When you are 15 years old you feel invincible. Most people are worrying about getting their license and the boy in history class and the petty fights with so-called "friends" that will not matter in six months. Your mom is worrying about you when you're out on your first real date, or why you won't answer your phone when she's called you twelve times.
However, this is not a story of a typical teenage girl. It begins with the day her brother lost his faith, the day her dad lost his chance to walk her down the aisle, the last day her mom heard her voice... This is about the day Whitney kept her life.
This is Whitney's story.
I recall it like it was yesterday. My seven-year-old self was watching "The Wiggles" and enjoying my cereal, when I heard my mother gasp for breath as tears collected in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. My heart raced frantically as my mom told me something that changed my life forever, "Aunt Whitney's been in an accident."
I remember walking into the hospital room in Indianapolis as I saw all the machines attached to my aunt's body. I looked around the room to see my grandpa who looked defeated and my nana who seemed lost.
When they told me, "She was in the car with her friends. They were going too fast when the road turned to gravel. She flew out of the windshield 75 feet and is in an induced coma," I wondered what all this meant. How long will she be sleeping? Will she wake up soon and we can play? Nana used to make me jump on her bed to wake her for cheer practice, but she wouldn't want me to jump on the bed anymore; it wouldn't do anything — she wouldn't wake up.
Whitney spent her sweet 16 in a hospital bed. The day finally came when all my family said, "She's opened her eyes," and I was relieved. "Ah yes, she's finally better now," I thought to myself. She can talk and walk and jump on the trampoline with me like we used to. However, none of that happened. Whitney was diagnosed with locked-in syndrome. Since then, Whitney still is unable to walk or talk. However, when I asked if I could write this article for her, she gave a smile and extended her pinky finger to indicate "yes."
I remember everyone told me, "Pray that she will talk and walk again." So I prayed and prayed and prayed, and one day I woke up at 19 years old and realized my prayers hadn't been answered. There have been plenty of times that I was furious with God. "Why? Why did you do this to my Aunt Whitney?" I would scream and cry into an empty void where I didn't hear an answer. However, I would not wish this on anybody. When I asked God "Why my Aunt Whitney?" perhaps I was just asking why in a general sense. In the sense that no one should have to go through life like this. Every day I see her, I just want to tell her I'm proud of her. I want to tell her I am sorry — because this shouldn't have happened, not to her, not to anyone. Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes we will never know what that reason is, but that is supposed to be OK.
It is said that God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers. I believe that God writes a narrative for us all. He chose Whitney for a purpose; he knew she was a tough soldier.
God knew he placed Whitney into a strong family. Whitney's dad does not always show it, but I know he is exhausted. I want him to know that I am sorry. No one should have to see their child go through what his does every day. I am so proud of him for working hard and being strong when I can only imagine how all he wants is to break down. Whitney's mom is the strongest woman I have ever had the liberty to know and I admire her immensely for it. God knew that Whitney's mom was a nurse, and he placed her to be with the right family. I want Whitney's mom, my grandma, to know that I am sorry. She should be able to hear Whitney's laugh fill the room like it used to. She should be able to scold her for making stupid decisions and then regretting it later and questioning her parenting ability. She should be able to hear Whitney's stories about her life and guide her in the right direction. I wish Whitney could come home over holiday breaks and exclaim the thrilling news that she's pregnant or engaged. I wish that Whitney could have a life of her own. I wish and I wish and I wish every day for things to go back to how they were before. I am so sorry that these are not the circumstances.
I am not going to ask my readers to pray for Whitney or our family. Whitney has gotten an abundance of prayers over the past decade, and I would not want to intrude on your beliefs. If Whitney could give advice to anyone though I am sure it would be this: Go on country cruises. Drive with the windows down with the wind in your hair as you belt out the words to your favorite song. Live life to the fullest. Don't take anything for granted, say please and thank you while you still can, and never forget to tell your mom and dad that you love them. Please, do not drink and drive. Do not text and drive. Do not be a reckless driver.
I always hear the phrase "Seatbelts save lives," which is true; but, seatbelts are so much more than that. One time is all it takes to change your life forever. Whitney did not wear her seatbelt, but, she is still here with us today. Strapping on her seatbelt that one time would have changed her quality of life. Wearing a seatbelt means much more than the difference between life or death.
Wear your seatbelt.
Not for me, not for Whitney, but for you.