Some people can’t really think of a defining moment in their life, can you? I’m not talking about just a small moment that made an impact in your life. I’m talking about the type of moment that is burned into your mind and heart, a moment that in an instant you can be transported back to. This message is deeply personal and has a singular focus that I’ll try to unpack for you in the next few moments. Just a disclaimer before you continue, the pictures you’re about to see may be disturbing but they are raw, they are real, and they are forever burned into my heart as the moment my life came crashing down.
For all intensive purposes before March 11th 2017 I was living the American dream. A story with too many twists, turns, valleys, and mountain tops to really recount here. Married to the love of my life with two beautiful children. I was in the midst of a blossoming career at a dream job with one of the world’s best companies. With enough to around and plenty to spare, God had truly blessed me in every way. It’s interesting to look back now at how ungrateful I was in the midst of such tremendous blessing, but that is a message for a different day.
March 11th 2017 started like so many other days before it. My wife Cassie, son Kasen, and daughter Brynleigh and I were headed out for spring break. The trip was sort of last minute but we had booked a hotel right on the river in San Antonio. The trip from Dallas would take us several hours but it would be worth it! The week ahead would be filled with river boat rides, trips to Sea World, and an abundance of eating out and relaxing with my family. I can remember excitedly packing our SUV in anticipation of a great week.
As we pulled onto the highway with the music playing and our hearts full of excitement, none of us had any idea what the next few hours held for our family. Brynleigh had just turned 4 and was a rambunctious, confident, beautiful, strong little girl with an infectious smile and laugh. Kasen was a stubborn, strong, love filled 8 year old who loved to play any sport and was growing in wisdom. Cassie and I had been high school sweethearts and had been married for about 8 years. Life was so much fuller than I had ever imagined it could be.
On the first leg of our trip we stopped off an exit to grab lunch and coffee. I can remember it was Whataburger for lunch and Starbucks for the after lunch motivation. As I remember, the lunch was a bit disappointing. I was anxious to get to San Antonio and get our trip started. As we got back on the highway after lunch, the rain started. Ugh… I hate driving in the rain. I can remember being fully oblivious to what was just a few miles up ahead.
As I came around the curb on I-35 close to Waco, the traffic was at a standstill. I can still remember the irritation of having to sit in traffic (I still hate sitting in traffic)! I looked over at my beautiful wife, wow she has put up with so much. She has been through so many moments of pain and heartache with me. We have shared so many firsts together. Our first child, our first home, our first cross country move. She has been one of the greatest blessings in my life, I hope she knows how much I love her! I can remember in that moment a million thoughts circling my mind. “I love you” I smiled as I thought about how far we had come in 10 years. “What do you want?” she quipped back. The everything went dark.
I can still remember waking up in our SUV. The smell hit me first, smoke, glass, blood, other things I couldn’t identify. An annoying beeping like I had my seat belt off kept wringing in my ears. I could hear Cassie moaning in agony. What just happened?
Where am I? Am I dreaming? Why can’t I feel anything? Why can’t I see anything? What is happening? Then the realization hit me: oh no, I’ve been in a wreck.
What I didn’t know at the time is that while I was stopped in traffic, every nightmare I had was about to come true. Heading our way was a full size RV carrying a car in tow. In that RV an unsuspecting family headed on vacation was about to experience a life changing event too. In a moment as they sped around the curve on I-35, there was not enough space or time to stop. In that moment like a cruise missile their RV struck our vehicle with unimaginable force. In that moment, everything changed.
It’s hard to really believe the devastation caused by the impact. The day that started so full of anticipation and hope, ended for part of our family here on the rainy highway near Waco, TX. My beautiful daughter Brynleigh died instantly in this horrific accident. Thinking of her in this moment still causes me great grief over three years later. I was supposed to protect her. I was supposed to keep her safe. I had prayed with my baby girl night after night that God would protect her. In a moment every hope I had for her future came crashing down. She was gone and I was powerless to do anything about it.
Even with the pictures, it’s still hard to really begin imagining the destruction to our vehicle. Somehow, even with my body literally wrecked by the impact, I was able to unbuckle myself and exit the vehicle. I can remember the rain falling down as my mind and heart raced. The adrenaline pumped through my body, the shock left me numb to the pain. First responders who were already in route to the first wreck were able to quickly come to my aide. I thank God for them every day. They forced me to sit down fearing I had broken my neck. I can remember letting out a whimper: “please save my family”.
I would find out later that I had broken over 9 ribs, both of my scapula, my aorta had been ripped from my heart, I had a massive concussion, collapsed lungs, and
extensive nerve damage. Brynleigh died instantly in the wreck from blunt force trauma just 10 days after her 4th birthday. I can still remember her last birthday, we spent the afternoon at American Girl celebrating with her new American Girl dolls and eating at their Cafe. Her smile still makes my heart skip a beat. I can still remember holding her in my arms for the first time. Her life forever changed mine. Her death changed me forever too.
Cassie and Kasen both suffered various trauma that left them both in critical condition and all three of us fighting for our lives. I can still remember the ride to the hospital, being unloaded and rushed into the OR, and my clothes being cut off in preparation for emergency surgery. It is amazing what the body can endure. Right before my surgery began as I laid on the operating room table totally unable to move but fully aware of the nightmare unfolding around me, a Chaplin came in.
“Daniel, I have your wife’s phone, do you know her lock code?” It’s interesting what you remember in this type of tragedy. I guess my senses were hyper aware. I can remember giving this man the lock code to Cassie’s phone and he asked me who he should call. The next few moments are still surreal as I heard my mother-in-law’s voice on the other end of the phone. The last thing I said to her was “if I’ve caused anyone pain, please ask them to forgive me”. I had the very real realization that I was about to die.
I asked the Chaplin to pray with me, in Jesus name, and then everything went dark. The next conscious memory I have was several days later after almost 24 hours of surgeries to repair my broken body. I can remember hearing my cousin laughing at the
foot of my bed. He had driven across the country to be there along with my older brother and the rest of my family.
I was in ICU battling to hold onto life. Kasen and Cassie were both at different hospitals across town fighting their own struggle. Our family had made their way to our sides. I am forever grateful to those who showed us such great love during this tragedy. Their presence and prayers were overwhelming and I will never forget their kindness and support. As I lay in the ICU with a ventilator breathing for me, my nightmare had only began. Over the next few weeks I would continue battling through days of sleeplessness, grief, pain, and fear. Through every moment, God was faithfully there by my side.
Sixteen days after the accident my little brother came into my ICU room to give me an update I’ll never forget. He explained that Brynleigh and Cassie had both died as a result of the wreck. I had never felt so alone, I had never wanted to be so alone. I motioned him (and everyone else) away. My heart was fully broken and I was still unable to cry or protect those I loved most.
With extensive nerve damage to my hands, being on the ventilator, I was almost unable to communicate. My hands simply wouldn’t hold a pen and I couldn’t type on a phone. What I could do was some brief sign language (just letters) I had learned in high school. I can still remember signing to a nurse: I want to die. She immediately recognized what I was saying and didn’t show me any pity. I will never forget what she said and still wish I could thank her today. She scolded me: “Daniel! What about Kasen! He still needs you!” Her words still ring fresh in my mind. That was the moment I remembered my young son fighting for his life across town. Life started over again in that moment, I had to fight.
Days would turn into weeks. Kasen and I were both fighting very different struggles. He had suffered a fractured skull and a stroke in the hospital. He had to learn to walk,
talk, and even eat again. He is the strongest person I know and I will forever be proud to be his dad. I can still remember the first time I saw him after the accident. It was a few weeks after the wreck, we were able to video chat. I was still unable to talk being on the ventilator and he was unable to talk too. He started to cry as soon as he saw me, all I could do was caress my phone as if I was touching his face. Daddy sees you son, I promise I will see you again soon. A few weeks later Kasen and I saw each other for the first time after the accident. The two hospitals we were at arranged a face to face meeting and we were able to spend precious time together.
A few days later, one cross country plane ride, Kasen and I were in Nashville where I could undergo additional treatment at Vanderbilt. He would proceed with home based physical and occupational therapy. After a brief stay at inpatient therapy, we would be reunited and have both been healing (physically, emotionally, and spiritually) to this day. Before I even left the hospital, we laid my wife Cassie and daughter Brynleigh to rest together in my late wife’s hometown. My struggle was not over, the new few weeks and months the emotions would explode and my life was at the lowest point it had ever been.
Even years later as I speak to other people about the wreck and this tragedy, often people comment: “I don’t know how you did it, I would have just given up.” People see Kasen and I now, and it’s hard for them to imagine the tragedy we’ve endured. People ask me “how are you such a positive, happy person?” The answer is simple: Jesus. Before the wreck (about 6 years prior) I had surrendered my life to Jesus. Before the wreck I had been faithfully serving the Lord, and I still serve Him today. If it had not been for the grace and mercy of Jesus I would not be here today.
There were times over the past 3 years where I wanted to give up. Jesus has gently encouraged me to continue moving forward. He has given me more than enough grace to continue living. Although in some ways I convinced myself life was over, God has shown me that my life was growing in ways I never imagined. In December of 2017, I married the love of my life and my best friend Amber. Through a series of events that only the God of heaven could orchestrate, the only other woman I have truly loved besides Cassie became my wife.
After marrying Amber I can remember praying for months and months that God would bless me to be the father to a baby girl again. On November 25th 2019 Annabelle Grace (her sister’s namesake) was born and today is a healthy, strong, spunky, amazing young lady with an infectious smile like her sister Brynleigh Grace.
If you’re still reading, this entire story has a singular focus from a man who has suffered unimaginable pain and heartache: only Jesus can give you the strength and grace you need. Simply put, without Jesus this story would never be what it is today. It is only because of God’s great love for me (and for you) that I am here to share this truth with you today. Although my heart has forever been changed by their death, I am confident that both Cassie and Brynleigh are in the presence of the God we worshiped together. They are in a place free from pain, suffering, and the hurts of this world.
You can know the same love that I know. You can know the same hope that I know. You can experience the same grace, mercy, and faithfulness of the God of the
universe. Through His only Son Jesus, God has given you everything to be forgiven and free. To stand in the midst of deep crisis and be overwhelmed by His presence. Don’t give up hope. Don’t stop fighting! God is using all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
My deepest hope in sharing this deeply painful story is that you would not give up. That you would reach out to the only One who can make you whole again. I pray that whatever your facing, regardless of the hurt or desperation that you would reach out to the same God who was with me in the midst of my deepest nightmares. This same God knows you, loves you, and created you. He is waiting for you to reach out to Him to experience a love and grace you would never know without Him. Are you ready? If you are ready to experience a life you’ve never known… I pray you would click here to learn more about Jesus and His love for you.