Car crash provides student with new perspective on life

“It’s a sign that I have a purpose, and that I was meant to be here, and it wasn’t my time to go.”

Senior Emma Graening  grabbed her mustard colored backpack and jogged out to her white chevy ’08 Impala. She was wearing her favorite yellow sweater. It was the sweater she wore when she knew it was going to be a good day.

“Today,” she had thought to herself on her way to school that morning, “Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, is going to be a good day.”

And it had been good day. She had eaten grilled cheese for lunch, gone to play practice and spent time with her friends. Now she was finally headed home.

She tapped her freshly painted pink nails on the steering wheel, listening to one of her favorite albums, “Digital Ash in a Digital Urn” by Bright Eyes.  She looked at the clock to see that it was 6:32 and sent a quick text to her dad, Jared Graening, to let him know that she would be home soon.

At 7:18, Jared looked at his watch. His daughter Sophia sat next to him. They were driving home from Cedar Falls on Highway 218. Up ahead, flashing red and blue lights indicated that someone had gotten into an accident. He did not think much of it. Emma was supposed to be home by now.

“I remember I was traveling north to Waverly with Emma’s sister, Sophia. When we came around the corner, you could see in the distance that there was an accident, and my first thought was to look at my watch. I knew that Emma should have been home by then, but as we got closer, I was able to tell that it was her car in the ditch. I didn’t really think about it. I just stopped my car and ran. I checked the license plate to confirm that it was in fact Emma’s car. Immediately after that, I got back into my car, and we drove to the hospital in Waverly.”

The light blinded Emma as she opened her eyes. Shrill beeps bombarded her from all sides. She brought her hand to her face and felt something wet under her eyebrow. Her hand came away red. Everything hurt. She couldn’t move her legs.

“What happened to me?” She asked in confusion. “Why am I in the hospital?”

Her dad took her hand. Sophia sat next to him. She was crying. “You were in a car crash, Emma,” he said.

Emma looked down at her lap. She was still wearing her favorite yellow sweater, except now splotches of red dotted the fabric. Her trademark pink nail polish was chipping.

She strained to remember a crash, but nothing would stick. She asked questions over and over, forgetting the answers each time.

“Am I wearing my yellow sweater?” Emma would ask repeatedly. “Yes,” her father would say.

“Was I driving home from Beaver Hills?” She asked again and again.

“Yes,” he would reply.

After spending a couple of days in the ICU, Emma was transferred to the Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, where she spent the remainder of her recovery.

The accident left Emma with a cut below her eyebrow, a broken pelvis, a broken tailbone, two collapsed lungs, a broken vertebrae and a lacerated liver and spleen.

Regarding her miraculous survival and recovery, she said, “It was just so weird. It was so surreal. The weird thing is that I didn’t pass out during my accident. I was conscious the whole time, but I was in so much shock that I don’t remember it. I was awake, so why can’t I remember it? And why didn’t I need any physical therapy? I shouldn’t have been fine, but I was. I don’t know why I’m not dead or paralyzed. I just don’t know.”

Emma’s miraculous recovery was not the only bizarre thing about her crash. A year before, on the exact same date, Oct. 6, 2015, Emma had also been hospitalized, but for a different reason entirely.

In her junior high years, she had struggled with a great deal of anxiety and depression. Constantly being picked on by her peers pushed her to a breaking point near the beginning of her sophomore year.  Emma struggled to go to school and had breakdowns daily. Everyday life grew harder and harder for her to deal with.

It reached a point where Emma’s parents were considering sending her to a residential treatment facility in Chicago. However, there were no available beds, so Emma had to wait to attend.

“Oct. 6 rolled around, and I remember that I came home from school, and I had a manic episode. I took some of my mom’s cancer meds, and I self harmed, and I remember that I wanted to run away. I grabbed a yellow backpack, some crackers, letters that people had written to me over the years, a sweatshirt, a notebook and a pencil, and five bucks,” she paused. “I went on a walk, and I remember that I was crying. Other than that, I don’t really remember much. A lady found me on the side of the road in the country, and she took me to the hospital. They committed me after that.”

Emma was committed to an inpatient mental health facility in Independence until she was later transported to the residential facility located in Chicago that she had previously planned on attending. The day she arrived, she wore her yellow sweater.

“It was going to be a good day,” she told herself. She remained at that facility for one month before being released.

“As scary as it was, I don’t want to say I’m glad that it happened, because it sucked, but it definitely was kind of a reality check for me. It was important. I think I really needed that to get it through my head that I was not dealing with things in a way that I should have been. I needed a wake up call,” Emma said.

She reflected over the significance of the traumatic incidents happening on the same day a year a part.

“I’m not a religious person, but some days I have really tough days, and I think life is so hard, and I’m so sad and I feel like things never get better, but then I realize that those two things happening on the same day a year a part is a sign that I am supposed to be here. And if God or whoever rules the universe wanted me dead, I’d be gone. It’s a sign that I have a purpose, and that I was meant to be here, and it wasn’t my time to go. I could have been paralyzed. I could have been brain damaged. But I’m not. Honestly, I’ve felt at times like I am the most unlucky girl out there, and then I think of this, and I realize that I’m so lucky. It just blows my mind.”

Emma’s father shared the pride that he and his wife felt for their daughter and her perseverance.

“We are extremely proud of Emma. She’s come a long way, and she did it all herself. Everything that she’s been able to accomplish over the past two years is all because of her and her hard work, her commitment to working on things that she’s struggled with and making herself better, so we’re extremely proud of her.”

As October rolled around this year, Emma went to the salon to get her nails done — her trademark pink color. She no longer has her yellow sweater, but she decided to wear something yellow anyway.

She pulls on her new shirt, the fabric tickling her skin, reminding her of what it means to be alive.

“It is going to be a good day,” she told herself. “It’s going to be a good day.”

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