August 22, 2015 started out as a normal Saturday. I was the only provider working at the urgent care clinic that day, so it had been a non-stop shift of treating sick and injured patients. I typically leave my phone on my desk on silent, so it was only by chance that I happened to see my phone light up as I was working on patient’s charts. Someone was calling me with a 307 area code. I knew that meant Jackson and therefore probably my sister Tyler.
“Is this Bear?” a childlike voice asked.
I instantly smiled. Tyler, being notorious for prank calls, must have gotten one of the kids she worked with to call me. Bear was her nickname for me.
My smile was short-lived. As she continued speaking, I realized this was not a child’s voice, but the voice of an utterly terrified adult giving me information that would change my life forever in the worst way possible.
“There’s been an accident.”
Tyler Nix Rebecca
I know they took helmets
No cell service
Search and rescue
Waiting to hear
It was not unusual to get a call from Tyler to tell us how she injured herself while jogging in the snow, skiing in the backcountry, or mountain biking. Describing her lifestyle as “active’ is a vast understatement. This is just another one of those calls, I told myself. Meredith, a friend and colleague of Tyler’s, had tracked down my phone number through friends of friends, and she told me all that she knew.
Minutes crept by, turning into several excruciating hours. I called both of my parents to give them what limited details I had. I continued to see patients. I looked up airfare to Jackson. I called Tyler’s phone over and over again, telling myself my efforts weren’t futile. She would eventually get cell service and answer, eager to tell me all about her latest adventure. She would laugh when she heard my worried voice.
Eventually my phone did ring, but it was my dad. Between hysterical wails, he choked out two words that I will never ever forget.
I don’t remember driving myself home. I don’t remember calling my husband and telling him. I don’t remember calling my little sister and telling her. The rest of that day is a complete blur of unimaginable pain and total shock. Without a doubt, it was the worst shock of my life.
There is no need to revisit the other dark details of that day, instead I will fast-forward three years, when I received the second biggest shock of my life, but this time a happy one.
At this point, life was pretty good. Our son Jack was four months old. We had survived the sleep-deprived what-are-we-doing early days and were enjoying our easy, happy baby.
On my way out of work one night, I decided to grab a pregnancy test on a whim. Without going into TMI details (because I know my grandparents are reading this), I was certain my delayed cycle was due to post-partum hormonal changes. I figured I would take a test just to give myself peace of mind. I started the test, waited five minutes before checking it, and saw that it was indeed negative. So I went to sleep.
I woke up the next morning, on August 22, 2018. I glanced down in the trash can as I was brushing my teeth and noticed that the test now had two pink lines.
Trust me- I have been asked “don’t you know how it works” and every other question in the book. I am certainly not claiming this was an immaculate conception, but as far as science goes, there should have been a less than 4% chance that I was pregnant. As someone who typically cannot stand surprises, this surprise was the best one ever (once we got past the confusion, shock, guilt and fear of having two under two).
Four months ago today, on April 22, 2019 we welcomed James Tyler Tomlinson, three weeks after his big brother turned one. We call him Ty and he has been the absolute greatest addition to our family.
It is so hard to believe that I have been grieving Tyler for four years, because in all that time, it hasn’t gotten one bit less painful. It is still hard to say her name out loud (which was why it took me a long time to decide on baby Ty’s name). Don’t get me wrong, the two incredible blessings I have been given have made my life (and all of our lives) SO much brighter. But at every birth, baptism, birthday, first word, first step- as full as my heart may be, it is still missing an important piece. Even the happiest of moments are still a little bittersweet. One of the hardest parts of grief is knowing that it is forever. Even when I’m 90 years old probably blind and senile, I’ll still be missing Tyler.
I think back at the posts I wrote on this blog in the days soon after her death and it seems like a completely different person wrote them. At some point it became too hard to even read them anymore, let alone write new ones. We have all grieved her in our own ways, and for me- it was easier to not talk about her, not look at pictures, not dwell on old memories and “what ifs”. It became easier for me to try to ignore my grief than to embrace it. I stopped obsessively searching for “signs” because it would be too disappointing when the signs stopped coming.
But when I looked at that double pink line on this day last year, I knew it was a sign from Tyler. My sister, born only 21 months before me, was going to make sure my children also experienced the intense bond that only siblings have. I call it “intense” bond instead of “loving” bond because although there was a lot of love and loyalty, there were quite a bit of fights too. Nobody will tell you the truth like a sibling will, even if it makes you want to punch them in the face. Nobody else knows every random memory and inside joke from your childhood like a sibling. Nobody can make you laugh, make you cry, read your mind, call out your lie like the person that was your roommate for nearly 18 years.
When people see my little boys, they first love to tell me “You’ve got your hands full!” followed by “They’re going to be best friends.” And that is one piece of unsolicited advice that I can agree with.
Our family is beyond grateful for all of those who have contributed to Tyler’s foundation over the past four years. We are committed to keeping her spirit alive and are working on a new website coming soon that will detail how we are using her foundation to benefit others.
In the meantime, to read about Tyler’s friend Meredith and what she has recently done in memory of both Tyler and Nix, check this out.