Friday, December 23, 2011

December 22, 2001

 If you follow me on Facebook, you would have seen my comment there. Many of you replied. Thanks for that. You're an encouraging group. Yesterday was a big day for the Stel family.

Here's what I said:

How do you even write a status line about the anniversary of the saddest day of your life? I don't know, but my family and I appreciate your prayers today.

On December 22, 2001, my mom and dad and two sisters were driving home from Calgary. They had picked up my older sister from the airport to spend Christmas with us in Rocky. The drive from Calgary to Rocky is about two and a half hours.

About 10 miles from our house, a guy was leaving a Christmas party. He was 'under the influence' and didn't stop as he approached the highway. He t-boned our family's car from the driver's side. Emergency vehicles raced to the site and my mom was the first person taken to the hospital.

Her aorta has burst from the impact. She died at the hospital.

Where was I? I had just gotten home from my first semester at Dordt College about 24 hours earlier. Not liking to spend time on winter roads, I opted to stay home and visit friends while my sister was picked up from the airport.

My parents called from Red Deer, a city about 50 minutes from our home. They were running a bit late and would I please start supper? We had plans that night to go caroling with our church and then everyone would come to our house for snacks and hot chocolate.

The hour passed and they weren't home. I didn't worry yet as my family can get distracted and run late sometimes.

But then another 15 minutes passed, and another. I found myself sitting at the kitchen table, watching out the window for our car to drive up. Nothing.

Then I heard my first siren. And another. Over the next several minutes I saw one firetruck, two ambulances and three police cars race out of town, lights on, sirens blaring, in the direction of where my family should be coming from.

I got my Bible out and tried to read some Psalms.

I listened for our dog, Samba, to bark. I knew that if someone came onto our property that wasn't family, he would bark. I hoped, hoped, hoped I wouldn't hear him bark.

He barked.

The doorbell rang.

A man from my church, a known volunteer firefighter was at the door with his son. He told me to sit down. I sat on the step and he said that my family had been in an accident and that my sisters were okay. He then said I needed to come to the hospital.

When I got to the hospital with them, there was already a small crowd of church people. The news had spread and the carolers had arrived. My best friend was at a family Christmas party and she arrived soon thereafter with her parents.

My four family members were all in different rooms. I visited my younger sister first. She had several injuries (some of which still affect her today---but you would never know, to look at her). She was the one who told me that mom had died.

I can say that the feeling that came over me was more of a physical feeling than anything else. Your stomach hurts and feels empty. You're hot and cold. Your mind races.

I went into my older sister's room next. She told me that she had already asked the nurses if they were Christians and she knew that one of them wasn't. I was the one that told her that Mom had died. She said she knew it was bad, but hadn't thought that had happened. She thought that maybe Mom would have been paralyzed.

I then went to my dad's room. He was still pretty bloody. He had been hit pretty hard. I saw blood in his ears. He knew that mom had died. He repeated himself a couple of times. It was a hard conversation to have. My dad is supposed to be our family rock. He's supposed to be the strong one. And here he is, not really making sense. I got out of there after only a couple minutes.

I walked by my mom's room, but didn't go in. I couldn't handle it. I looked in, but then walked away.

I'm the fourth of five kids. I'm almost the youngest. I have very little seniority in decision making. I often am not the first to experience things (first job, graduating, missions trips, etc). This night changed that.

My dad was hurt really badly. My mom had died. My oldest sister was hurt and in a hospital room. My oldest brother was living in Chicago with his wife. My next oldest brother was at a gas station coffee shop in town, with his friend.

My dad needed to be transported to a larger hospital and the medical staff asked me which hospital he should go to.

I probably answered in about a second, but I remember thinking through the question and also the weirdness and uncomfortableness of being the one who had to make this decision.

He spent about 10 days in the hospital. My sisters spent about a day.

We waited until my dad was out of the hospital to have the funeral. We had it over two days as the burial site we chose was a couple of hours away.

If you knew my mom or if you were there that night, what do you remember?


  1. I don't know if I ever had the chance to meet your Mom. But, I do remember that night. A family friend was one of the emergency nurses on duty that night. She stopped at our house on her way home that night because she knew I was friends with Lauralee and yourself. She told us the news. We asked if there were any visitors there, and whether or not she thought we should go. She thought you would be overwhelmed with more visitors, so we stayed home and prayed for your family instead.

  2. I remember Derrick called me from your home. I remember exactly where I was too - my mom and dad's house, sitting at the computer (probably doing something like IM-ing) - and he called and told me that your mom had died in the car accident. I don't know if he was looking for me to say something or just felt he needed to call. I was touched that he would call me but I didn't know that I had that sort of ranking in his life. I was shocked. After the phone call, I told my family what had happened and a few days later, my sister Nikki said to me, "Yeah I had a canceled flight from a Pastor up in that area. Something about him getting in a car accident." My sister had booked your dad's flight to visit a church for a call.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Karissa. Even though I knew your mom had passed away, I had never heard the story from you. Thank you for sharing, because it makes me that much more thankful for my family!

  4. I remember those emails that you sent me that night, before knowing what had happened. I went back and read over those emails again, about how you heardsirens and wondering where they were going - I remember going over those emails and praying about everything. It was surreal. It's so weird losing a parent you really got along with awesomely.


  5. We got a call from friends in Alberta saying that your mom and dad had been in an accident. I just assumed your Dad had had another car accident because he'd had a few before. When she told my your mom died, I did not believe her. I thought it was a pretty horrible mistake to make and then when she repeated it and started to sink in, I just fell to my knees. We spent that Christmas making plans to head to Rocky. John felt particulary honoured that Hendrick phoned and asked him to be a Pallbearer. That weekend with your family and your mom's funeral is one of the most memorable of my life for so many reasons. Your family's response to this was a powerful witness and the amount of people who came to the funeral was a beautiful reflection of the lives your mom touched. We met so many wonderful people who also loved your mom. I still take a "sad" day every Dec 22. But I am so thankful to have known your mom and I learned so much from her about parenting and life. You kids are such a beautiful reflection of her.

  6. I will never forget that day. I belonged to the church that your dad had a call to. He was flying in for an interview, I was on the search team for our church. Your mom and dad had flown out a month or 2 before she died and we, too, felt the loss when she died, not in the way that many who have posted here or on Facebook have, but it was very sad for our church family, too, we had really grown to love your dad and your family, through all of our contacts with him. I had known your dad before, as I worked with him through the SWIM program and his church was one of the "best" sites to send teens serving on SWIM, they always had a great experience. Karissa, we love you and truly do care, we miss you and know that we are lifting you up in prayer at this time. Nancy

  7. I still haven't forgotten your mom's laugh. In the beginning with your dad being our Pastor and teaching catechism, profession of faith classes and then a marriage course I had gotten to know him...but your mom's laugh and her sense of humour is something I have kept with me, she was someone I could laugh with. That day, my husband and I were doing something for youth group and I don't remember the way I found out, probably from Julie...but I remember talking to Rick Abma that day. I have always wondered about how that day went and how your family was and this post has put some of that to rest now. Having a new church family in Rimbey and not being around in Rocky felt odd. It was a very strange day to say the least. Today it has helped me put some of this Christmas "stuff" in to perspective about the perfect Christmas and all that.

  8. Thank you for sharing Karissa. I was celebrating Christmas in Neerlandia at my sister’s house. We got a phone call from my uncle telling us that your parents and their two daughters were in a car accident. I prayed. I was very scared for you because I thought you were in the car and I didn’t know the extent of everyone’s injuries. Later, we got another phone call telling us where you had been and that your mom had passed away. I wept. I really wanted to be in Rocky so that I could be with you. I remember the funeral and all of the people. When I talked with you later I was inspired and in awe of you and your sister. Even in your time of sorrow you welcomed the opportunity to share your faith with others. I miss you!