My mom and I recently finished reading the memoir I'll See You Again by Jackie Hance. I first heard about Jackie and her book last year when she was on Dateline NBC. I listened to her talk about her experiences and decided to buy the book so that I could get the full story and not just the condensed version.
In this book Jackie shares her heartbreaking story of losing her three daughters in a terrible car accident in 2009. Jackie's sister-in-law (her husband's sister, Diane) and her husband took her girls camping for the weekend and on the return trip Diane hit a car head-on when driving the wrong way down a highway. Jackie's three girls were killed in the crash, as well as Diane and her daughter, plus three men who were in the car she hit (a total of eight fatalities).
The cause for the accident wasn't clear at first, but after investigating the police discovered that Diane was intoxicated (her blood-alcohol was twice the legal limit) and marijuana was also found in her system. This certainly added insult to injury. Jackie and her husband, Warren, had never known Diane to do much drinking, and had certainly never known her to smoke marijuana. Jackie blamed herself for the accident, even though it clearly wasn't her fault.
Jackie and Warren were utterly devastated after losing all three of their children so suddenly. Jackie had been a stay-at-home mom and her whole life revolved around her kids, so she was just dashed. It wasn't long after the girls' deaths before Jackie and Warren started fighting. They grieved very differently from each other and this took a toll on their marriage. It's definitely understandable that this happened since couples often turn away from each other instead of to each other under stressful conditions. It's just a shame that their marriage had to suffer on top of the loss they were experiencing.
I know that a couple losing their children in a car accident makes for a sad story, but I was hoping that this book would have a more uplifting feel while Jackie took us on her journey, similar to Choosing to See, another book written by a mother that looses a child in a terrible accident. I know that I've never lost a child and that I'm not even a mother, but Jackie was just so completely over-the-top in her grief that I found the majority of this book extremely depressing. I got to the point where I was so exasperated with Jackie that I just wanted to reach through the book and shake her and give her a "glass half full" pep talk with her about God's plan and finding silver linings while experiencing adversity. You might be thinking, "what gives you, someone who isn't even a mother, the right to criticize the way a mother grieves the loss of her children" or, "just because you've been blessed with a God-given gift of joy doesn't mean everyone is blessed to be able to handle trials so easily." These are two valid points, and I know I probably sound terribly insensitive/judgmental, by voicing my frustration over Jackie, but I'm just expressing my honest thoughts on the book.
One of the things that really impressed me about Jackie's story was what wonderful friends she and Warren had. They seemed to have a really close knit group of friends and neighbors which was really neat. I was actually surprised at just how much their friends did for them. Their friends brought them meals and groceries to keep Jackie and Warren fed, not just initially, but for months and months after the accident.
Their friends also slept over at Jackie and Warren's house every night. They set up a schedule so that someone was always at their house at night, just in case Jackie woke up and needed someone to talk to (since she was suicidal after the accident). I think if I were in that circumstance I would eventually want things to go back to "normal," or to start making a new normal, whatever normal is after losing all of your children. Jackie and Warren's friends witnessed a lot of their fighting and arguments, which would've made me uncomfortable. I know I would be embarrassed to have my friends see me and my husband argue, since I don't to be observed when I'm not in my "finest hour."
I'm happy to report that Warren and Jackie miraculously stayed together. Although they could both be really mean to each other, Jackie was especially awful to Warren. I'm frankly surprised that they both stuck it out and that their marriage survived considering how volatile things were between them. It seems like sometimes when you and your spouse venture down two different roads in your grief and pain it's almost impossible to find your way back to each other, but I'm glad they did.
The major thing that saved their marriage (and Jackie in general) was having another baby. Jackie had been very suicidal after the loss of her girls and looked at suicide as a WHEN, not an IF. She finally got to her lowest where she just couldn't take the misery any longer, so she made a plan of how and where she would commit suicide. With her plan in place she went to bed. This is an excerpt from the book about what happened that night:
With the plan fully settled in my mind, I went to bed calmer than I'd been in a long time. I fell asleep immediately and had the most vivid dream I'd ever experienced. I saw myself standing at the entrance to heaven. Just beyond the gates, I could see Emma, Alyson, and Katie, smiling and sweet and close enough to touch.
"Mommy, Mommy, you're here!" they called excitedly.
I started to rush toward them, but God didn't let me inside the gates.
"You didn't do everything you could on earth," he said.
"I did," I whined. "I've prayed, I've written every thank-you. I'm suffering so much."
"The doctor gave you a gift. Why haven't you used it?" God asked.
"I want to be with my girls," I pleaded.
"You have to take the gift and at least try to use it. And then you can come back."
I woke up with my heart pounding.
Try… and then you can come back.
[A few months after the accident Jackie's friends convinced her to have some of her eggs harvested, just in case she ever decided to have another baby (since she'd had her tubes tied after having her third daughter). This is the "gift" that is referred to in the dream.] After this dream Jackie did decide to have another baby and she gave birth to her fourth daughter, Kasey, about two years after the accident. Jackie didn't exactly experience that "love at first sight" feeling after having Kasey, and she didn't think she would be able to love this new baby as much as she'd loved her other girls. Things were rocky for the first few months, but things eventually got better. Kasey ended up growing on Jackie, until Jackie was completely in love with her new little girl. Kasey really helped bring Jackie out of the dark place she was in, which also helped bring Warren and Jackie together again. The book definitely ended on a positive note, which made me happy for Jackie and Warren.
I know that I've shared a detailed synopsis of the book, but there's really so much more to the story than I could ever share in one blog post. Even though this book wasn't uplifting all the way through and had a lot sad parts, I like it and I give it my recommendation.