Life is Fragile: Handle with Prayer
The year of 2004, my sixteenth year, started off bad and got worse. Early January of that year, my diabetic grandmother, a former smoker, mother of ten children, and survival of breast cancer and other such illnesses, was sent to the hospital after a serious heart attack. My grandmother was in and out of the hospital for as long as I remember; she had a heart attack the first time she held me in her arms. But this time, the situation was different. The heart attack was far more severe, and she had to go through extensive rehabilitation. Not at the best health himself, my grandfather was no longer able to take primary care of his wife of fifty plus years. The last thing my grandmother wanted was the inevitability she must face: for at least six months she would have to live in a nursing home.

Though my grandmother was rather unhappy with her new home, my personal and social teenage life continued normally. I tried not to worry too much about when I'd have to see my beloved dying grandmother's tombstone, so I just carried on with life, as she wanted. However, it was only January 13th when the first death of the year struck my family and friends.

I was at a friend's house, and my mom called me home, sounding increasingly upset and sobbing. I raced home as hastily and carefully as I could manage; I was only thinking that God had finally taken my grandmother from this world. When I arrived home, my fears were close, but far from the truth. My mother's cousin, his two sons, his friends, and his friend's daughter were all in a terribly fatal car accident. Brad Register, my second-cousin, was riding home in a tracker, followed by a car of his best friend and friend's three-year-old daughter, and his two sons: Brennan Register, age six, and Brance Register, turning two the next month. A drunken track-trailer driver ran a stop sign a hit the two vehicles head- on, throwing Brad helpless off the tracker, and inflaming the car of innocent children. The heartless bastard ran from the scene, leaving his victims to burn helpless in the wreckage. Luckily, Brennan escaped the car with no more than a scratch, and Brad lived from hospitals, to intensive care units, to rehabilitation units until he finally recovered. but there was no hope for the other three; the innocent burned, and my baby cousin was dead.

Visits to Brad in the hospital were quite common for my family now; we all had to support each other, and Brad's wife needed all the support she could get; she was eight months pregnant with a third son. I had to support my cousin, Kayley, who had frequently baby-sat Brennan and Brance. She was one of those young teen girls that loved babies, and she was like a little sister to me. I tried my best, but there was little I could do for her. She sang 'Jesus Loves the Little Children' at Brance's funeral, which wasn't until Brad got out of the hospital several months later. There is now a park in Homerville named for Brance and the baby girl.

To this day I remember the extraordinary conversation between Brennan and his mother at the hospital outside of Brad's room.
"Mommy, where's Brance?" the oblivious survivor asked. He had no recollection of the crash, and didn't even bear a scar.
Thinking what to say to him for some time, his mother replied, "Brancie is Heaven with Jesus now."
Brennan smiled. "Good. I'll be able to see him again one day."

Less than a month after Brance's death, my band director's wife lost her battle with cancer. The entire band program was greatly affected by this tragedy, regardless of how prepared we were for it. No one, not her, not her family, not the doctors, actually believed she could beat it since it was in her bone marrow. For a week before the death she was in the hospital, struggling and fighting for life. Needless to say, my band director-my musical and spirited mentor-was subtly changed.

Just a few weeks later, I discovered another tragedy in my midst. Last year, my best friend and his family moved to Illinois, but I did my best to stay in touch. Our families were so connected that he felt great sympathy when my cousin died, so naturally, I felt the same way when his cousin was killed in a motorcycle accident. This tragedy was heightened a week later when the deceased's grief-stricken brother was in an accident as well. Awakening on the hospital bed, all he did was ask for his brother, hoping against hope that it was all a bad dream. But it was no dream; what happened was real.

By April, everyone expected things to settle down. My friend from Illinois came down for Spring Break, and on Good Friday we went with some friends to the beach. On the way back, my brother called, informing us that three girls from our schooled had died instantly when a semi truck hit the car they were in. Meghan and Mary Gaskins and Kelly Grady, three cheerleaders and well-liked girls, were gone. Meghan and Kelly were just a year younger than me, and Mary was my little sister's age. The Gaskins girls were daughters of one of my favorite teachers, and Kelly was the younger sister to an old friend of mine. My school, nay, my entire community, was in shock and tears.

Easter Sunday was the viewing for the Gaskins girls. I waited over five hours just to see the family, and it was reported as the longest line at a funeral home in Blackshear history. The next Monday, school was desolate and dreary. That afternoon was the funeral, followed by Kelly's viewing; both of which extremely crowded. The next day, half the school was out, and no one was counted absent. Kelly's funeral was in the afternoon, and the morale at my school was in shambles. Mrs. Gaskins, who had a hysterectomy just a few weeks before the accident, never returned to school that year.

I tried not to let any of this affect me too much. I was still me; I still had my friends and my family. But things just weren't the same.

In May, my Uncle Marty had a stroke. His brain was damaged and he had a hard time retorting in his usually manner. As he put it, his "bullshitter's broken." Little did he know that soon, that would be the least of his worries.

In June, Bob Tonning died. My brother, sister, and I were alter servers for his funeral, and that meant the world to his family. The Tonnings and the Karles were long-time family friends; they lived on the same street, went to the same church, and worked and influenced the same great town. If there was one man that had more of an influence on the development of Waycross in the time period, it was Mr. Tonning. His death wasn't too long, painful, or drawn out, and he lived and long and prosperous life. But he died at home, not at a nursing home, and my grandmother's rehabilitation was now over.

The week after Mr. Tonning's funeral I went to stay in Birmingham with my aunt for a week. It was in this week that my grandmother pushed and begged to go home so she could die happy. She knew she was old, she knew she was incredibly unhealthy, and she knew that her time would soon come; she also knew she didn't want to be in the nursing home any longer, and her home would be so much more peaceful for her final days. My aunt was a specialized pediatrician and worked in several of the hospitals of Birmingham; she knew that her mother could live on for several more years, and it could harm her father tremendously to try and take care of her. The nursing home was expensive enough; there was no way my grandmother would be able to afford home care. But the objections of my grandparents' children weren't enough to keep my grandmother in the home. She is much happier at her own house, where she raised so many children, but it is still questionable if that was truly the right decision.

For months after that, everything was fine. No deaths, no hospitalizations, nothing too serious at all. I was a naive fool to think that could last.

During Fall Break, my sister ran into my room incredibly flustered and upset, begging me to call Jadee Rudisail, a friend of mine, to check on her brother, who was my sister's age. I called my girlfriend for the number, and then called my friend. It was just as I had feared; her brother was dead. He and his best friend were hit by a train as they crossed the tracks in his car; both died instantly. Derrick Smart, the driver, was Meghan and Kelly's age, and Brent Rudisail, Jadee's little brother, was Mary's age.

Somehow I managed to find my way to my Jadee's house, where I did what little I could to comfort her. Silence was golden in the sad, nearly empty house. Most of her family and friends were at the hospital, together. Everyone at her house begged Jadee to go to the hospital with her family, but she refused; if she went there, it would all be a reality. and she didn't want it to be a reality.

Jadee kept bringing up anecdotes of the brother and Derrick, hoping the memories would somehow bring them back to her. She said they said something smarty to her as they left, so she shot them a bird. and that was the last thing she ever said to them.

Two days later, the viewing made it a reality for sure. People from my school and surrounding schools flocked to see the two boys and their families; Jadee somehow managed to say through her sobbing that she just kept expecting her brother to sit up and tell her to 'shut the hell up,' or something mean like that. To this day, Jadee has returned to school only once.

Uncle Marty, who had a stroke last May, is now the object of focus. He had open-heart surgery with five bypasses, and then suffered and massive stroke. He can no longer talk or move any part the right side of his body. all he can do is stare and squeeze hands with his left one. I went to see him today, right after it happened. He looked so blank, so helpless, so.

The next twenty-four hours for my uncle are going to the crucial in determining whether he survives or not, and whether he will ever recover. I love my family and friends. I really don't want to go to another funeral this year; I think I've had enough.

Please. pray for us all.