The Day the Music Died
Saying goodbye to your loved one seems so trivial until you look back and realize it was the last goodbye.
Then, it becomes a moment stuck in your memory that had so much importance… but you did not see it coming. You relive all those last days over and over again, savoring the countdown remembrance until the last glimpse.
At 34 years old, with two sons, six and ten years old, I faced the toughest challenge of my life and upheld a family tradition of becoming a young widow. Both my grandmothers and my aunt lost their husbands prematurely, two from car accidents and one from cancer. I never dreamed I too would continue the custom.
Norman was my husband for 16 and a half years, whom I married at a young and naive 18 years old. Almost immediately, we traveled the world in a Contemporary Christian singing group called Sound of Joy. We were full time Christian singers on tour in a greyhound bus, performing in 26 states and overseas that year. I had an 18 inch closet and did not sleep in the same bed for months at a time. It was hard and it was amazing!
Sound of Joy 1982 SuArt Ministries
As a team, we worked side-by side in the Christian ministry. Through him, I was able to develop and share my gift of singing.
Our lives were surrounded with literally the ‘sound of music.’
In his career, Norman had served as music director for several Baptist churches, played guitar and sang in bands, at church, festivals, and anywhere the opportunity came up. We even had a short-lived music store, Rester's Music.
For extra money as a bi-vocational minister he would tune pianos, teach guitar, install sound systems, and repair musical instruments. He wrote spiritual songs and played several instruments but his guitar ability was his greatest gift. His voice was compared to Vince Gill.
That was my husband, a true Music Man.
Norman was running late, I had picked up our sons, Zach and Luke from my father’s house who watched them after school until I got off work. At home, I started supper, we were having rib-eyes, which was a rarity in the past when money had been extremely tight, but Norman had taken a break from his ministerial jobs for the past year and was driving 18-wheeled trucks. Prosperity had been shining upon us as I had taken a job a few months earlier at Stennis Space Center with a decent salary and even better, it came with benefits.
Norman and I had always struggled financially and had spent a few years unable to buy health insurance, phones,(house phone, not cells) and most of the time we shared one car. But times they were a changing, just the night before we had been drawing out house plans to build our own modest family home. A dream we had never dared to dream, until now.
Our eldest son, 10 year old Zach had noticed the new state of things and commented to me while I was standing over the stove cooking the steaks.
“We are rich now, aren’t we Mommy?”At which I laughed at how ridiculous that sounded, but then I straightened him out less he start asking for pricey gadgets. I told him we were not rich, but that our bills were being paid and we were able to do more and buy more than before. I told him that we were blessed.
We had no idea that at that very point in time, our lives were about to be shaken.
Norman had left a recording on the answering machine that he would be a little late due to picking up a prescription. But, time continued to go by and dinner was ready, so I fed Zach and discovered Luke was asleep.
Luke never slept. At a very young age, he had exhibited a horrible sleep pattern. It was NOT a normal thing to find him sleeping. So, I let him sleep.
As I sat down to eat my steak, I was not worried that Norman was still not home. He was a born socializer and in our small town it was easy to run into folks.
The phone rang. It was his Aunt Betty Jo who lived nearby asking if Norman was home because his cousin’s wife, Sue and their three kids were in an accident up the road. Someone had been killed and she was upset. She wanted Norman to go to the scene and check on Sue. I reassured her that I would get in touch with him and have him there as soon as possible. After-all, he had a car phone that I could use to notify him.
He did not answer.
I quickly decided that as Norman was a volunteer fireman who was traveling that road home he had stopped to work the scene of the wreck.
Awhile later someone knocked on my door. It was Tangala, my brother-in-law Eric’s friend standing there, wet and nervous. She wanted to know if Eric drove a brown SUV. There had been an accident.
Surprised at her question, I assured her that his SUV was white. Then it hit me, Norman’s Isuzu trooper was brown. As I revealed that piece of information, she practically grabbed my arm and urged me to go with her. As I threw on my shoes, I yelled back to Zach that I was going just down the road. I was leaving my 10 year old with my six year old, alone, but I would be right back.
She drove to the accident scene very near our home. We had to park way back and jog in the drizzly rain, passing stopped traffic on a dark county highway lit only by blinding cars and emergency crew lights.
I saw my husband’s SUV and it was barely damaged, off the road and mostly in a ditch. A wave of relief washed over me…until my friend David who was directing the traffic for the fire department called me over and looked me directly in the face with a deep intensity I had never seen in him and ordered me to get to the hospital. I started to ask a question but his tone was unyielding, “Just go.”
My chauffeur, Tangala rushed me back to her car. She would drive me to the hospital and so we ran back. It was a deafening silent run.
Once back in the car as we cleared the chaotic scene her next words shattered my world.
"It's bad. You need to prepare yourself."
She warned me that Norman had severe head trauma. I heard her words. I took them in and held them while searching for answers. I opened my prayer line to God, but I couldn't form a request, just a surge of inner emotion crying out for help. Fear of what was to come was so strong, but also, an inner peace, like a soft whisper telling me that no matter the circumstances that I would be alright.
You know the room at the hospital near the ER entrance that you don’t want to go to, I call it the bad news room. As I was introduced to the doctor attending my husband he directed me to ‘that’ room but it was filled with some other poor family. He directed me to the hospital chapel instead. By then I had Norman’s Uncle Kenneth at my side for which I will always be grateful.
It all seemed like an episode of a hospital drama, very surreal.
In movies they are so direct and to the point. However, this doctor must have not watched those movies or television because he began explaining the severe injuries in medical terminology. I was envisioning a long-term hospital stay while thousands of questions were running wildly through my head to ask him. Practical thoughts like how long a hospital stay, what to do about my job, insurance, would there be permanent damage?
When the doctor finally finished his diagnosis he paused, waiting. I begin asking about permanent damage? What kind of time-frame were we looking at? Very practical questions I thought despite the panic raging inside me.
The doctor never said the word dead. He answered my inquiry with Norman did not make it. Then he gave me a non-clinical description of the deathblow that killed my husband. It was graphic and violent and I will never forget the words or the image is summoned.
Confused and not accepting his response at first, I kept visualizing the wreck scene and how the damage did not seem so severe. And Norman always wore a seat belt! Was he was mistaken?
But as the significance of his words settled within me, I began to understand. Maybe not the whys or hows, but that there was no misunderstanding that Norman was gone.
My husband was dead at 41. My sons’ father was dead. My world was reeling.
The tragic details came out that Norman had hit an 8 point buck on that rainy highway and the damage to his SUV was minimal but caused his battery to shift and all lights and power died. As he got out of his vehicle, cars were coming from both directions and he could not get out of harm’s way. As one vehicle hit his Isuzu, Norman was hit by his own vehicle killing him instantly.
The double tragedy was that the other driver was his cousin's wife, Sue, with her three kids, who were our family, our neighbors, and our kids played together all the time.
Sue was hurt physically a little, but emotionally, it was big. I remember telling her later, that of all the people that rainy night that Norman, was the one ready to go. It was all a freak accident.
We stood side by side in church a week later, she had accepted Jesus as her Savior and that my dear friends, is how you make lemonade out of lemons. We also took a trip to see the movie Titanic which is where she and the kids were going that night. It was a movie that Norman and I had seen a few days earlier. It made a huge impact on my emotional state and yes, "My Heart Will Go On." was played at Norman's funeral. We had a packed church of six hundred and his wake went on for hours, I greeted from 5pm until 11pm because Norman V. Rester was an amazing and wonderful man.
The music had died. My music man was gone. My world that was centered on music faded away. But, my heart would go on, knowing that love is the greatest gift of all.
Music speaks to me more than anything else God has created in this world and although I rarely perform anymore it was music that soothed me as I grieved. Music inspires me, encourages me, cheers me and it also takes me back in time. It may not be as large a part of my life as it was with Norman, but life goes on and the music keeps on playing.
That small whisper was right, I was alright. Blessed. Comforted. Loved. It truly is a peace that passes all understanding.