The following story was sent to me by a fellow grieving dad and friend, Steve Christen. Steve gave me permission to share this with the readers of this blog in hopes that someone can find healing in his story. Steve and I have discussed how other grieving dads need not walk alone in their pain. We both feel it’s important that other grieving dads know that there are other men out there that experience, feel and think the same things and that it’s okay to open up and talk about what you went through. The events that unfolded and how it has devastated your life and turned your world on end. It’s okay to feel vulnerable to the pain. It’s an important part of the healing process. The ability to tell your story, as difficult as it is.
The following is Steve’s account of May 22nd, 2008, the day his beautiful 20-year-old daughter died:
I was on duty the day of May 22nd, 2008 at fire station 10 across from Fort Collins High School. This was the same day of the tornado that ripped through the Colorado Front Range, including the nearby town of Windsor. My engine company had a VERY busy day responding to calls and trying to keep updated on exactly where the tornado was, what damage it was doing and if it was coming our way. There was so much destruction going on, even my daughter Rachel called me on my cell phone while I was returning from a call, (which she never did before) just to see if I was all right and to tell me to be careful. My engine company had responded to many emergency calls that day due to the wind. As the afternoon approached, it finally started to subside.
My crew and I were getting ready for dinner when a call came over the main station radio of a T-bone accident on North Hwy. 287 and Overland Trial, north of station 7 in Laporte. The accident involved a full-sized pickup truck and a car. I knew it would be a bad wreck because I had worked at fire station 7 for three years and was involved in many devastating calls like this one. My crew and I continued to listen to the call on a portable radio packset while we were fixing dinner. The call was a “bad one”, with major damage and several people in the car seriously injured with one possible “code black”. Two engine companies, two truck companies, one battalion chief and 2 medic units responded to the call. My crew and I listened to the entire call on the radio. We were impressed with how competent and professional our fellow PFA firefighters performed. When there’s a death involved, it is always challenging and difficult. When it’s somebody you know, it’s even more so.
At the scene of the accident, my friend Ron was the captain on engine 7 and in charge of the scene; he knew my daughter Rachel since she was a little girl. Since engine 7 was first on scene, they attended to the injured people. Rachel was the driver of the vehicle but Ron did not recognize her. Rachel’s three friends were in the car with minor injuries and each was taken to the ambulance. Ron confirmed that Rachel was a “code black”, still not knowing it was her. Several minutes later, Ron received word from one of his firefighters that the driver of the vehicle was Steve Christen’s daughter, Rachel. Ron walked back over and confirmed that it was Rachel. We found this out later, but Ron stayed on scene for the next several hours until the coroner was finished with his investigation of the accident. He then lifted Rachel out of the car saying to the coroner, “We take care of our own”.
Thirty minutes after the accident, I received a call at the fire station from Roy Quanstrom, a young man from our church youth group. He was panicked! He was calling me from the hospital because his older brother Reese had just been in a serious accident, they would not let Roy see Reese and nobody at the hospital was telling Roy anything. Having just listened to the accident north of town on the portable radio, I immediately called Julie to have her go over to the hospital to see what was happening. Even though Reese and Rachel were best of friends, I had no thought that they could have been together. Then by radio, I contacted my friend Ron who was still on the scene of the accident. I asked him to call me at station 10 at his earliest convenience but he said, “OK, but I’m a little busy right now”. He told me later that he was stalling.
One hour after the accident, the phone rang and my firefighter answered it. As I looked at his face, it went white as he listened and then said, “OK”. I asked him what was wrong and who that was on the phone. He said, “It was the chief…and he’s here”. I don’t remember saying this…but I said, “Oh, this is not good”. I think I said those words because I immediately remembered that Rachel was going to spend the afternoon north of town, up the Poudre Canyon at Picnic Rock, with some friends and Reese definitely would have been one of them. I looked at my firefighter as he hung up the phone and by the look on his face, I knew immediately that the accident north of town somehow involved me. My heart sunk. Just then, I looked out the window of the fire station living room to see the chief’s car pulling into the station parking lot. The chief got out of his car and looked at me through the station window as I looked at him. He walked towards the back door of the station and as he entered the door, I could see clearly that he had tears in his eyes and anguish on his face. Before he could speak, I simple said, “I am so sorry you had to be the one to tell me this news. What do we need to do?” He replied, “We need to get to the hospital”.
We got into his car and sped to the hospital. I called Julie to tell her Rachel had died, and I heard her gasp. As we arrived at the hospital, I could see Julie and Carly just entering the front doors of the ER so I ran to meet them. I gave them a big hug as they cried. We were taken to a private room where we were for the next several hours.
Rachel worked at the hospital as a pre/post operation Tech. and my wife Julie also works there as a part-time labor and delivery nurse. That night, the ER was full of friends from PVH, PFA and our church. The two boys in the car with Rach were treated and released. The girl who was next to Rach had a broken arm and was released a couple of days later. The elderly man who was the driver of the pickup truck that hit them, found out that night that he had cancer and in the following weeks, started chemo.
I have heard it said that trials do not build character; trials simply reveal the character that is already there. I believe that God reveals Himself through His people. It’s all Him! While our journey has been filled with grief and a profound sense of loss, we are not despondent, disillusioned nor in despair. We have been able to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death…and fear no evil”, because we see God on display through it all.
Shortly after Rachel died, we set up a fund and developed a website in honor of her. If you would like to see what a special person she was and what she was all about, go to www.rachelchristen.com .