loving father to the fatherless, and a caring husband to the widow!
This book is about God’s hand preparing the way ahead of us-whether we are facing the expected or the unexpected. I pray that you will find help and hope in these pages as you read the stories here that chronicle God’s hand- Always Ahead of Us!
“My thoughts are with you and your family a this time. Your strength is remarkable and with your love for God and with the love you receive from all of your friends, I know that you will be alright.”
“The verse in Revelation 3:8 really has taken on new meaning for me as I have read this Blog. Thanks for sharing what it has meant to you and how you chose to go through that door.”
“Thank you for sharing this story Linda. My sister lost her son at age 27 in a similar motorcycle accident. I'm looking forward to your new book and seeing what God has laid on your heart. I have two friends who lost their husbands suddenly - in both instances, I could see the Lord had prepared them in various ways for this journey. Thank you for your ministry and using your difficult circumstances to encourage others. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)”