On Monday, May 4, 2015, I was enjoying a beautiful homeschool day with my four children and my nine-year-old niece. The girls had spent a couple of hours in the back yard building houses from sticks, berries, acorns, leaves, and such. Around 1:45 in the afternoon, I took pictures of their creations and shared them on my Facebook wall.
Before I closed Facebook, I saw an urgent post from one of my friends that went something like this: “Please pray!!!! I just witnessed a bicyclist hit by a truck in Braselton. The truck left the scene, and the bicyclist is unresponsive.”
My heart started pounding. You see, my dad lives in Braselton and he had in recent years taken up cycling for recreation and exercise. I immediately feared the worst.
I tried several times to call my friend who witnessed the accident, but she didn’t answer. I tried to call my dad multiple times. No answer. I called my sister, who lives close to my parents. No answer. I then called my mom at work and asked her if my dad was riding right then. He was. I told Mom about the post on Facebook and said that I would keep trying to reach my friend who had witnessed the crash. I called my husband and asked him to pray.
In the meantime, I rushed downstairs and told the kids to get in the car. I told them that someone had been hit riding their bike, and I wasn’t sure if it was Papa or not. When I was about to walk out the door, my friend called. Sobbing, I asked her if it was my dad. She told me she didn’t see his face, so she didn’t know. She tried to assure me that lots of people ride bicycles around Braselton, and Braselton is a really big place. She said that it happened on the Oakwood side of Hwy 53 in Braselton (hoping, I suppose, that he didn’t ride in that area), and I told her that my dad lives around there. She said they were doing CPR on the man. She said she had described my dad to the investigator after she listened to the message I had left her and asked him to call her if that matched the victim. He hadn’t yet called, so she thought that was good news. She then prayed with me and for me and for the bicyclist, asking God to breathe His breath of life into him.
My dad wore a GPS tracker when he rode, so I called my mom back and asked if Dad’s ride was still going. She checked it, and it had stopped–on Hwy. 53. So Mom left work immediately and rushed to find where he had stopped riding.
I had a 45-minute ride down to Braselton. While I was driving, I called my sister. Her husband went to check things out. A little while later, I called my sister back to see if Mark had found anything. While we were talking, he beeped in, so she switched to his call. When he hung up and her phone came back to my call, I heard the worst screams and sobs I could ever have imagined. I hung up immediately, knowing that my dad was dead.
My focus then was on getting the five children in my car safely to my parents’ house. I feared that I would faint on the way, so I tried to keep my emotions in check. My mind was reeling. The kids kept asking if I knew anything yet, but I told them that we just needed to get to Mimi and Papa’s house.
When we pulled into the driveway, my mom had just arrived from the scene of the crash. She opened the front door, and we held each other and sobbed. I told my kids that Papa had been killed, and we all held each other and cried for what seemed like forever. My husband came in from the crash scene, sobbing. My sister came in a few minutes later, and then her husband. We all sobbed while my mom called my two brothers to tell them the news.
A little while later, the coroner and a sheriff’s deputy came to ask some questions. They told us that they had the driver in custody. I walked out with the deputy to get my dad’s cycling shoes and sunglasses. I clung to the shoes and sobbed.
Anguish was the word of the day.
My dad was 64. In great health. With a wife of almost 46 years, 4 kids, 11 grandkids, his parents, four siblings, brothers- and sisters-in-law, countless nieces, nephews, cousins, 10 middle school students, multitudes of church friends, and on and on and on.
People started coming in that afternoon….church friends, aunts, uncles, my grandparents, cousins. It was the most surreal and unimaginably horrible day of my life.
That night, I hardly slept. I would doze and then immediately wake up, hoping desperately to be having a nightmare. I was devastated each time to realize that the nightmare was real.
The next few days, we spent a lot of time at my mom’s house, hugging, crying, talking. We had to wait until my dad was released from the GBI crime lab before we could make arrangements at the funeral home, but we began to plan his funeral. Heartwrenching doesn’t come close to describing this time.
We found out that the driver was charged with multiple counts, including DUI, first degree vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of an accident with death, open container, failure to maintain lane, failure to leave a safe distance, and improperly transferred plate.
What do we do with that? To lose my dad suddenly was bad enough, but to lose him at the hands of someone who took substances into his body and chose to get behind the wheel of a vehicle multiplies the layers of yuck in this whole situation. Someone is responsible for taking away my dad. In addition to all of the things that go along with losing a loved one, we are dealing with state patrol investigators and district attorneys and a likely trial and sentencing and on and on. I feel as if I’ve been robbed.
I’m sure that many of you have had to say “goodbye” to someone precious to you. Although I always felt sympathy for others who were grieving the loss of a loved one, I couldn’t truly understand their pain. I had never experienced anything like this before. I had lost a couple of good friends and had miscarried a baby, but that was the extent of my grieving. Nothing could have prepared me for this.
I know that I’m biased, but my dad was hands-down the best dad I could ever have hoped for. He and my mom got married when they were 18 and have been married almost 46 years. I have two brothers and a sister, and between us we have 11 children. My dad was the most amazing Papa to those 11 children. They adored him, and the feeling was mutual. It was evident to everyone who knew him. Catch a glimpse of his awesome life from this short tribute video.
My dad was my pastor. He was my counselor. He was my oldest child’s middle school teacher. He was my occasional babysitter. He was my theology “professor.” He was my go-to guy for technology questions or issues. I would call and chat with him while I was taking walks in the evenings in my neighborhood. He was my blog post proofreader. He was my biggest cheerleader. He was one of my very closest friends.
He was my rock.
We all have a huge, gaping, bleeding, festering hole in our lives now. My dad kept my sister’s kids while she worked as an RN. My older brother called him after every UGA touchdown and after all of his sons’ ballgames. My younger brother rode bicycles with him. He and my mom have had “dates” every Friday night for many years. He paid all of their bills online, took out their trash, handled house maintenance, and on and on. He came to karate tournaments and piano recitals and baseball games and basketball games and soccer games and plays and such. He was there for all of us. Always.
And now he’s not.
I know that I have just barely begun to grieve, yet I’ve shed a million tears. There will likely be many emotions and many, many tears yet to come. But as strange as it sounds, I want to tell you that God is good, in spite of and even in the midst of this tragedy. He has already shown His goodness and mercy in many ways since my dad’s death, that He’s in control and He will take care of us. Here are a few examples:
1. A few days after my dad was killed, I called the witnesses who were listed on the crash report. I wanted to thank them personally for how they helped my dad and the role they played in assisting the authorities with apprehending the driver who killed him. After talking with one witness and hearing his story, I learned that he was a pastor. Another witness, who administered CPR to my dad, was such a sweet Christian young man. He was with my dad when he left this world and entered the presence of Jesus. I mentioned above that one of my friends, a precious sister in the Lord, witnessed the crash as well. I’ll always be thankful that my dad was surrounded by fellow believers when he took his last breath here on earth.
2. I mentioned that my dad taught at our homeschool academy, so we would need to find someone to replace him, and soon. I knew that we could find someone to teach, but I was so sad that the middle school kids would be missing out on the pastor’s heart that Dad brought to his students. Do you know who God sent, almost immediately after Dad’s death? Two people: A pastor friend to teach our Bible classes and Dad’s brother….another “Mr. Fitz” (a long-time middle school teacher and then elementary school principal), to teach math and science. Even in this incredible tragedy, God showed us his faithfulness and goodness.
3. Dad’s funeral was a beautiful celebration of not only my dad’s life but of the goodness and mercy of God. We have heard multiple stories of people who were touched and changed by being in the service that day.
4. God is opening doors for our family to tell others about Him through this tragedy. We’ve been making many calls to cancel services or subscriptions or to get help with billing questions as my mom tries to work through all of the legal and business issues she is left with. Over and over again, as we explain what has happened, we are able to share that God is with us and is taking care of us. He will not let this tragedy go to waste. He will use it to further His purposes and to touch lives for His Kingdom.
So even now as my heart is shattered into pieces, I choose to trust in my “Abba Father,” my Heavenly Daddy, to fill the holes and to carry me through this life. Although right now it seems like forever until I will see my Dad again, I know that in God’s timing it’s only the blink of an eye and we will be reunited.
I’ve always been afraid of dying and leaving this world. It’s natural to fear the unknown. But I’m no longer afraid, because I know that my Dad is there waiting for me. I’m eager to join him there, to worship my Awesome God for ever and ever.
This pain and heartache was not in God’s plan for us. Because of sin, we live in a broken world and we all suffer. But soon God will send Jesus for us, the church, His Bride, and we will be with Him for eternity. Everything will be made right.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
As I’ve never prayed before, I say, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
My precious Mom and Dad. (Click this picture to watch his tribute video, produced by my sister’s husband Mark.)
See Dad’s obituary here.
See the news article here.
Check out my brand new book, Through Deep Waters: Finding Healing and Hope in Devastating Grief: