If you would have asked me two weeks ago about my biggest fears, I’d quickly list 3 things that have always scared me: the dark, deep water, and death. Death has always been at the top of that list. My own death, the death of loved ones, even the death of strangers freaked me out.
Although I feared it, I was always confronted with my own mortality. In my previous life as a social worker, I was faced with crisis and death on a weekly basis. The lack of warning for most of these people frightened me and ultimately pushed me to make changes in my life. I quit my career, sold my belongings and decided that I needed to dedicate my time to the things that really matter.
I created a life that I am happy with. One that is simple and focused on my family. I figured in the end, I would face death with grace and no regrets, even if it came unexpectedly.
On Saturday, January 13th, I faced the reality of death. Granted, it was only for about 20 minutes, but it was 20 minutes too long. I went through a rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions that I never thought I would experience. So did I handle it with grace? Slightly. And did I have regrets? Well… read on.
That Saturday morning was a beautiful morning. We rented a house in Waikoloa Village with a group of our closest and oldest friends. My biggest concern for the morning was getting the wrinkles out of my dress for a wedding we were attending that evening, and Riley woke up eager to head to the beach and play all day. I can still picture that day so clearly. The weather was amazing and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I looked outside and thought about how perfect the day was.
I got Riley and I ready for the beach then went into the kitchen to help Clayton with breakfast. All of our phones were on a nearby table connected to chargers. We were talking and laughing when we were suddenly interrupted by the blaring alarm coming from all of our phones. I immediately thought it was an Amber Alert. The sound was so familiar that I calmly walked over to my phone to check the message. As soon as I read it, I felt my heart drop into my stomach. “Wait… what?” I just stared at my phone and all I could mutter was “what?” Everyone else grabbed their phones and we just stared at each other bewildered.
We immediately sat down with our phones still in our hands. I started to feel my chest tighten and my hand began shaking uncontrollably as I panicked. I looked at my husband and asked, “this can’t be real, right?” But the fear on his face made me realize, this wasn’t a joke. After a few seconds of initial shock, we went into action. We needed information before making our next move.
One friend announced he would check Twitter. Surprisingly, it’s one of the fastest ways to get news plus we were hoping Trump had something to say. The rest of us quickly searched Google and turned on the TV. There was nothing. All I could find were old articles from November about preparing for possible attacks. I got desperate and posted the alerts on Facebook and Instagram hoping someone on the mainland had heard anything on the news. Once again, nothing!
Soon my fear turned into anger. Why in the hell is there no information about this? Does no one in our country care about Hawaii?! Are they hoping no one finds out?! What the hell is happening!! All I needed was for someone to confirm that this was real, where it was coming from and how much time we had left. I needed to know exactly how much time I had left.
I put my phone down and walked over to the window. It was still beautiful out. It was still bright, colorful and calm. Not what I pictured the end of the world would look like.
I walked back over to the couch and looked at my son. He giggled as he played on the floor with one of our friends, a former Marine, who kept Riley distracted the entire time. I sat there paralyzed watching them play. I just wanted to save my little boy. As Riley continued to roll on the floor and laugh, my friend looked over at me and said, “there’s nothing we can do.” I nodded and accepted our fate. We were all going to die.
I looked around the house wondering where we should take shelter. I then began to worry about how it would happen. Will the Big Island be hit directly and we just explode? Will we burn or be instantly demolished? Will it hurt? If we shield Riley with our bodies, will it hurt less for him? At that moment, I didn’t care about me, but I still felt the need to protect my child.
As our friends began to call their parents to say goodbye, my mind went straight to home where I wished I could see the mountains one last time. I picked up my phone to call my mom then hesitated. “I can’t call my mom, this will destroy her.” I stared at my text messages and wondered what I should do. I didn’t want to hear my mom cry, but I have to say goodbye and tell her that I love her. She needs to hear Riley’s voice one last time. I decided to wait 5 minutes. “We for sure have 5 minutes”, I thought to myself.
It was then that my mind began to slow down. I was still shaking, but my thoughts stopped racing. I said a quick prayer. Surprisingly, I prayed like I always do. I always imagined that if I faced death, I’d be on my knees reciting the entire rosary asking for forgiveness, but that wasn’t the case. I have always wondered about my faith and spirituality… like do I really believe in the things I say I believe in? And it turns out, I do. I looked around at everyone in that room and truly believed that if we didn’t survive, we would all meet somewhere else.
And finally, I reflected on my own life. I always assumed that at the end of my life, I would have regrets about the things I didn’t do or the places I never got to see. But there wasn’t a single regret that crossed my mind. Instead, I was filled with gratitude. I was so thankful for the 30 years I was given on this Earth. It was a short life, but it was a beautiful one. I’ve had many hardships, but I’ve also had many blessings. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for my husband and my son, for our amazing experiences and for the love they always showed me. In the midst of being in an unlucky situation, I felt very lucky to have lived my life.
I looked back at Riley, still giggling and playing with our friend. I picked up my phone, ready to call my mom and asked the room, “how much time do you think we have left?” Our friend, the Marine said, “we would hear the alarms.” It was then that I took a deep breath. He’s right! Where are the alarms? Suddenly, our other friend starts yelling from his room, “Motherfuckers! It’s a mistake! It’s a fucking mistake!” And those were the sweetest words I have ever heard.
Thanks to Twitter, we were able to breathe. Twitter told us it was a mistake.
It wasn’t until the 38-minute mark that we received new messages on our phone. I went into our room, pacing like a zombie. We needed to eat and head to the beach, business as usual, but I couldn’t stop that aching feeling in my chest… and that lasted an entire week.
I find myself randomly crying when I look out the window or getting really emotional when I kiss my son goodnight. When I’m with my husband, I find myself focusing on the warmth of his hand and of his kiss. Every little day to day thing that I used to take for granted has consumed me. I can’t even explain how grateful I am to be alive.
With every hardship and trauma I have encountered in my life, I always look at the silver lining. What exactly did I learn from this situation and what message do I want to share with others?
It was almost 3 years ago that The Valiant Life began. I can still remember when I was depressed and anxious as my life was centered around work and creating that “American dream” that wasn’t mine. My husband and I worked opposite schedules, I only saw my son when I picked him up from daycare and tucked him in at night, and I hated what I was doing Monday through Friday. I was sitting in a cemetery near my office during my lunch break (I knew I had hit a low when I was spending lunch there) and I remember looking around and thinking, “I’m going to be in one of these someday.” And that’s when I asked myself, “if I die tomorrow, will I be happy with the life I lived?” My answer was no, and that’s when I knew I had to change it.
Every single one of us has a death day. For most of us, we will have no warning. We will plan out that day like it is any other and suddenly, it will end. I want you to ask yourself the same question, “if I die tomorrow, will I be happy with the life I lived?” If your answer is no, then do what you need to do to create a life you love.
Death is inevitable. None of us will live forever. I find comfort in knowing that when my time comes, I truly will have no regrets. And that realization feels amazing. I encourage you to reflect on what is important to you, be true to yourself and what you truly love, and live your life the way it’s meant to be lived. When you take control of your life, the possibilities are endless and the happiness that comes will be overwhelming.
So go on! Find your calling, be happy, and live life valiantly!