Tony Cartledge, one of my seminary professors, taught a class on the books of 1 & 2 Samuel, which became my favorite class from seminary. It was only his second semester, then, as a professor at Campbell Divinity School. When it was announced that he would be joining the faculty at Campbell, my pastor at the time, who is a friend of Tony's, told me something like this, "Tony Cartledge is a man who knows something about life. Campbell will be lucky to have him."
I later learned what my pastor was referring to when he said, "He knows something about life." Dr. Cartledge, when he was a pastor, had a seven year old daughter who was killed when the car they were driving was hit by a drunk driver. Their sweet daughter's life had been cut short by another man's terrible decision to drink and drive.
Some years later, Tony and his wife Jan (who is also a minister), wrote A Whole New World: Life After Bethany, a book about their grief experience and the impact that losing a daughter had on their lives.
My new job is to offer support and counseling to bereaved families who lose a loved one on hospice care. I have learned and am learning much about the mourning experience and the grief process. So, I thought with this new job, it was time I picked up my professor's book and read about his experience with grief.
The book opens up by telling the horrific story of the tragic accident through the eyes of Tony and his wife, Jan. Tony was driving Bethany home from her grandparents' house in South Carolina. The accident took place still several hours away from their home in North Carolina. It happened in the mid-90s, which was just before you could expect everyone to have a cell phone. So, it took some time for Jan to hear about it, and information gathering happened a little slower than nowadays.
As Tony and Jan recap the events, they're not shy in sharing emotions from their experience. The subsequent chapters paint a beautiful and painful picture of grief's messy collage. Dealing with broken ribs in the ICU, guilt brought on by "What if..." questions, the pain of seeing his daughter lying motionless moments after the wreck, painful recovery time and transfers to a NC hospital, Tony's story is vivid and terrifying. Jan's account, as she planned and attended Bethany's funeral without her husband, cared for herself as well as a broken Tony, wrestled with intense anger and struggled with forgiveness, is heart wrenching and endeared me toward her all at once.
They share about how their faith community, Woodhaven Baptist Church, acted as the church was meant to act, as the body of Christ, as the hands, feet and caring faces of Jesus. They shared what was helpful and what was not, as well-meaning friends and family offered comfort.
I noticed that Tony's entries tended to offer theological reflection and new conclusions. These sections engaged my seminary-tainted trained brain, causing me to reflect in new ways on death, life, God's role in suffering and beliefs as a bandaid vs source of hope. Jan's entries were heavier on the deapth of the emotional journey through a wilderness of feelings never before considered. Her writing opened to me the cyclical process of grief, and the difficulty in finding forgiveness as they confronted Bethany's killer and struggled for justice through the court system all the while struggling with grief.
The book is well written, and thought out. It's very readable and flows at a pleasant pace. It is not long, but coveres a vast journey in it's pages. I will keep it in my mind as I often recommend resources to grieving parents, spouses, children and friends.
Thank you Tony and Jan, for sharing your story, for sharing you hearts, and for opening up yourselves to me and so many others. Having read your words, I feel somehow connected to you, connected to dear sweet Bethany. From this book I have grown, I have learned and I have been blessed.