It had not been a typical weekday night in Bellevue, Kentucky, where I live. Instead of heading home after work, I joined a group of friends for dinner and a movie, "He’s Just Not That Into You."
I was tired after a long day of work and an evening with friends. As soon as I got home, I was ready to go to bed around 10 o’clock. Almost immediately after getting into bed, my phone rang. I noticed it was Kim. I decided not to answer and simply call her in the morning. When it rang again, an uneasy feeling clenched in the pit of my stomach. Why was she calling again? I answered this time, and she told me a plane had crashed on Long Street. I imagined a small plane crashing in the empty lots behind our house, but she said that it had struck a house. She told me to turn on CNN, which was covering the crash, and assured me she would call me back when she heard any further news from Mom, Jill, or Dad. Like Kim, I tried calling everyone’s cell phones without success.
Chris and I turned on the bedroom TV to CNN. I could not believe what I was seeing—a fiery scene on Long Street. I felt sick to my stomach and my mind wandered through different scenarios of what was going on. Chris tried to reassure me that we needed more information and we had to stay calm. We moved to the television in the living room. CNN said that the plane had landed on a house farther down Long Street. I just didn’t know what to believe.
Finally, I connected with Kim again. She was near the crash site and had heard from others that Mom and Jill had been seen walking outside before the crash. It made no sense. Why would they be walking at that hour?
My phone kept ringing. Friends called. Aunt Barbara called. Everyone wanted to know if I had more information than what CNN was reporting.
There was some relief when Mom called and assured me that she and Jill were okay. “Lori, the plane fell on our house,” Mom said. “Jill and I were in the house. The ceiling fell on top of me.” I was in disbelief. Although I heard her words my mind could not comprehend the reality of what she said.
Mom’s voice wavered, yet still sounded strong—the sound of a mother trying to be strong for her daughters. Although she told me Dad had not been located yet, I clung to the hope that he would magically show up and everything would be OK.
Shortly after that, Uncle Billy called me. Chris took the call and went to an upstairs hallway to talk while I sat in the bathroom and waited for more news. Chris came back and I could tell from the tears in his eyes that the news was not good. “He didn’t make it.”
I collapsed into Chris’ arms and fell to the floor. I felt limp. I didn’t want this to be real. I couldn’t imagine never seeing Dad ever again. Chris held me tight and comforted me. He told me that Uncle Billy was trying to get us a flight to Buffalo, but there was no way I was going to get on a plane at that point. I threw a bunch of stuff into a suitcase, not thinking about it, just doing it.
As I was finishing up, Jess called. She was getting ready to drive to Buffalo, too. “Do you know anything about Dad yet?” she asked.
She hadn’t heard the news. I simply said, “Uncle Billy just called, Jess. He didn’t make it. He’s gone.”
We both cried. I assured her that we would be OK, trying to be a strong older sister, but I felt nothing close to OK at that moment. Shortly after talking with Jess, Chris and I were ready to go. We stepped out the front door to leave. It was still the middle of the night. We were exhausted and distressed, but we had to get to Buffalo. I looked up at the dark sky and over to our house. It felt like a really bad dream—things didn’t seem real. I had a feeling of overwhelming anxiety and I felt beside myself. It was a feeling I could not escape.
Chris and I drove for a bit, but as daylight hit we had to stop at a rest area to sleep. We were exhausted. Ginger, our dog, was calmly curled up in my lap. I think she could sense my pain. More friends called and texted as they realized that my family lived on Long Street. It was so painful to share the news with each person who contacted us. I didn’t know what to think, and I didn’t know what would happen once we were reunited in Buffalo.
My anxiety continued to build. We approached Columbus, Ohio. We lived in Cincinnati for 14 years. Whenever we made the trip to Buffalo, Dad would always point out a lighthouse on top of a church as the expressway took us through downtown Columbus. There was a statue of a man with a fishing pole outside the lighthouse. Dad would always say, “Look there’s the man in the lighthouse. He must get so tired always standing there.” I sadly got ready to see this familiar site. As we passed by I looked up, only to see that the man had fallen to his side. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I like to think it was a sign from Dad. I like to think he was letting us know that things were never going to be the same, but he would always be with us.