Death is hard

It was the first sunday in January, 2002. Fast sunday. I remember waking up that morning and thinking I had so much I had to be grateful for because my sister, Amber, would be moving in with us that afternoon. Mickey Mouse decided he loved her as much as I did, and gave her a REAL job, starting in February. Our family would no longer feel broken anymore. Or so I had hoped, anyway. 

The morning routine ensued, finding the missing sets of scriptures and the mate to the only pair of sunday shoes that fit my little brother's rapidly growing feet. All four girls fought for use of the only bathroom in the house. I got my baby sister dressed for church. I Fed her the rice cereal my mom had already mixed, while she did her hair.Emily was moving a little slower this morning. We were threatening to leave without her. And so expediting the process of getting dressed, she asked ME to pick out the shoes she should wear.ME? of all people, she asked me.I must have chose the right pair, because she actually WORE them to church that morning. 

I shamefully admit that I don't remember much else about that morning.Not even the day at church. But I have a pretty good guess of what happened. I sat and listened to the old farts in the ward tell their life story over the pulpit. I went to sunday school, and then off to primary. I sat next to the cutest boy in class. My whole body filled with excitement at every hour that passed, getting closer to having Amber's things packed safely and neatly in our car. 

The next thing I CLEARLY remember is feeling the sting of disappointment when my dad elected me and my sister Rebekah to  stay home and fabricate the Welcome home dinner.Emily was once again, the last one out of the house. And after we waved goodbye to the Astro van rolling backwards down the driveway, the meal preparations commenced. We had rolls, a turkey roast(proudly donated by the church storehouse) and a chocolate boston cream pie from publix with the words "welcome home" fancifully written in baby pink frosting. The Dessert that Amber never got to eat. We made last minute touches to the smallest of three rooms in our house. The room she got to be in all by herself, with the bed that she never would sleep in. My parents made it home in good time. They were gone most of the afternoon, helping Amber pack.Emily stayed behind to help her tie up the loose ends she needed to take care of. Turning in her uniform and badge, her apartment keys... all that icky grown-up stuff you have to deal with when your life is about to make a change.

And then I only remember waiting, and starving because we wanted to eat with our WHOLE family. 5:00pm came and went. then 6. A phone call was made to Amber's phone. "we're almost there" she said. "we should be home a little after 7."

 7 came and went. then 8. More phone calls and no answer this time. At 9 my dad put me and Rebekah in the car this time. Not knowing where we were going to find them, he brought his car jack just in case they had a flat. We got on the interstate, and drove for about 5 minutes. Traffic was really bad. And then we saw why. there was a horrific accident that had happened on the southbound lanes of the highway. A semi-truck dangled over one side of the overpass, kissing the embankment underneath it. So many lights and sirens. I remember feeling sick to my stomach. Rebekah Freaked out. She had a glimpse of what looked like Amber's car, completely piggy-backed by the front end of a second semi. After getting threatened by my father, Rebekah got a grip, and calmed down. But not by choice. We got off at the nearest exit and found a pay phone at ekcard drug store (now CVS pharmacy)and my dad called home. 

"there's been an accident." he told my mother. "we are going to see if we can find some more information around there, but we will be home soon." he promised. he got back in the car, and we took the back roads to the overpass on the opposite side. Rebekah was chosen to climb up the embankment and talk to the state trooper on scene that was giving information to other passers by. My Dad couldn't climb because of his knee. "we are looking for two women. they have been missing for two hours." She said. "don't worry, ma'am there was nobody local involved in this accident" said the trooper. My sister Cleverly remembered " they had alabama plates on their car."  

We were instructed to drive up the off ramp on the opposite side of the freeway. We had no idea we would get the news we would get.
"I'm sorry Mr. Chambers" the state trooper at the drivers' side window said. "both of your daughters were killed in this accident." I didn't believe him. Beka did. right away. She fell apart in hysterics. my dad's crest fell. his shoulders and head dropped. his eyes closed, but there were no tears. 

I was quiet the whole drive home. it was the longest it had EVER taken us to get from apollo beach to ruskin on the freeway.the southbound lanes driving home were completely deserted. kind of symbolic in a way. I wasn't sure what to think at that point... or how to feel.This seemed very strange, and I was not sure what I was supposed to do with all this untimely information.i remember coming home and going straight into my room with Beka at my heels, still crying. I remember getting teary because I knew what my mom was about to hear. I looked out my bedroom window and watched my dad tell my mom outside on the sidewalk. That was probably the hardest thing he's ever had to do. He then took my mom in his arms as she wailed at the news of her firstborn's death, was all I could remember for a long time. I can still hear the ungodly sound of her pain ringing in my ears right now.

We had a flurry of phone calls and visitors, long into the night, and still being in denial, I tried acting as normally as I could. I know my behavior really disturbed my mother. There was nothing to be done to comfort me then. I do remember needing to be outside. I spent a lot of time outside that night. There were just too many people. I remember when Wes and Katina Zmullins pulled up to our house. She got out of the car and walked quickly over to me and wrapped her arms around me so tight that I have a scar from where my earring dug into my neck. Something about that hug really grounded me with the situation. It's the most empathy I have ever felt from any person. No priesthood blessing or prayers could bring me to the realization that my sisters were gone, and the next time I would see Emily again would be at the private viewing. I never did see amber again. Instead of going to her funeral in Alabama, we were left with members of the ward, and we chose to be separated from each other. We all grieved in private. I rarely cried. I still didn't feel safe enough to share how I was feeling- and rightly so. I was mocked for not crying enough. 

Death. it's hard. the pain never goes away. in some ways, it gets worse with time. I've outlived my sister Emily by 3 years now. It doesn't feel right that I am the first one to give birth to my children, when it could have been her that blazed this trail. i've never been first for anything. it's probably why i have had a hard time preparing for motherhood, mentally.

I miss her. A lot.


  1. Thanks for sharing your story Tessa. I'm sure your sisters are just elated for you and your life and for their new nephew.

    Thanks again for sharing this personal story with me.

  2. It's true Tessa. I'm sorry you had to go through this. I know personally that it changes everything. It gets easier with time. It also gets harder with time. But one way or the other, we know what to work towards.
    Thank you for sharing the story. You are a beautiful, strong woman and you will be an amazing mother.

  3. This story brought tears to my eyes. I remember when this happened and I can't imagine what it did to your family! She was so sweet and I just remember how I looked up to her in YW. She was a great person!

  4. Oh Tessa! Thank yo so much for posting this. I am so glad yo got to select Emily's shoes that day. So glad you remember the small things from that morning - that I have no clue about to this day. So sorry that you had to be in the vehicle at the time we received the horrible news.

    Time has made it better in deed, but right this second - the pain is pretty intense. No medication can erase that!

    I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. In just 16 days I will be in the arms of my angel - you!


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