by Jenna Richards
This is the first time I have written my story, and I am not even sure where to begin. But on April 2nd, 2016, my life forever changed.
On Saturday, April 2nd, my husband, Chase, was supposed to pick Jack and I up in Brigham City, UT. We had been at my parents’ house, but we were going to meet Chase sometime around noon to eat at our favorite restaurant, Maddox, and head back home. That morning I texted him at 7:30 to see if he was awake and ask what time I should head out. I didn’t hear anything back. By 9:30, I called and texted again, but still no word. This wasn’t like him, but I still wasn’t too worried because I assumed he was sleeping in due to working early mornings all week. By 11:00, and still no answer, I knew something was wrong. I then texted his Dad and asked if he’d heard anything from Chase. He said no, but that he would go to our house and make sure everything was okay. He went there with Chase’s brother, and soon after I received the worst phone call ever. His voice was frantic and he said, “Jenna, Chase is unconscious! We’ve called for an ambulance. Come right now!!” I was frantically running around bawling while trying to pack our bags as fast as I could before heading to Utah. Luckily, my Dad was able to drive us, since I was in no shape to be driving. Truthfully, I don’t remember the 3-hour drive all that much. I just remember getting updates, then that dreaded message from my Bishop saying Chase was being life-flighted to SLC. Death still wasn’t on my mind. I was thinking more about what we would possibly have to do for recovery, etc. As soon as we got into SLC though, the reality and panic set in and I immediately grabbed a bag and threw up. It felt like forever to get to the hospital, since it was Conference weekend and the streets were packed. I was getting frantic, wanting to scream out the window, “EVERYONE, PLEASE MOVE!! I started getting agitated and just wanted to get out of the car and start running. When we finally got to the hospital, I jumped out of the car, grabbed Jack, and ran into the lobby. As soon as I walked in, I instantly got dizzy and the nausea kicked back in. I handed Jack to my Dad, ran to the bathroom, and threw up one more time. Maybe deep down I knew it wasn’t going to be good, and I was scared to face reality.
When I walked into Chase’s room, I was shocked and taken aback, and I knew immediately this was way worse than I could have ever imagined. Within 5 minutes of being there, Chase’s doctor walked in to let us all know things didn’t look good. It was such a strange feeling seeing someone say those words so calm and collected. Shouldn’t this guy be heartbroken to deliver such hard news? I didn’t want to believe his words, so I was grasping for straws at this point, begging people to tell me everything was going to be ok. Deep down I knew he probably wasn’t going to make it, but I refused to believe it and I was not ready to face that reality.
Chase was then placed in a hypothermic state. The doctors decided they wouldn’t be doing any MRI’s or EEG’s for 24 hours to see if the brain swelling would go down. It was then we found out Chase had aspirated in his sleep, which deprived his brain and other organs of the oxygen they needed for many hours. The next 24 hours were hell. I felt helpless watching Chase hooked up to life support, his body quivering. The sound of a machine pushing air into his lungs and the ominous, never-ending sound of beeping machines still haunts me. This is something nobody can prepare you for.
One of my best friends, Kim, rushed to the hospital to take Jack for the night, and by midnight I decided to go sleep for a few hours at a hotel down the street so I could function and be prepared for the next day. On Sunday Chase’s vitals were all looking good, but he was still in a coma and we still had no idea how much brain damage had been done. By this time family and friends started pouring in and showing their support, which was a blessing. I couldn’t have doneSunday without some of my best friends and family by my side. It was a long, emotional and draining day.
That night I got to spend some alone time with Chase and i just held his hand while I talked to him. I tickled his arm and kept telling him I was there and to not be scared, to just relax, I was right there next to him, and would be throughout everything.
By Monday morning we knew we’d be getting the news soon on his brain function and I was physically sick. By this time I had hardly eaten in two days and I was exhausted and weak. At noon Elder Oaks came and gave him a beautiful blessing. As soon as it was over, I knew in my heart Chase was not going to be with us much longer. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I just knew.
Hours passed and, finally, the doctors pulled us into a room and delivered the news. Chase was showing no brain function. He was brain dead. After he said those words, I just zoned out. I don’t even remember anything else he said. At the end of the conversation, he brought up taking Chase off of life support and then looked at me to get the ok. I shook my head yes with tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t believe it. This was it. Chase was not going to be here much longer with us.
Before the life support machines were turned off, we all took a turn being alone with him in his room for a private goodbye. I crawled into his bed, laid my head on his chest and sobbed. The tears couldn’t stop. All I could say was, “Chase, I love you so much. I love you so much.” I promised him I would always take good care of Jack and we would keep his memory alive. I apologized for all of the times I could have been a better wife, and then I gave him a final kiss on his lips. My sister then brought Jack in and we laid on the bed as a family one last time. I couldn’t believe this would be the last time our baby boy would see his Dad. My heart could hardly handle it. I just remember telling Chase that Jack would always know him, and to please take care of us. That final goodbye was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do because I knew this would be the last time Jack would ever see his Dad on this earth.
I walked out, handed Jack to my sister, then went into the corner of the hallway and lost it. I l felt like my life was over. How was I ever going to overcome such a trial? I had never felt so such despair in my life. I couldn’t believe that this was actually happening to me. I was angry, sad, and broken.
After everyone had their alone-time with him, we all gathered in the room. Chase and I’s bishop gave a final prayer before we unplugged him from the machines. The doctor said Chase could go fairly quickly, but we were uncertain. By this time it was around 8pm. The nurses came in and unplugged everything. Then we just sat around his bed, held his hand, and spoke to him, hoping he’d slip away peacefully. Quickly, his breathing became labored and he seemed uncomfortable. About every 30 minutes nurses would come in to give him more sedation and pain meds to make sure he was as comfortable as possible and to keep his body calm. Hours passed, and his body kept fighting. We even said two more prayers pleading with our Heavenly Father to take him, and that we would be ok. Finally at 3:28am, after a 7-hour valiant fight, Chase took his last breath. I remember I was at the end of his bed and I thought I was going to collapse. I had never seen someone die, so to see my own husband pass on was more than I could see or take. My Mom quickly came to my side and held me as I was overcome with emotion. I couldn’t believe it. Just like that, he was gone. I kept saying over and over, “I can’t see him like this, Mom, I can’t see him dead. Just take me home.” So we tiredly gathered up our things and went out to the car to head home. Since my Mom didn’t know her way around Salt Lake, I drove her car with her, and my Dad drove his own. I was so numb, I didn’t even know how to get to the freeway, even though I had done that route hundreds of times. Finally, clear out in West Valley, I got my bearings and made it back to the freeway.
I remember walking in the house at around 4:15 am with the most empty feeling I had ever felt. I knew Jack would be waking in a few short hours and I wasn’t ready to face reality so soon. I went to our bathroom, filled up the tub, and sat in a hot bath as I cried the little bit of tears I had left. Then I went to Chase’s closet, pulled out his favorite sweats and a big oversized sweater and crawled into bed with his pillow. The sheets and everything smelled like him, and right then and there, I didn’t want to wake up. I just wanted to go. I know that sounds selfish, but I also wasn’t thinking clearly and going on very little sleep and food.
The next few days were a blur as we prepared for Chase’s funeral, picking out his casket, deciding what flowers, and a million other little things. I had no idea how much planning (and money) went into something so depressing. The morning of the viewing Chase’s parents, his brother, Preston, and sister, Laura, and I all gathered to see Chase’s body for the first time since he passed away. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to see him like that, but I kind of had no choice at this point. We were led into a room where his peaceful body was laying, and I was immediately breathless, sick, and shaking. We said a prayer for peace, then dressed him slowly in his temple clothing that he would be buried in. That moment was surreal, and to be quite honest, one of the harder things I had to do that week. I wasn’t quite prepared for that moment. But then again, is anyone prepared for something like that?
Something life-changing happened when I left the funeral home that day. I remember pulling up to a red light right by Bingham High School and I looked to my right and I made eye contact with a guy in a truck next to me. I instantly thought, “this guy has no idea what I just had to do.” And right then and there I thought to myself, “how many people have I passed who were facing something so tragic in that very moment and I just walked by them not knowing?” Because of this experience, I try harder to be kinder and more patient with strangers.
That night was Chase’s viewing. He had such a huge turnout, along with the funeral the next day. So many people loved Chase and he made friends wherever he went. That was one of Chase’s greatest qualities. He made everyone feel like they were his best friend and always made everyone around him feel so comfortable and special.
After the funeral, graveside service, and luncheon, I went to our home, grabbed the last of our stuff, and got on the road to Idaho, since I would be moving back in with my parents so I could get some help with Jack and get back on my feet.
Fast forward 5 months, and here I am. Today (Sep 6th) would have actually been Chase and I’s 2-year anniversary. I can truthfully say the days are getting a little easier. I still have moments with major setbacks. But, for the most part, I am starting to slowly heal. I don’t have that panic like I did those first few months where I literally felt like my soul was broken. Not that I still don’t feel that way sometimes, but I am starting to take baby steps towards a new life without Chase. And that doesn’t mean I have to forget about him to start a new beginning, because he will always be in the back of my mind until the day I die.
I guess if I have learned one thing from this experience, it’s to always trust my Heavenly Father’s plan. His plan was obviously different than what I had in mind. He sees the whole picture and I have to put my trust in his hands. After all, he gave his own life so I could endure this trial. My testimony has grown leaps and bounds since Chase’s passing, and sometimes I feel guilty that it took something so tragic to wake me up. But I am thankful for the many blessings and tender mercies that have come my way since April 2nd. So many life changes, mostly hard, but some, oh, so good and life altering.
Like Robert D. Hales said:
Won’t all of us, sometime, have reason to ask, “O God, where art thou?” Yes! When a spouse dies, a companion will wonder. When financial hardship befalls a family, a father will ask. When children wander from the path, a mother and father will cry out in sorrow. Yes, “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Then, in the dawn of our increased faith and understanding, we arise and choose to wait upon the Lord, saying, “Thy will be done.”