"I Watched My Friend Die - My Faith in God Was Shaken"
Interview by Crystal Kirgiss
Since losing one of her closest friends in a car crash, Kelly Anderson has learned what it really means to live for God.
In Kelly Anderson's Student Bible, tucked somewhere in the middle, there is a picture of two girls hugging each other closely.
One of the girls is Kelly. The other is Tanya, who was one of Kelly's closest friends.
In the picture, they're both smiling confidently after having just performed a danceline routine at a high school hockey game. They are clearly confident and proud of their performance. They are clearly special to one anther. They clearly enjoy life.
In addition to all of those things, they were friends who were bound by their faith and their shared love for Christ.
The picture is tucked into its special place so Kelly is sure to see it often. Each time she sees it, she remembers the fun she had that night. She remembers the excitement of danceline and hockey games and her senior year of high school.
And she remembers Tanya. They were together all the time - lunch hours, danceline practices, hockey games, youth group activities, late night chat sessions, spare moments between classes, and everything in between.
So it was fitting that they would be together when Tanya died.
"My life flashed in front of me."
It was a Friday afternoon when Kelly and Tanya pulled out of the school parking lot and headed off to watch their team compete in the state hockey tournament. Right after leaving, Tanya, who was driving, asked Kelly to grab a map from the glove compartment and act as the official navigator of the trip.
"I was shuffling through insurance papers, a birthday card, a trig test, a letter and other stuff when Tanya suddenly threw her arm over to grasp my hand," says Kelly. "I could feel her body tensing. She slammed on the brakes and all I could think was, What's happening?!"
The car hit a patch of ice and spun wildly over a curb. For Kelly, those moments were like a slow motion picture. "It's strange what you think about in a situation like that. I saw parts of my life flashing in front of me. I realized that I wasn't hearing any sound. I thought, Shouldn't Tanya and I be screaming? But we were completely silent. I focused on our hands, clutched together across the front seats, glad that we were in this together."
Kelly couldn't tell exactly what was happening, but her memories of those moments are vivid - smoke rising from the sizzling engine, the strong aroma of burnt rubber, pieces of the shattered windshield covering her body. "There were sharp pieces of glass in my lap, poking into my legs, falling like icicles from my hair, and in my mouth. Blood was splattered across my coat and jeans. I was so numb I couldn't even tell if I'd been hurt or not. I started to panic and began gasping for as much air as my lungs could handle, causing pieces of glass to fall down my throat."
It was nearly impossible for Kelly to move, but she managed to twist her neck just enough to see the top of Tanya's head where it lay on her shoulder. Then she rolled her eyes downward and saw that their clasped hands were covered in blood. "I squeezed her hand as tightly as I could," said Kelly, "and then slowly untangled our fingers. My door had been ripped off in the accident, so I rolled out of my seat into the snow." Kelly laid there trying to call out Tanya's name until an ambulance arrived and took her to the hospital.
Later, in the hospital emergency room, Kelly was stunned by the news that Tanya had died in the crash. "My heart shattered into a billion pieces. I couldn't fathom the idea that Tanya had been killed. After all, we'd held hands through the crash. We were in the same accident. I'd had bumps, bruises, and some cuts, but Tanya had been ?. killed? It didn't seem possible."
Kelly's pastor was there when she heard the news. He wanted to pray with her. "I lowered my head and shut my eyes tightly, but did not pray. My faith was shaken. I didn't know whether to trust God or not. First, I wanted to understand why this had happened. I wanted to make sense of this tragedy.."
"Her mom's going to hate me."
As difficult as it was for Kelly to learn about Tanya's death, the next day held an even more difficult reality.
"I had to go visit Tanya's family," said Kelly. "I don't think I've ever been so terrified in my life. I kept thinking, Nancy (Tanya's mom) is going to hate me. She probably won't be able to stand being in my presence. I had lived through the accident that killed her daughter. Of course she was going to despise me."
Kelly was scared and nervous as she and her parents approached Tanya's house. But when Tanya's mom opened the door, her actions set Kelly's mind at ease. She kissed Kelly on the forehead, hugged her and said, "Dear Kelly. I am so happy to see you and know that you are OK. I thank God that you are alive, and that you were with Tanya as she passed from our world to His. You witnessed her last moments and now you can share that with us."
Kelly was stunned. It wasn't at all what she'd expected to hear. "Nancy did not hate me. That comforted me more than I can explain."
After spending some time in the living room with everyone else, Nancy took Kelly's hand and led her into Tanya's bedroom so they could talk alone. "It was weird," said Kelly. "We sat on the edge of the bed together. I felt so close to her. We talked for what seemed like hours - about Tanya's last moments, her mood, the crash, Tanya's words while we were driving - everything." But what Kelly remembers the most is how Nancy talked about her faith. "That day, Nancy introduced me to the concept of giving absolutely everything to God. My faith had always been strong, but nothing like Nancy's. She showed me clearly what it meant to depend on God even in the turmoil of a tragedy. The way that she comforted me, loved me, and genuinely cared that I was OK really impacted me. As much as I was hurting because of Tanya's death, Nancy was probably hurting a hundred times more. But she still talked about God, showed kindness, and demonstrated hope in the middle of a great loss."
Over the next few months, Kelly and Nancy stayed in touch. "I realized I had a lot to learn from her. Besides, she was my tie to Tanya. I didn't want to give up either of those things." Nancy continued to teach Kelly about faith, trust, hope, and coping with sorrow. "She was so strong. I don't think she really taught me new things each time we visited. She just kept talking about the basics - trust God, give everything to him, depend on him - and I grew in those areas as time passed."
Giving up the pain
The accident happened during Kelly's senior year. Because of the relationship that had grown between Kelly and Nancy, Kelly invited Tanya's family to her graduation. When she left for college the next fall, she and Nancy wrote back and forth, continuing their friendship.
"I suppose it might seem a little odd that Tanya's mom and I became so close. But it happened. I'm sure it's because she took me under her wing, loved me, and talked so openly and freely about her faith. Not many adults do that with someone in high school. It was a new experience for me. She treated me with respect and taught me so many things about life and faith."
If Kelly hadn't gone to visit Tanya's family, her friendship with Nancy might have never happened. If she hadn't been willing to listen to Nancy's comforting, encouraging, and challenging words, she might never have been able to fully deal with her grief. And if she hadn't followed Nancy's advice to fully depend on God, she might not be where she is today - still sad about Tanya's death, but reassured and comforted by the knowledge that they will see one another again someday.
"It can be hard to give up the pain that comes from a tragedy," says Kelly. "Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to keep grieving and feeling sorry for yourself. But by giving the pain to God and letting him guide the healing process, a person ends up in a much better place. I don't cry about Tanya anymore - I think of her and smile. I don't imagine how different life would be if she were here; I think of what it will be like when we see each other again. I don't think about her every day for hours at a time; I think about her on holidays and other special times and thank God for the friendship we shared."
One thing's for sure. Whenever Kelly gets the opportunity, she goes to visit Nancy.
"Because of the accident, I had to learn about and accept the reality of death," she says. "But Nancy helped teach me something more important - the reality of life lived totally for God. I'll never be the same because of that."