On January 20, 2006 my sister Misty (28), her step-daughter Michelle (13), and her daughters Trista (9) and Larissa (6) were travelling from their home in Driftpile to Slave Lake for a shopping trip. At about 5:20 pm a man named Raymond Yellowknee collided with their car while attempting to flee police in a stolen vehicle. He was drunk and high, and had just been released from prison earlier that day. The only one to survive the accident was Larissa. She was transported to Edmonton with critical injuries where she passed away the following day surrounded by her family.
We were always close, my sister Misty and I, and on the night she died, I felt it. I knew something terrible had happened, but I didn’t know what. At that time I was a single mom in university and I had no idea how my life was about to change.
It was a winter evening in 2006, January 20 to be exact. A typical Friday. Earlier that day I sent the kids off to school, dropped off my dry cleaning, and went home to study. I decided to go out for supper that night because the youth group we attended was going swimming and I wanted to make it more of a special evening for the kids, as well as easier on me. Every detail seems burned into my brain. It was 4:55 pm. I went out to start the car and I was yelling at the kids to get their stuff together for the pool now so I didn’t have to come back home between supper and youth group. I had received a phone call that ran later than I intended so I was a little behind as we left for the restaurant, The Burger Baron. We arrived at 5:20. I found a parking space, shut off the car, and herded Chris, 12, and Rebecca, 9 out the door. We were parked in an angle parking lot adjacent to the restaurant with a driveway between it and the side door. On the way in I went around the passenger side to retrieve something and then headed across the drive to the restaurant. I was still ahead of Rebecca and when I looked back there was a vehicle coming towards us and in the second I looked back, I felt it. This horrible feeling I will never forget. The only way I can describe it is I felt like somehow my very soul was ripped violently from my body. I was nauseated, shaking, scared. I overreacted and yelled at my daughter Rebecca to get out of the way of the vehicle coming. I scared her, but then she became upset with me for yelling at her. How could I describe to her what had happened? I couldn’t as I didn’t even understand it myself.
We sat down and the kids ordered. The nauseated feeling wasn’t abating so I didn’t feel like eating. I just read my textbook while the kids ate. I felt strange, adrift, and anxious. I decided that I would skip the swimming and read while the kids were in the pool. I realized that I had forgotten one important textbook at home, so I ended up going back to the house for it after we left the restaurant. I entered the house to retrieve my textbook, picked it up off the table, glanced at the clock (it was 6:45), and hurried out the door. In what I can only call divine intervention I missed a 6:50 phone call from Renée (Misty’s sister-in-law), who called to tell me about the accident.
At the pool I tried to read, but I wasn’t gaining a lot of ground because everyone kept asking me to come join them in the pool. My friend Jordan knew something was wrong. He asked repeatedly, but I just kept telling him I was ok, and I needed to study. I was still feeling really off and I had no explanation for it. Truthfully, I just wanted to go home, but I couldn’t do that to my kids since they were looking forward to youth group all week. After swimming everyone was going to the cave, as we called it. Our church was the basement of the old post office building in High Prairie, where we lived, and the youth took it over every Friday evening for youth group.
When we arrived everyone was in such a good mood that I began to feel a bit better. I decided I was hungry after all. I wanted to call The Pizza Factory for take-out, but somehow my fingers dialed The Burger Baron instead. My friend Hanan answered the call. As soon as she recognized my voice, she started acting strangely, and said, “Oh, you want to talk to Kyla?” and then pretty much just dropped the phone before I could answer. Kyla is my cousin and she also worked there at that time. When Kyla answered I said, “Hi Kyla”. She interrupted me, crying, and said,, “You didn’t hear?” In another instance of what can only be called divine intervention my parents came down the hallway at that moment opened the door and stopped my conversation. I could tell something was terribly wrong because both my parents were crying. I dropped the phone (I’m sorry Kyla, I don’t think I ever said sorry for that) and waited for my parents to tell me what was wrong.
In my heart I knew, but the words coming from my mother’s mouth were unbelievable. She said there was an accident. Misty and the girls were going to Slave Lake, someone hit them, and killed Misty, Michelle, and Trista instantly. Larissa survived and she is being flown to Edmonton. Time stopped. The awful sick feeling returned and began screaming. I screamed over and over and over again and began throwing every object in the kitchen that I could. I sank to the floor and I have no idea how or when I got up again. The kids at the youth group must have been so freaked out. I have no idea how my kids found out or how they even got to my parents’ house afterward. I lost it, and I haven’t found it from that day to this one.
Johnny O’Rourke, my brother from another mother, and the son of Pastor Pat and his wife Elaine, gathered me up and put me in my car. We sat there in the back alley that was the entrance to the church for a long, long while. He kept swearing, and telling me to just let out my anger. He knew about heartache. If there was ever a perfect person for that moment, it was him. He lost his own brother the year before, and his sister 18 years earlier.
There were a lot of people at my parents’ house when we got there. I sat in numb silence and accepted the hugs and coffee that people offered me. I sat there for hours on the couch, numb in disbelief, drinking coffee and trying not think at all. Finally, at about 2:30 am I got up and turned to make my way over to the kitchen to get another coffee, when the entire kitchen disappeared, almost as if someone drew a curtain back from a window and I could see into Heaven, and there she was…Misty, standing in a field of high waving wheat. Michelle and Trista were on either side of her. It looked like a bright summer day. It was daytime, but with a light I have never seen and cannot fully explain. The sun didn’t seem to be the source of this light; it was just there. Every molecule seemed to be infused with it and it just was. The girls had the most beautiful expressions on their faces, but I couldn’t see Misty’s face. Just her shoulders down. Trista was grabbing her arm and yanking on it as she jumped up and down. They were all looking off in the distance at something I couldn’t see. They were all so excited. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could feel their excitement. It was only seconds really, and it was over.
I stood there, stunned, awed by what I had just witnessed. I stumbled a little, and I can’t remember who caught me, but they asked if I was ok. I said I was, but I wasn’t. I was overwhelmed by what I saw. It was the reality of Heaven. It was so real and close that I could reach out and touch it that night. Suddenly, I knew I needed to get to Larissa! I told my parents that I was leaving to Edmonton right then. I needed to go. I needed to be with her, little Rissy, only 6, laying in a hospital bed all alone. I suddenly couldn’t stand it and even the thought of driving past the accident scene to get to Edmonton wasn’t enough to deter me. My parents’ pleas for me to wait until morning stopped me. They wanted to go too, and they needed me to drive. So, I pulled out their couch in the living room, put the kids to bed, and waited for morning to come in the arm chair that only the week before I cuddled Larissa as we watched Peter Pan.