On December 7, 2011, my parents took a scenic helicopter tour for their 25th wedding anniversary. Less than 15 minutes after takeoff, the helicopter crashed into a remote ravine, east of Las Vegas, NV.
There are never any words that can heal a broken heart. Once you lose someone, your days become a wound. Some of those days are like having salt in that wound. Most days are ok. And very rarely, an extraordinary day will come along. But all the days are tainted with sadness. One question will always haunt me. Why? One small word, formed into a question, which no one person will ever be able to answer.
Experiencing the death of my dad and mom was very difficult. It was difficult to pick out the coffin that they would share. It was difficult to write their obituary. It was difficult to stand in front of hundreds of people, at their funeral, and speak about them in the past tense. It was difficult to see their coffin lowered into the cold ground. And it is always difficult to visit their grave; to only have a conversation with their headstone, never to receive a reply.
Once my sisters and I found out that the crash could have been prevented, we pursued a civil lawsuit against the helicopter company. We wanted to seek justice for our parents and to make sure that this experience would never happen to another family.
The trial was stressful. It lasted four weeks and was held in Las Vegas. My sisters and I had to travel to the city where our parents died. We had to endure helicopter tours flying overhead every 15 minutes, from early in the morning to late at night. It was heartbreaking to try and piece together the final days of our parents' lives. Certainly it was no vacation for us. We felt a lot of anger when we drove by the helicopter operation. To know that they get to go on with "business as usual" while we have to deal with birthdays and holidays that will never be the same for us.
The witness list was long and full of several employees from the helicopter company, as well as expert witnesses that our team of lawyers had assembled. In reality, there was only one testimony that I cared about, and that was the mechanic that worked on the helicopter the day before the crash. The mechanic was just a kid, no older than 22, maybe? He had recently graduated and his position at the helicopter company was the first opportunity to use his knowledge from school. The downside to the mechanic's program is the lack of training and information on helicopters. The program is primarily designed to learn how to fix wings (airplanes). This mechanic took this job, with very little understanding of helicopters. I am sure that he never envisioned this start to his new career as a mechanic.
To be fair, the combination of the mechanic's lack of training, the company's use of tribal knowledge with employees, instead of maintenance manuals, and the unorganized parts bins, all contributed to this crash.
I came out stronger, after the crash and the trial, because I had no other choice, in my mind. I had to be strong for my two young daughters. I had to show them my unwavering faith in God and to be a healthy example for them to look up to. I surrounded myself with friends who gave me strong Christian support, during those times when I wanted to curl up and cry. There are days that I question God and His purpose in doing all of this. I question why this had to happen to my parents? I often wonder why God thinks I am strong enough to endure this. But I never question God and His love for me. My motto very early on was: God's wisdom is greater than my understanding right now.
I think each of us has a choice, every single day. We can choose to be strong and look for the positives in every circumstance. Or we can choose to be openly wounded and turn towards negativity. I am not going to lie. Those early days and months were incredibly difficult. The anniversary date of December 7th is an unbelievably difficult day. But I have moments with my daughters and laughter with my friends that make those challenging days few and far between. I am amazed and grateful, every day, for this journey called life.