By November of 1994 Nolan and I were now living in Rudyard with our new little boy, Daniel. Nolan had graduated from college, we made a cross-country move, started a new career/ministry, and given birth to our first baby. Statistics will say that we already had a lot of stress points for the year, but they were good ones and we were happy. Everything seemed to be going very well at the church and we made plans to spend Thanksgiving with Nolan’s family in Langdon.
It was a great few days together of family fun and loads of Mom Spenst’s cooking! Several of Nolan’s siblings were home and got to see Daniel for the first time. Nolan’s brother Terry and his wife Wendy were there with their two black labs, Bear and Lady. They were beautiful and obedient dogs, but it was sort of funny to see them in the house. Mom and Dad had never allowed indoor pets while the kids were growing up, but now that they were grown and bringing their pets home, they’re allowed in! Wendy, who wasn’t the baby-type, held Daniel and was very sweet with him. It is a picture I will always carry in my mind.
After Thanksgiving we all packed up and headed home as everyone needed to get back to work. We got home late and had barely carried in our stuff when the phone rang. It was Dad. There had been an accident. Terry and Wendy had been on an icy road when they came over a hill and had no time to react to the SUV coming at them sideways. Terry was in serious condition in a hospital, but Wendy was gone.
I screamed and dropped the phone. “No! No! No! It can’t be!” How could this possibly be? We’d just seen them. She’d just been holding Daniel a couple days ago. She’d just started her career and all was going well. I had her quilt to mend for her. How could she be dead? Where was Terry? What were his injuries? Did he know? For those of you who got the same call, I don’t have to go through the million and one questions and shockwaves that reverberated through my brain and body because you must’ve felt them too.
Thankfully, Todd and Bonnie were able to get to Terry and be with him in the hospital. He had broken ribs and a punctured lung; I don’t recall his other injuries. But he knew and his heart had broken at his loss. As funeral plans were made the question was, what about Terry? Can he come back to Grand Forks? Do we wait until he’s able to come? In Terry’s mind, there was no question about not being there and he convinced the doctors to make it possible. They did and Terry arrived in Grand Forks with Bonnie and Todd complete with drain tube and equipment. He’d survived Desert Storm, he was going to be there with Wendy.
Nolan and I were too exhausted and drained to make the fourteen-hour return trip to Langdon by car, so we took the train. We returned to Langdon with a sense of everything being surreal. Not only were we back after having just left, but we were there for Wendy’s funeral. Nolan had been asked to read scripture and have a part in the service, so he was occupied and I had Daniel to take care of, so I was distracted.
Terry stood next to Wendy’s casket a long as he could for the viewing. I’ll never forget his face–such pain and grief, yet a look of care for each person who came. When he couldn’t take the standing anymore he sat, with Bonnie and Todd always keeping an eye on him, the drain tube and doing all they could to keep things running smoothly and less painfully for him. In fact, each one of the brothers and sisters did the same. People commented many times how amazed they were by the Spenst family. It amazed them to see the care each gave to whomever needed it.
Nolan did a beautiful job during the funeral and the burial. As we climbed into the car to drive back to the church afterward, he finally broke down. The hearts of each one of us broke for the loss of Wendy and the pain of Terry’s incredible loss.
After another day we, once again, headed for home. It was now the start of the holiday season, but it sure didn’t feel like it. How does one prepare to celebrate after such a loss? Nolan and I were so grateful for our new church family and community. We received cards and prayers from so many people–a reminder that loss is common to all and we all must go on.