Until recently, I held the view that when you die, it is the end.
You are lowered into the ground or cremated, but your existence is over. If people remember you, then you live on in that realm.
If you’re famous, perhaps even an historical figure, such as Abraham Lincoln, you live on forever in the minds of those who first knew you, wrote about you, and then passed on news of your deeds to others into perpetuity. Otherwise, once you’re dead, you’re dead; at least that’s the way I thought until recently. Now for the first time in my life, I suspect that an afterlife might follow this earthly existence.
What changed my mind? It is a true story about a family. I’ve changed the names to respect their family’s privacy. Eleanor got married in her mid 20s. Unfortunately, her husband ended up abandoning the family. She had four wonderful children born roughly two years apart: Andrew, Elena, David, and Danny.
At the age of 21, in 2005 David died when his car was struck by a drunk driver. The impact on Eleanor and the remaining children was profound. Danny in particular felt a deep loss as the sibling who was closest in age to Danny.
In January 2020, Eleanor, who had been battling cancer for years, began to show signs that the end was near. Several days beforehand, her children made the long trip to see her up north. They stayed with her and sat at her bedside when she passed away on January 14 at 66 years old.
Danny prepared to depart the next morning for the six-hour road trip back to his home. He would handle personal and career matters before returning a few days later for the funeral, scheduled on January 20. His journey would take him down the Interstate highway, a road he had traveled 20+ times in the last several years. He was a good driver, and the visibility on this winter day was good, completely clear, as he departed for home at noon.
Less than two hours later, an incoming tractor trailer truck jumped the meridian, crossed into Danny’s lane, slammed into his car, and crushed him to death. The driver of the car behind Danny was also killed, as was the truck driver. Later, I learned that the truck driver had logged too many hours on the road and was thus exhausted. As it turns out, the company had frequently assigned drivers to too many hours.
In not even 24 hours, a mother and her son perished. Andrew and Elena were devastated. More than 300 friends posted their condolences online. I had known Danny since 2013. He was the kind of guy you instantly liked: a man’s man and woman’s man. He was someone you’d want on your softball team, your team at work, and in your social sphere.
During my own period of grief, I could not understand how a family could endure so much. In my family, some 40 years earlier, my father died suddenly of his first and last heart attack at the age of 60. Then, my older sister died suddenly one morning from a blood clot known as a thrombosis.
She was three months shy of age 32. That was 18 months apart and it was beyond devastating. I could not imagine what it would be like to weather the storm of two deaths in the family less than 24 hours apart. How do you get through that? And I could not imagine the odds of two brothers, both responsible drivers, each being struck and killed by other drivers, even if 13 years apart.
Then it dawned on me. Danny could not have been taken at random. For the first time in my life, I have felt that there has to be an afterlife because there is no way that both David and Danny would meet the same fate.
Thousands of cars were on the highway that Danny traversed on that day, heading in both directions. If he had left his mother’s house five minutes later or five minutes sooner, it would’ve been different. Even one minute later or one minute sooner would have changed his fate. If he had gone one mile an hour faster or one mile an hour slower, it would’ve been different.
Danny would have been 37 this week. There has to be a plan, and God behind it.
Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" and the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com