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Coping with Tragedy

December 19, 2013

By Jake Knabel, Concordia (Neb.) Sports Information Director

SEWARD, Neb. Chrissy Lind will never forget July 17, 2013. It’s the day a seemingly simple left turn ended in injury, bloodshed and tragedy. Just south of Rochester, Minn., two vehicles rested in shambles as the noon hour approached. More consequentially, the physical and emotional states of six people hung in the balance.

Just seconds earlier, Bill Fisher, Chrissy’s grandfather, steered the family’s beige Dodge Caravan left across a single lane of traffic on Highway 52 in the community of Marion, Minn. Chrissy braced herself as an oncoming Chevy Tahoe from the other lane closed in. Evelyn “Yvonne” Fisher, Chrissy’s grandma, sat in the front passenger seat and frantically yelled out “Bill!” Chrissy, sitting directly behind Bill, shrieked.

It was too late.

The front of the oncoming car collided almost head on with the minivan, ushering it into a ditch off the shoulder of the highway before coming to a stop. The obliterated Caravan, with its front end almost completely crumpled, lie in in ruins. The Chevy Tahoe halted in the middle of the highway, where debris surrounded the battered SUV.

A man who had been mowing his grass nearby described the accident to a local TV station, saying, “I saw the two vehicles hit almost head on. When they hit, they went straight up in the air, and how they got the way they are, I don't know.”

Chrissy, her sandals separated from her feet by the impact, did not want to look to her right where her younger sister Catherine sat as the fourth passenger in the van. Chrissy feared the worst. She could see her grandparents in front, both lying unconscious.

Instinctively, Chrissy, 18 at the time, pointedly instructed Catherine, 16, to get out of the car. The sisters, bloodied and dazed but neither critically impaired, maneuvered out of the vehicle.

“I was having a hard time staying conscious. I was on my hands and knees,” Chrissy said. “I could feel and grasp it. Everything was like faded gray. When you stand up too quick and get light headed, it was kind of like that.”

Reporting for Camp

Less than a month later, on Aug. 16, Chrissy reported to Concordia University on time for her freshman year with the rest of her women’s soccer teammates. Despite the magnetic-like pull of being close to her hometown of Colorado Springs, Colo., in the aftermath of the accident, Chrissy moved away from her family for the first time. She felt determined to honor her commitment.

“I kind of felt like I had to go,” she said. “I thought it would be good for me to start out on my own.”

However, Chrissy admits it was not easy to say goodbye. “I felt like was leaving my sister,” she says.

Concordia first-year head coach Greg Henson, officially named to his post on June 19, had barely started on the job when he learned of the accident. Henson figured he would be moving on without Chrissy, whom he had met in person only once – five days prior to the car wreck.

“Being in a unique situation that I was in at that time and not really knowing any of the 25 players on the roster, my first thought was that we’re at 24,” Henson said. “Here’s a freshman getting ready to go away to college for the first time. It’s probably her final family vacation and something tragic happens.”

Lynn Lind, Chrissy’s mother and the daughter of Bill and Yvonne, knew it was important for Chrissy to keep her plans of attending Concordia. It was all part of the process in the road to recovery.

“We’re very close and we talked about whether she needed to hang around home and be with me and be with her little sister,” Lynn said. “I appreciated that she was willing to stay, but she needed to go. I believed that God wanted her to be at Concordia. It was the next step for her.”

Due to a lacerated liver and a significant back injury that resulted from the accident, Chrissy had to be relegated to watching preseason practices. Not surprisingly, her teammates had questions.

Why aren’t you playing? How did you get a lacerated liver? You were involved in a car accident? Is everything OK?

Still very much in the recovery phase both mentally and physically, Chrissy kept most of the painful details to herself and a few select others. She appreciated the support of new companions, most of whom she knew little of or about upon her arrival, but the time wasn’t right to divulge everything that occurred on July 17.

She wasn’t ready to talk about the collision that played over and over in her head, nor the images of that tragic day that filled her dreams. She wasn’t ready. Until now.

Tragedy Sets In

“I think we’re OK,” Chrissy told her mother during a phone conversation while paramedics tended to her and others at the scene of the accident. “We seem like we’re fine,” she said on behalf of her and Catherine. “We’ll be OK.

While reassuring and calming in her tone, Chrissy still had to deliver some grim news. “Then I told her that I didn’t think my grandma was going to make it.”

Immersed in a scene you expect to hear about only on the five o’clock news, Chrissy acted incredibly strong and collected. After exiting the van, she sat dizzied while working to assess the situation. She heard her sister call out from up the small embankment where the tattered minivan rested. She also heard the cries of a woman who had been a passenger in the other car.

Amidst the chaos she was able to comprehend that everyone involved seemed to be physically functional, except for her grandparents who remained lodged in the van, entangled in a mess of twisted metal and broken glass.

“It took me a while to even want to look at the car,” Chrissy said. “Then I saw that grandpa was talking to people – really out of it – but he was conscious. My grandma still wasn’t conscious. Just from how the car looked, I told my mom I didn’t think she was going to make it.”

Yvonne Fisher, 76, died soon after at nearby Saint Marys Hospital – her injuries too severe to overcome.

Returning to the Pitch

It was less than two months after the death of her grandmother that Chrissy played her first career collegiate soccer game. Walking onto the field, she wondered whether her grandma might have attended the match had it not been for the accident.

Emotions flowed and so did the tears. The events of July 17 had been tragic but Sept. 21, the day Chrissy made her first start as a Bulldog, was a day to celebrate how far Chrissy had come and a day to admire a strong-willed family.

On that day, the Lind family came to Seward to watch Chrissy play. Chrissy and her mother embraced for what seemed like five minutes according to Lynn.

“I gave her a huge hug and we both just cried,” Lynn said. “We hugged knowing that we had grown from what had happened. You don’t get over it, but you work through it.”

Chrissy brushed back the tears and donned her red goalkeeping jersey. She made four saves as Concordia defeated Mount Marty 2-1. She couldn’t do everything she used to do. She could not cover from post to post with the same aptitude and diving as well as contact with other players still caused pain to her liver and back.

In the larger picture, those were minor details. Chrissy was back where she belonged, playing the sport she loved.

“It was a lot of fun,” Chrissy said. “I missed it even just for the couple months I couldn’t play. Soccer’s really helped me get through it.”

It wasn’t hard for Chrissy’s mother to see a deeper meaning in her daughter’s return to the playing field. Says Lynn, “Soccer has helped her work through the accident. Naturally there were thoughts like why am I still alive? Why am I not more seriously injured?” As if speaking directly to Chrissy, she continued, “It wasn’t your time. God needs you to be where you are.”

The Aftermath

Lynn had dropped Chrissy and Catherine off with their grandparents before heading to Sioux Falls, S.D. That’s where Lynn would meet up with her husband Brad, who was away from their Colorado Springs home on business. Chrissy and Catherine were to spend a few days of their summer vacation with their grandparents in Chatfield, Minn.

Lynn was roughly a two-hour drive away from the scene of the accident when she checked her voicemail. She had a message from an unfamiliar number. It was Chrissy, whose soft and warm voice relayed the shocking facts by way of a cell phone provided by a helpful bystander. At the time, Chrissy’s phone had yet to be found because of the impact that dispersed contents of the two cars around the scene.

Lynn called back immediately just as both daughters were being prepared to be sped by ambulances to Saint Marys Hospital.

Lynn arrived at Saint Marys not much more than two hours after the time of the accident – 11:55 a.m. central.

She came to find her loved ones battered and hurting. But they still had each other.

“I was very thankful they were not severely injured,” Lynn said. “I got to the hospital and there were all kinds of doctors and nurses around them, taking care of them. It was so good to see them and to talk to them.”

Catherine suffered surprisingly minor injuries. She needed four stitches to her thigh and one to her hand. She also had whiplash as well as a multitude of bruises and soreness.

Bill Fisher, who drove the minivan, dislocated his elbow and chipped his collarbone. He arrived at the hospital in serious condition and has since recovered almost to the point of his pre-accident physical state.

On the other hand, Yvonne had not been so fortunate. She had been closest to the point of the collision and was badly injured, virtually from head to toe. Responders used the jaws of life to tear open the van and peal her from the scene. Doctors discovered only faint brain activity once she reached the hospital, roughly a 20 minute drive from the accident. She could not be saved.

As far as the two occupants of the white Chevy Tahoe involved in the collision, the male driver went basically unscathed and the female passenger was treated and then released from Saint Marys.

All six people had been wearing seatbelts.

Coping with Tragedy

Yvonne Fisher was cremated and laid to rest a week later. It was the first stage in the grieving process for the Lind and Fisher families.

A degree of comfort came in the image of the spiritually strong grandmother of Chrissy, Catherine and older brother Trace. Yvonne had been dealing with cancer but it was hard to tell by her outgoing personality and caring nature. She was 76 but never seemed that old, according to Chrissy. Yvonne still took dance class and was described by one person, who commented on an online news story about the accident, as a “wonderful woman.”

Yvonne did not fear death. She told her family that she would be ready to go whenever the Lord called her. That call was placed on July 17 – sooner than anyone could have imagined.

The family began healing by talking about what Yvonne had meant. They prayed and they leaned upon their faith. They knew their beloved grandmother was in God’s hands.

The sisters, Chrissy and Catherine shared a bond, each knowing exactly what the other was going through.

“I definitely wouldn’t have wanted my sister in there with me but since she was there was someone else who knows what you’re going through,” Chrissy said. “The first couple days we just sat by each other when we couldn’t sleep and we would be there for each other whenever one of us woke up with a nightmare.”

Both sisters eventually took sanctuary in playing sports and surrounding themselves with teammates and friends. Catherine got back to playing volleyball while Chrissy proceeded through her first collegiate soccer season while making plenty of new friends.

Many of those friends did not know the exact circumstances that have weighed on her. A sensitive person, Chrissy kept a lot of her emotions inside.

Staff at Concordia worked to protect those emotions and allow Chrissy to share only what she felt comfortable detailing. Chrissy’s mother praised Henson and the women’s soccer program for their handling of the situation.

“My focus on her was, was she doing OK and how was everything going to go,” Henson said. “We wanted to make sure that some of the older players and assistant coaches kept an eye on her. As long as everything seemed OK we moved forward.”

Chrissy has moved forward remarkably well. There are still painful reminders of what happened. The date July 17 even randomly surfaced in a conversation with friends at Concordia. It immediately sent Chrissy’s mind racing back to the accident.

There will still be times when it hurts. She will still replay the deadly collision that occurred on Highway 52. Then she will think about why her life was spared and how thankful she is for all those who responded to the scene on that day.

Through it all, Lynn hopes that Chrissy and the family come out the other side with a greater feeling of compassion and togetherness.

“I definitely think I’ve grown a lot spiritually and with trusting God more,” Chrissy said. “I feel a lot closer to him. Afterwards I felt more like he’s looking out for me, just with all the circumstances.”

Says Chrissy’s mother: “We’re all believers. Things happen for a reason even if you don’t always understand why they happen.”