17 lessons learned after you get the worst phone call of your life
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Best Friend was in a serious accident recently (details and photos here).
As we aftermath wade — well wishes, follow up appointments, insurance forms and calls, lawyer forms and calls, delivery doorbell buzzes, questions, updates, uncertainty, return to “normal” — there’s so much underlining of what I already knew and so much learning of what I did not.
17 lessons learned after you get the worst phone call of your life
A week later; healing in the yard with our Big Bowl salads
Lesson One: You will be ok —
Imagine standing scared on the edge of a field of purple hyacinths.
Every well wish is a calming sweet swirl beneath your nose, a sunbeam’s deepening and spreading warmth upon your face. You stand there, before the vastness both wondrous and daunting in its vanishing horizon line, eyes closed, face tilted, inhaling, exhaling. Feet grounded. Appreciation slowly smothering anxiety. You know it’s temporary but still, you’re grateful.
Extra, perhaps. English-major’y, sure. But hyacinth-truth.
Your people’s words are everything.
Lesson Two: Your people will show up, arms outstretched —
It wasn’t a surprise that we have a wide-casting net as far as those who care. But oh my, did woodwork crawling they come. From we talked last week to we haven’t talked since middle school. From three blocks away to Amsterdam. From I know you care to TBH, I wasn’t sure. From loved ones to who are you? (social media is weird and glorious — strangers genuinely invested in and caring about our lives).
Bosses, students, exes, clients.
Some love is loud and obvious. Some love is invisible. Though you may not feel its vibrations, it’s there. And it will illuminate when needed.
The soul-filling out-pour reminded me of something I teach but can forget to school myself. Surround yourself with people who make you feel you’re at your funeral. It’s at the end of our lives when we’re celebrated in a manner of hyacinth-fields. Don’t you want those wafts and those sunbeams now? Find that community. Live for your eulogy not for your resume.
It’s never too late. Until it is.
Lesson Three: You impact others more than you know —
I don’t think of “us” imprinting marks of weight.
Through financial coaching, he’s helped individuals take ownership of and feel good about their numbers, their numbers past, and their numbers trajectory. Through improv facilitation, he’s planted, watered, and harvested seeds of communication, playfulness, and confidence. Through my myriad of (wave of hand), I’ve encouraged (wave of hand).
We are blessed to grasp and feel our separate impact.
The comments on our us’ness tugged my heartstrings though –
- “What a beautiful love story you have.”
- “This situation shows how wonderful your love for one another truly is.”
- “The two of you are such an amazing couple. May the beauty of your relationship shine through and assist in easing the pain…”
As friends bang their heads against dating-app walls, as friends divorce, as friends so crave that last puzzle piece, their lobster, as happily relationshipped friends coo over our relationship, I see not only how lucky I am for my vegan, Vanderbilt and football-loving goof but how lucky I am for the way we us.
I love our love.
It provides me such squeeeee that how we co-navigate life provides squeeeee for others.
Lesson Four: You will feel utterly useless; you are not —
When you can’t stop the bleeding, administer meds, answer the questions that matter, take him home, you question if you’re providing any goodness.
You won’t believe it but your presence is enough. When someone is hurt or afraid, you by their side is enough.
The few cherished times I felt useful:
- Packing a bag for Best Friend before I went back to the hospital after our night a part. Though clueless in what to pack, it felt good to choose the perfect canvas tote and fill it with shorts, boxers, a shirt, easy to slide on flip flops in a plastic bag to keep dirty separate from clean, and a phone charger.
- After the umpteenth time a medical professional came into his ER nook, did their thing and left, us blindly waiting, I pushed aside the curtain and scanned the hub for a familiar face. When I couldn’t find one, I went to the closest face and said, “Hi, we’ve been waiting for awhile. I was wondering if you could tell me what we’re waiting on?” Which led to the face following me back into the nook where he proceeded to timeline our future and slip “broken nose” into the diagnosis.
- Four days after the accident, I tackled Best Friend’s beloved lightweight blood-stained wallet. After spritzing, agitating, overnight seeping, washing, and toothbrushing, almost good as new.
- Remembering how kind the woman who made the “your husband’s been in an accident” call was and how helpful in sending me pics and encouraging a lawyer after talking to her lawyer she was, not to mention learning that she donated her coat as forehead tourniquet tribute, I sent her flowers. Not only did I feel useful, I felt deep in my bones joy. You bet I’m saving her “They’re so beautiful” text foreverrrrrr. I love to gift gifts, especially unexpected gifts.
- Best Friend was understandably understated and deer in headlights the two days in the hospital. He asked me to come right at 10AM when ICU visiting hours began. I thought his short, “please” laden plea came from a place of desperately wanting a shower, his clothes, the couch, ESPN. His response when I mentioned this — “I was scared.” I melted. I saw him, a 42 year old man who can breathtakingly tell a story and create a pivot table, needing comfort physically but in this moment, more importantly, mentally.
I was not useless.
Lesson Five: You are rich in what matters —
Perhaps the most cliché’y clichés are the “appreciate what you have before it’s too late” ones walking hand in hand with “in the end, money doesn’t matter” ones. But for good reason.
You are thusly rich, and sometimes under the piles of debt, stomach jiggles, broken hearts, and laundry, we forget.
Reminder to remember.
Lesson Six: Appreciate what you have harder, deeper, now’er and if you don’t have what you want, have it —
It was the surreal phone call, first drive to the hospital, and empty side of the bed when I truly felt the accident.
That couldn’t have been our last road trip, our last take out the trash battle, the last time I’d overhear him talking to intimate household objects: “Ok buddy, that’s enough…” to a screeching washing machine.
Quality of life has always been my self-employed, childless siren song, the melody being time and autonomy. Never was that tune more revered than this past week when I could immediately drop everything and make life Best Friend-centric. No bosses to notify, no worry about PTO, no scouring for childcare.
I already adored my lifestyle. The past week has quadruple-downed my affinity for my day to day.
Just like the pandemic spotlighting true priorities for people, resulting in the great resignation, housing shortage, and run on yeast, Best Friend’s accident spotlit that though there are easier, flashier, more lucrative, more accepted, more celebrated paths, the me first path is the winding route I unhesitatingly choose to walk.
To walk with purpose and confidence, even to, especially to, an unknown destination, is a wish I hold for everyone.
Lesson Seven: There is light to be found in dark (but don’t tell someone this especially while the wound is still fresh; let people flip the switch themselves) —
Demonstrating he’s never gotten flowers, he said “Let’s put them up!” as if the roses and baby’s breath were artwork to be hung.
“Do you mean put them in a vase?”
A few exchanges have gone beyond “Get better!” and “Thank you!” Job, home, family, “how’ve you been these past X years?” reconnections have been welcome interludes and oh yeah’ssss. Pauses from thinking about “it” and from being at the mic and throwbacks to the wondrousness of whom you know.
“Your newsletter about grief resonated so deeply with me. As someone who lost my mom at a young age, gratitude is something I focus on every single day. And the past few years have driven that point home even more.”
“I’ve been in a few shitty bike accidents and your description is so right on for both how it unfolds and how a person’s family feels in that situation.”
“I really like your writing style, even with the hard subject matter.”
“I’m in tears reading your gorgeous words, and so so so happy he’s okay.”
“I’ve been there. Lovely rendering of all the things.”
“I’m so glad Best Friend is okay. Your writing is so profound.”
“Saya, words should not be able to describe that kind of fear. But you did. I’m so glad your husband is okay.”
“I’m so sorry this happened, so glad he’s going to be ok, and so glad you shared in a way that only you could to touch our souls and make us feel everything you both experienced.”
Glimmer. (Context: I’ve been “writing a book” for years and have uncharacteristically struggled to achieve a goal; these nods to my pen on paper fill me and motivate me in indescribable ways, especially as the book is nothing but personal.)
Upon arrival of a get well plant, in response to my “Cute pot!,” Best Friend matched my enthusiasm, completely serious, “Perfect for salsa!”
“Your newsletter this morning about Best Friend hit hard. Thank you for sharing. My husband and I have been putting off getting a will for too long.”
“Thank you for the update — you are both in our thoughts. And yes, we’re working on the adulting of will.”
“We have updated our power of attorney and wills! Love you both.”
Lesson Eight: Practice “If the shoe was on the other foot…”, often —
Best Friend and I don’t have the best track record of treating ourselves the way we want the other to treat themselves. Hypocrisy, your name is marriage.
When one of us is sick, the sickee never wants to see the doctor, take medicine, be a burden whereas the healthy one coaxes call!, swallow!, ask!
Best Friend was in an accident years ago and didn’t call me. This time, I had to convince him to call his mom. The only way I got through to him, the only way he saw his wrongness was when I played the “If it was me” card to which he immediately nodded, “You’re right, you’re right.”
This shoe practice is also fruitful when thinking of what to say, a hard to navigate space in emotional circumstances.
“What would I want to hear? What would provide me peace? Comfort? Relief?”
I take a breath, I self-ponder, I speak.
I also cringe at what I’ve said in the past.
You recognize, you learn, you change, you grow.
Lesson Nine: Be thoughtful (in your comments) —
I hope you’re never in the position of having a horrible thing happen to you and someone responding with a chastising, judgmental, insensitive comment. In this case about city biking, helmets, or paying attention.
I may not eye to eye with your values, your priorities, your stances, how you choose to live — politics, hobbies, alcohol, smoking, drugs, child-rearing, gay rights, women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, vaccinations, the state of your home, your partner choice, how you spend money, how you make money, that you use paper plates and plastic cutlery — but you’re a grownass adult who gets to choose how you want to exist and I’m not going to try to convince you of alternative paths or come at you 1 on 1 with my me’ness.
I’d appreciate the reciprocity.
Where my life is concerned, I don’t care your opinions, your stats, your education, your personal experiences. I don’t care if you’re “coming from a good place.” There is zero iota of help or kindness in such sentiments. Making someone feel bad or at fault for a thing that happened to them is shitty, at any time. With bruises still multi-color glowing and the unknown so unknown? SHITTY.
Lesson Ten: Be thoughtful (in your unsubscribes) —
A few unsubscribed from my newsletter where I shared the accident. Normally, I support that. You. I unsubscribe alllll the time from newsletters and immediate, scarily powerful and addictive happiness hits result. I’m also the most protective of my inbox person I know. So I get it.
I could care less about “numbers.” I would much rather you leave my delivery route if seeing 🧀 👋🏾 in your inbox brings you ire. That said…
If someone pens a very personal “I almost lost my husband” musing and your unsubscribe finger begins to itch, maybe wait till the next edition to leave? Not only do I see number of unsubscribers but who unsubscribes; that’s not a mental list you want to be on. (And not necessarily one I want to make, just how my brain and double-edged sword great memory is wired.)
Consider the email you’re unsubscribing from. It may be just another click to you but it may be an inconsiderate, ill-timed hurt to someone else. Even if you don’t mean to hurt.
I’ve never put thought into unsubscribing from someone else’s content. Lesson noted for future self.
Lesson Eleven: You can choose how, when, and if to respond—
As someone who looooooves writing snail mail thank you notes and hates being left in “Did they get my text/email/honing pigeon?” limbo, I quickly gleaned that I was going to gift myself permission to not respond. Ever. Right away. “In a reasonable amount of time.”
Not only can the number of reach outs be overwhelming, the number of ways people reach out is brain busting — Email. Mail. Texts. Calls. Marco Polo. What’s app. Comments. DMs, via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.
If I chose to respond, I also gave myself grace to respond via whatever method felt best to me. If you loathe the phone and prefer email, and someone texts or calls, you can email back. It’s ok.
Sharing updates and receiving hugs via written social has felt the least overwhelming and easiest to digest. Repeated detail regurgitation and updates got to be a lot. Along with being a personal way to process, this is the reason I wrote my lengthy “This happened” and “Update on what happened” newsletter and social musings. That may feel wrong, foreign, or taxing to others. So impersonal! So mass! So public! So I don’t care!
Obviously, folks aren’t going to know your preferences, everyone is different, and you’re grateful for any reach out via any method. This is not a wag finger or get upset at others scenario; it’s a self-preservation lightbulb, especially if communication angst or stress bubbles up, to embrace this permission for you to unapologetically do you.
Lesson Twelve: Fostering dogs has even more benefits than we thought —
We’ve fostered seventeen puppies and fan-girl it for many reasons (this being a top one).
As of today, reason number twenty-three: get well videos from former fosters! 😍 Coco showing off her tricks and “waving” at Best Friend was everything and in a week where he hasn’t smiled much, ear to ear.
Lesson Thirteen: There’s knowledge you don’t have and support of which you’re unaware —
I thought I knew what to do after an accident. This checklist via the fabulous organization Active Transportation Alliance proved me wrong.
If you get hit, on your bike, on your feet, even if your car isn’t involved, even if you’re not driving, contact your car insurance. At the very least, they’ll be of assistance. Most likely, it’ll cover you. Same for your renter’s insurance and damage to your bike; even if happens outside of the home, you’re often covered.
A few people reached out when they heard Best Friend was taken to an out of network hospital and that the driver doesn’t have insurance, asking if I knew about an employer-provided perk, Advocacy Service aka Concierge Service aka a medical billing negotiation service. They help people interact and negotiate with insurance.
I did not and though it doesn’t appear applicable in our case, glad to know it’s a thing.
One of my friends successfully used Naviguard, if you want to put their name in your Adulting File. I hope you never have to use it but this definitely falls in the knowledge is power category. The sigh of relief I felt when I read their website copy — “Meet Naviguard. The expert in dealing with out-of-network medical bills” — was sadly huge and comforting. Our healthcare system is f’ed up.
Lesson Fourteen: Let people help —
Within minutes of my social rehash, $100 Venmo’ed our way. I almost Venmo’ed it back. I’ve done that before. I’ve had it done to me before. Generosity fights are a thing. They shouldn’t be.
When someone is in need, someones want to act.
Flowers. Plants. Cards.
Funny dog videos.
A care package of vegan cookies, half tea/half lemon Sprindrift, Bio oil (to keep scarring down), and a cold pack.
Mom and daughter created JPEG.
Offers of bikes and bike rollers (you put your bike on them, allowing you to ride inside your home).
Offers to bring by vegan yums from their restaurant or pets from their dog.
Offering use of having a car on a certain day if we needed car errands run (😭, like you’re gonna use your precious limited wheels time on us?!).
REI gift cards (tied with anything that sells Vanderbilt gear, Best Friend’s favorite store).
Venmo, Buy Me a Coffee, Mac & Cheese Gift Cards*.
Mac & Cheese store orders.
Updating and rallying the troops.
Digital food-hugs. I don’t know why I was surprised at the volume of these. You need to eat. Food is always the right size. Cooking is a chore many despise (👋🏾) and something you don’t want to think about when in the thick of ick. Eating out is an act for which many feel guilt (👋🏾). GrubHub and Instacart are today’s casserole and stocked freezer. With no cleaning or returning pyrex!
*How can you tell your people are your people? 😭 One of ‘em wrote this to a group we’re in — “Since reading about what has happened, I have been trying to think about what would help Saya in the way Saya might want to be loved upon without creating obligations to respond, track, do, be somewhere at a certain time, etc… I landed on a Mac & Cheese Productions gift card from her Mac & Cheese store – 1) cash = time + decision autonomy for Saya and I have 12 months to spend it with her (the easiest part) 2) digital – no shipping, likely automated or low effort/energy on her part, took me less than a minute.” They even included links cause ya know, Life of Yes℠, make life easy on yourself and others.
Lesson Fifteen: Keep your “Thank you!” to “Thank you!” —
Disclaimer: 100% pot calling kettle black here. Working on it.
Does this sound familiar? Someone does something nice and you:
- Say “You shouldn’t have!” “Unnecessary!”
- Try to, or feel you should, repay them
- Feel guilty
- Feel “But others have it so much worse…”
- Feel “I don’t need this”
- Say “Thank you! but…”
Next time someone does something worthy of a nod and smile, simply nod and smile. Simply say “Thank you.”
Acknowledge your guilt, shame, comparison, need to explain, dismiss, downplay, and say all the words, and then don’t. “Thank you” and shut up.
While we’re here, practice this for compliments as well.
Not “I love your dress!”
“It’s the only thing that fits.”
“I got it on sale.”*
“Eh, it’s ok…”
“I dunno. Look at how it bunches around my stomach…”
But “I love your dress!”
*Unless it was a fabulous sale and you’re simply over the moon about the savings.
Lesson Sixteen: Get your To Do’s off your To Do list if they fall under the adulting category —
Specifically the “in case of emergency” (ICE) category.
What does your phone’s lock screen have on it? I suggest something along the lines of “If found, please contact [phone number that isn’t yours].” I have Best Friend’s listed. Thanks goodness he was able to communicate when he was hit and thus I was called immediately.
Do you have people denoted as ICE contacts in your phone? I wish this was a setting you could apply. My workaround is to “favorite” them and add ICE to their names. This makes it easier to find their info, either by viewing my favorites list or by doing a search for “ICE”.
Do you have a piece of paper in your wallet that has ICE contacts on it? In case your phone isn’t on you or is dead.
Are you registered with your state’s Emergency Contact Database? “The Emergency Contact Database allows you to voluntarily enter one or two individuals to serve as your emergency contacts in the event you are involved in a traffic crash or have a medical emergency where you cannot communicate directly with law enforcement or emergency responders. The Emergency Contact Database also allows you to enter basic medical information such as disabilities, medical conditions or special needs (i.e., drug allergies or taking certain prescription medication). In the event of an emergency situation, only law enforcement will have access to this information and can reach out to your emergency contacts on your behalf. ”
Illinois’ is here.
Does an ICE contact have access to things like your will, power of attorney, and password manager? Here’s a How To page for the password manager we use. Even if you don’t use Bitwarden, it’s helpful to see the ins and outs. You should set this up with whatever tool you use. If you don’t have a password manager, get one. It’s for so much more than storing and generating passwords. Digital copies of your driver’s license, vaccination card, passport. Credit card info. Shared info so that you no longer have to yell across the house, “Husband, what’s your United frequent flyer number?!” or “Wife, I need your Mastercard number!”
Do you have an “If I die…” manual? This and our State of Our Union Powerpoint are the most commented on and requested creations of ours. Which led to the Adulting Kit (it’s coming, pre-orderers! Those of you who didn’t pre-order and want one, stay in my orbit via my newsletter or social, and if/when I decide to offer it, you’ll be in the know). If you pass away or are in an uncommunicative state, please please please make it easy on your loved ones and give them directions on all the things. Where to find your important physical and digital items, financialness (what money is where; what bills need to be cancelled; what auto-pay is on), password information, and on and on. And on.
Do you have a will and power of attorney? Part of the “If I die…” manual and “make it easy” vibe is of course having a will and power of attorney. The stories of stress, fights, hurt, and time-consumption when it comes to dealing with the death of someone who didn’t prepare for the inevitable are gut-wrenching. Hire a lawyer. Use a DIY service like we did; we used Rocket Lawyer. Gather your witnesses and head to your bank or UPS for their notary services, or even more fun, host a Death Party where you hire a notary and invite your friends to bring their notary and witness-requiring documents for an evening of music, snacks, and sexy efficiency and adulting. Even more fun, come to the Mac & Cheese Death Party*, where you come by yourself cause that’s my thing, get stuff done cause that’s my thing, and create community in weird circumstances cause that’s also my thing.
*Not yet actually a thing. It may be. Again, stay in my orbit if you want in.
Lesson Seventeen: Keepsake your keepsakes —
Counterintuitively, I want the accident aftermath to stay with me forever. Obvs, not the fear or other crap. But the hyacinths y’all, the hyacinths.
So I’ve screenshot’ed, copy and pasted, and archived everything into an Evernote note.
Comments, texts, emails, DMs, photos. Memories I can look back on to witness how loved Best Friend is, how loved Best Friend & Best Friend is, how loved I am, how lucky we are, and how my hand was repeatedly patted in the scariest moment of my life.
I had typed “one of the scariest moments”… I backspaced.
From the depths of our everythings, thank y’all —
Saya (and Pete… Oops, I mean Best Friend!)
Love love love❣️❣️❣️You and Best Friend are amazing humans that I am blessed to know and hope to see again soon. It’s been too long. Grateful to have read through this list. You are an expressive and heartfelt writer. I look forward to reading your book one day…Xoxomarci
Thanks dear Marci! Your words are so appreciated.
This spoke to me so much and I’m so happy Pete is ok and you both can continue to bring your awesome lights to the world. It’s such a better place with you two in it and your love, love, love and more importantly how you love is just the best! I love the way you write and I’m looking forward to curling up on a beach somewhere reading your NYT bestseller! Hope our paths cross soon until then, have an amazing summer!
He he, thanks Queen Trice!!! We love having you in our orbit and I’ve been loving witnessing your growth and journey and joy these past few years.