Jason Wright: Gratitude overtakes grief for widower
On Friday, Oct. 6, Katie Evans, of Santa Clarita, California, made one of countless long drives to visit her infant twin daughters at UCLA hospital. Born in August nearly 15 weeks early, Evans spent every possible moment at their side.
Late in the evening, Evans said goodbye to the girls and began the trip home to her husband, Jacob, and their four young sons. Less than a mile from home, Evans was involved in a crash too horrific for description.
It is believed she died instantly.
Interviewed by phone, Evans’s husband, Jacob, described the longest and most agonizing night of his life. When his wife hadn’t returned home in a reasonable amount of time, he became worried. After calls to friends and the hospital, he drove the route she would’ve taken home and in a matter of minutes was face to face with a police barricade.
The next few hours marched by like exhausted soldiers. Friends and members of his church family filled his home until finally, at 5:30 a.m., the coroner knocked on his door with one hand and held Katie’s driver’s license with the other.
“The first thing I thought was how do I tell my boys,” Evans said. Ranging from 12 to 2 years old. Spencer, Travis, Nathaniel and Gideon were all still asleep and oblivious to how their life would soon change.
“I decided I would tell the three older boys together, but that they deserved one last good night’s sleep. Travis woke up first and came downstairs. Bless his heart he didn’t ask questions about why there were so many people in the house first thing in the morning. But he had a nice breakfast, played games with the guests and really enjoyed that time until his brothers woke up.”
Soon they were also awake for a big breakfast and lots of love and attention. Then, when the moment was right, Evans gathered the three older boys for a family meeting. “We sat down and we sang our favorite hymn,” Evans explained. “(It’s) called Families Can Be Together Forever. My mother was also killed in a car crash four years ago and the song means so much to my family.”
Evans asked his sons what the song meant about God’s plan and he was gratified and comforted at how well they understood its eternal message and meaning.
Then I told them that God had asked them to exercise faith in that plan. I said their mother had been killed. The boys cried their little hearts out and I was so glad to have so many friends there to hug and hold them.”
The days since have seen Evans grief evolve into gratitude. “I have been blown away by the help from every direction. One kid in my son Travis’ class heard about the accident and used his allowance to buy Pokemon cards for my boys.”
Evans finished the story while choking back tears. “The boy put them in a box, decorated it with handmade cards and had it delivered. Later that same friend and another classmate, a little girl, set up a lemonade stand to raise money for our family.”
I asked Evans what his wife would think about the response since her passing. “She’d be so grateful for the concern for the kids. More than anything, that would be it. She would be so thankful that so many are loving her kids so much. We couldn’t ask for more.”
As Evans begins to process life without his sweetheart, he’s keenly aware of what she’d want. “Katie was an adventurer, a writer, teacher, a traveler, but a mother first. We took them everywhere to learn history, to see sights, to hike, to experience life and cultures. She’d want me to continue raising my kids that way.”
“Look,” Evans continued. “Katie was valedictorian of her class, she missed only one question on the SAT. She could have done anything. Literally anything. But she found balance in things she was passionate about, educating herself and raising her kids.”
Evans explained that Katie was also heavily involved with many online communities and was particularly willing to assist parents of children with autism. Their oldest, Spencer, is autistic and his mother was fiercely devoted to lifting him to his full potential. The family credits Spencer’s optimism and his upbeat approach to living to Katie’s unrelenting desire to learn, love and improve.
But her husband says her legacy won’t just be about the kids. She would want friends and family to forgive and not focus on the other driver. Evans says life is too short for anything other than letting go and moving on.
He’s taking his own advice seriously. In fact, when he heard that since Katie’s passing some within his company were expressing anger and frustration, Evans wrote an open letter to the employees. It read, in part, “I want you to know that I forgive the driver of that accident. Of course I am sorry that it happened. Of course I wish I could go back in time and change it, but we are all best served by moving forward with today’s reality and the best way to move forward is to honor Katie’s memory and focus on how to take care of her six children.”
As our interview ended, I asked Jacob Evans what final message he had for both those who knew and loved Katie and for those who will only meet her by reading her story. “Katie wasn’t perfect. No one is. But if you want to honor Katie, do what she did every day of her life. Go find a way to make the world a little better.”