Life After Tragedy Can Be Even Better – Here’s How

Sheila QuallsToday, we are honored to have a guest post from my friend, my sister in Christ, speaker and blogger, Sheila Qualls. She blogs at Sheila Qualls – Where Real Life Meets Real Faith. Particularly for you sisters in Christ, this would be a good blog to bookmark.

At age 2, my daughter – dynamic, delightful child – was thrown from our car when a driver fell asleep at the wheel, crossed into our lane and crashed into our car traveling about 80 miles per hour.

In the blink of an eye, the life I’d envisioned for our family vaporized.

Upon impact, my husband and daughter, who were outside the car, ricocheted off our vehicle. He landed in the grass, unconscious.

She, instead of being crushed or run over by our car, miraculously traveled forward with our vehicle and landed – as still as death – underneath it between the front and rear tires. She wasn’t breathing.

I was in the driver’s seat. My body absorbed the impact. I broke my shoulder blade, crushed the left side of my face, broke my jaw in several places, suffered a head trauma, and partially severed my left ear from my head.

My little girl spent the next three days in a coma. I spent the next two months shaken and disoriented, and we spent years putting our lives back together.

In the months immediately following the accident, I struggled. I struggled with guilt and shame as I searched for answers to the haunting question: Why had I pulled onto the emergency shoulder of a busy interstate?

I wondered if we’d survive the trauma as a family. I was driving. Would my husband blame me for the accident?

Would our marriage survive in the aftermath of trauma, which frequently tears families apart? Would we ever be the same?

Twenty-one years later, I have answers. We’re not the same. We’re better.

This month we’ll celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary, and my daughter will graduate from college.

Our marriage is stronger. I love and appreciate my husband more, and I’m stronger, more sure of myself and a far better wife and mother than I might’ve been otherwise.

I’m more compassionate and empathetic. I’m sympathetic to a fault sometimes.

Not that I haven’t struggled.

Qualls vehicle at the salvage yard.

For years I struggled with the depression that commonly follows a head trauma. My daughter, who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), too, still struggles with depression. She’ll live the rest of her life with a reduced processing speed, social anxiety, and word retrieval issues.

And there’ve been days when I’ve been stricken with an overwhelming sense of grief over what could’ve been or what’ll never be.

Even so, I’ve grown stronger and have moved forward. Not without some effort.

Why do some people grow stronger in the face of tragedy when others crumble? Why do some people seem to fundamentally change following adversity while others disintegrate?

For me, the difference is the But God element.

But God stories are stories that should end in tragedy and devastation, except they don’t. They’re stories in which the outcome can’t be explained apart from God.

Instead of celebrating this month, we could be commemorating that blistering hot day in South Texas by laying flowers beneath a roadside cross.*

I could’ve come out of that trauma-induced state to find my child had been decapitated, which we learned is most likely what would’ve happened had she remained strapped in her carseat due to the design of the carseat and the force of the impact.

The faith factor in our story always bring me back to But God.


Because I view it through the eyes of what could’ve happened but for God.

Neither my husband nor my daughter was breathing after the impact.

But God.

A pediatric resident, who was in the car behind the one that hit us, almost immediately began bagging – artificially delivering air to the lungs – my daughter and husband, essentially saving their lives.

Police arrived and shut down the interstate until helicopters airlifted us to area hospitals.

My husband – who wasn’t expected to live – was airlifted back to Corpus. My daughter lay comatose in a trauma center for children in San Antonio, and I slipped into a coma-like state at a trauma center for adults at a different hospital in San Antonio.

And our 10-month-old son, who’d been taken out of the car by a bystander at the scene, was sent to an area hospital where officials began arranging foster care while they figured out how to locate our families.

But God.

Someone matched one of my husband’s business cards to a name in his address book – cell phones were uncommon – and phoned his brother in Philly.

His brother then contacted my parents in Oklahoma.

My parents called my sister in Kansas who immediately got on a plane and arrived at our house within hours of hearing the news. She was still at my house two months later in July when I came to understand what had happened and remained by my side for many more months.

I’ll never know the answers to some of my questions. I do know the accident could’ve killed us. But, it didn’t.

Because I had no memory of the day, I could only reconcile the truth through my broken bones, my husband’s severed wedding ring which had been sawed off his finger before surgery, and my two year-old daughter, who could no longer walk or talk.

As I began mourning my old life, I had to find ways to move forward in my new normal.

I speak for many when I say I don’t like pain, physical or emotional. I don’t like circumstances I can’t control or don’t understand.

I do believe in every circumstance lies a “but God” story, if we choose to view it that way.

I believe it’s the single most important element which causes some people to grow stronger through adversity and others to crumble.

How do you view circumstances in your life that haven’t turned out as you’d hoped? Maybe you’ve lost a child or suffered some other unthinkable tragedy.

Maybe you’ve made decisions which have led to unwanted consequences in your life. I’ve done plenty of things I wish I could take back.

God knew we’d face painful circumstances in our lives. He gives us examples throughout the Bible of people who faced tragic circumstances, circumstances beyond their control in which they had no choice but God.

My life didn’t take the path I’d planned or imagined.

I believe it took a far better one. Am I glad the accident happened? No. If I could re-write history would I change it? No. Because it changed me and others around me in a way that couldn’t have happened without it.

My life is more meaningful now than if it hadn’t happened.

I’m better because of it.

With God, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, I was able to do more than just put my life back on track. I was able to grow stronger through a difficult life-altering circumstance and find joy in the face of tragedy.

* May 19 is the 21st anniversary of the accident, which occurred on I-20 near Corpus Christi, Texas.

Get your real on,

Sheila Signature

Damon J. Gray

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