My Journey to Forgive

forgiveness grace

It’s finally over.  Nearly three years after my husband’s plane crash we finally have concrete evidence that shows the plane crash wasn’t Scott’s fault.  There is a part of me that feels relief… vindication for him, and a part of me that has struggled to forgive those who were at fault.

I remember watching a news cast just days after the crash.  They interviewed another pilot who didn’t even know my husband.  That pilot accused him of being “inexperienced” and “over-confident.”  I was so hurt… and angry that someone who didn’t even know him or the evidence could make such judgements.  Scott was so concerned with safety.  In fact, the safety record was one of the reasons he has purchased that plane.  I cannot tell you how often I woke up in the middle of the night to find my husband doing another online safety module on his iPad.  I thought, “How dare they defame my husband… how dare they hurt us when we are already hurting so much!”  I was angry at the news station for airing such a piece.  Later I got a chance to do a rebuttal interview and set the record straight, but it was just my word against his and it still bothered me.  

I wanted answers.  I wanted desperately to know what had happened. Why had a plane on auto pilot in clear sky suddenly plummeted, loosing tail and wings, bursting into flames before it hit the ground? 

A week later I got the maintenance bill for the plane.  It had been in for major service in Kansas, and Scott driven there and picked it up right before his trip.  The story began to unfold… some of the repairs had failed and additional work was done on the plane in California.  I saw my husband’s phone logs the morning of the crash.  He has called around all day trying to find the part to fix the problem.  I talked with mechanics who had seen the plane and testified of the shotty work done by the first maintenance crew. In the end, Scott had elected to fly it home, knowing that one of the back-up systems was not functional. Was the failed back-up system the reason for the crash? It was torture not knowing what had happened. I couldn’t even think about it, or it threw me into deep despair and grief. I was angry at the mechanics, and  I was mad at my husband for not telling me about the mechanical problems.  

I wondered if it was my fault that he had chosen to fly home.   Did he fly because he knew that I was making dinner and expecting him, and he didn’t want to disappoint me?  Did he ignore a prompting not to get into the plane that night?  Was it my fault he didn’t listen?

I remember going to a widow’s conference in Utah 4 months after my husband’s death.  I listened to a widower speak about the death of his pregnant wife and several other children in a drunk-driving accident. (see the featured video on the Forgiveness page)  He talked about that night and how he had just felt peace and happiness with his family when they piled into that car.  I remembered back to my own experience the night of the accident and the reassuring peace and love I had felt as I had watched my children skip down the Galloway trail.  The words has so easily come into my mind, “If something happens to Scott, you will be okay.  You could still be happy.  This would be enough.”  In that moment sitting in that room and listened to that talk, I had gotten my first answer and it hit my heart so profoundly…. No, Scott had not gotten a prompting that he ignored.  He felt the same peace that I did.  This accident was part of God’s plan, not something that God caused to happen, but something that he allowed to happen because of the things it would teach us.

That realization became the foundation of my forgiving.  I remembered back to the morning we found out about the accident.  So clearly I had heard the words in my head, “This was suppose to happen.”  The plane crash was the mechanism of my husband’s death, but his dyeing was part of God’s plan for our family.  It was something I undeniably knew.  There was hope… I could let this go… I could forgive.

Then another bill came for the plane crash and all of the old anger flared up.  The company was suing me for the cost of the repairs.  I literally could not believe that they had the nerve and the heartlessness to demand payment when their work had clearly led to the crash. My husband had trusted them.  He had gone to great lengths to get the plane to Kansas so their company could service it.  They were supposed to be the best.  They were supposed to be the safest choice. I  struggled to convince myself that it didn’t matter… that this was only the way his died. 

For months I was thrown back into emotional turmoil every time I had to deal with the NTSB investigation.  In the end, their findings were inconclusive.  I talked to the lead investigator and he assured me that it wasn’t Scott’s fault, but they simple did not have the resources to perform the investigation that was required.  So much of the evidence was gone… destroyed in the fire.  I cried when I read the report... I fell apart again.

In order to fight the lawsuit and with a desire to know the truth, I elected to allow a firm to take on the case. It took great effort to free myself from the entrapment of anger and hurt that surrounded me whenever I was forced to deal with the legal issues surrounding the crash.  I had to go over the story again, listen to the tapes of my husband talking to air traffic control, learn of new findings and write about the losses each one of us had suffered.  It broke my heart to read what each of my children wrote about their own loss.  

Anger numbed the pain, but it pulled me from the spirit, and I now knew I needed the spirit like I needed air.  Anger numbed the pain, but it pulled me from the spirit, and I now knew I needed the spirit like I needed air.  I desperately fought each time to remind myself of truths I already knew.  I reread my journal entries and peace returned.

Finally, after shipping the plane to Florida and dozens of expert witnesses, a plausible explanation had been found.  The heater had been replaced, yet it was not found bolted to it’s brackets.  It was found in a different compartment of the plane, yet the brackets showed no sign of sheering force… there were not even marks from the bolts that should have secured it.  Someone forgot to tighten the bolts.  When it vibrated loose, the exhaust from the heater had detached causing the plane to depressurize.  At 27,000 feet the windows and instruments would have instantaneously iced over and Scott and his dad would have had no air to breathe.  From there the information is sketchy.  Either Scott purposefully took the plane off autopilot in an attempt to get to a lower altitude or he bumped it as he reached for the oxygen canister.  

In the first scenario, he would have held his breath as he put the plane into a dive… that would have explained why there was no destress call.  Unfortunately he need about 5 minutes to get to a breathing altitude, and altitude that they would never reach alive.  If Scott had bumped the autopilot, without instruments and visual markers outside the window, it would have been impossible to correct the trajectory of the plane.  They believe that within 5 seconds it was not salvageable. 

The thought of my husband dying in either scenario was not comforting… the pictures that came to mind were very disturbing.  In tears I turned to the Lord in prayer and poured out my worries and concerns.  Peace was spoken to my heart, and I felt that they did not suffer.  I knew my husband did not panic, but that his thoughts were longly of us.

With the new information we could now approach the company to drop the lawsuit.  Faced with a counter lawsuit, they agreed, but unfortunately were grossly underinsured.  The cost of the investigation, the fees of the lawyers and the other people who stood to gain reduced my settlement to the equivalent of 1 months of my husband’s wages.  I had hoped to be able to do good with any settlement that we might receive. It was disappointing and I again I struggled to forgive.  

Furthermore, they made us sign a waver saying that we would not personally defame their company.  This was just another insult.  I wanted someone to tell me they were sorry.  Sorry for the the hurt, the pain, the legal and financial issue I have faced.  Sorry that they took away our future. Sorry that they took them away from us… Didn’t they realize that they were wonderful and amazing people who had so much life and love to give everyone around them… that Scott was a doctor, a husband, a father, a brother… that his dad was a grandfather and husband too? Didn’t that realize how many lives they had devastated by their carelessness?

I vented to my lawyer, but that was all of the resolution I would ever have.  I would never know who had forgotten to tighten the bolts or why.  I would never sit face to face with the owner of the company and explain my pain.  To them we were just a legal matter that their lawyer had to deal with. I signed the papers so that we could finally be done with this, but I still wasn’t done with it… I still wrestled in my mind. 

I prayed for help to forgive and as I prayed a new thought entered my mind… I didn’t know what was going on with the mechanic that day.  I didn’t know why he had been distracted.  Perhaps his daughter was sick in the hospital, or maybe his wife had just filed for divorce, or maybe he had just lost his dad to cancer.  With those thoughts, I began to feel empathy for the mechanic who later found out that the plane he had worked on had crashed and killed two young men.  I wondered if he had lost his job and how he had worried.  Maybe I was not the only one who was feeling pain, and that thought gave me the power to forgive.

As we choose to put hate aside and allow empathy to flow into us then His healing balm of forgiveness comes… and it comes again and again and again… each time we choose to set aside the hate.Sometimes we don’t get that chance to face those who have wronged us.  Sometimes they don’t care and they aren’t even sorry, but nevertheless, I learned that for my future, I had to forgive.  I had to set it aside and let it go.  I had to rely on the promptings and assurances that I had had from the Spirit when I had prayed for comfort.  That had to be enough.  

Why was it enough? It was enough because Christ suffered for our hurts not just for our sins.  He knows how I and my children feel; he know’s how Scott’s family and how the mechanic who worked on the plane feels.  He took that hurt, He felt it and He knows how to get through it.  He has offered the gift of His grace to everyone who will humbly seek it.  As we choose to put hate aside and allow empathy to flow into us then His healing balm of forgiveness comes… and it comes again and again and again… each time we choose to set aside the hate.

His love can heal any wound.  I know it and I have felt it.  He can give you the power to forgive, no matter the wrong, if only you will trust Him and let Him come into you.

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