A Sudden Tragedy


A sudden tragedy that affects intimate members of a family can be catastrophic, but in our family, that was not the case.  Fran Goodlin, a mother of five, a loving wife and one who was obsessed with her horses died on Saturday, September 22, 2007 due to a freak accident riding her favored horse, Phantom.  Unbelievable.  This couldn’t have happened.  "Why?  What was Jesus thinking?  Why so sudden?"  These are the types of thoughts I had to begin processing merely hours after the accident...

"Why?  What was Jesus thinking?  Why so sudden?" 

On a quiet Saturday afternoon, Fran decided to get Phantom out for a little afternoon grazing.  This is often what she did on a daily basis – whether she decided to take a break from work or take the afternoon off, Fran adored these four legged animals.  In fact, when visiting her on the Friday previous to her accident, to my surprise she had those furry beasts spread out over our 2.5 acre mini-farm.  I always referred to our house as “The Goodlin Ranch” or “The Goodlin Farm” – phrases that accurately describe my mom’s love for animals and how many creatures and animals we had floating around our Monument house.  Recently, my Dad bought Fran a Parrelli course which emphasizes and focuses its teaching on natural horsemanship.  Ecstatic about the possibilities and the gift she has been longing for quite some time, she quickly launched into this DVD based course to learn the best way to train her horses.

So on this warm Saturday afternoon, she decided to take Phantom over to the neighbors to enjoy a warm Colorado fall day and visit.  Fran always took the proper precautions after a previous horse accident and began wearing a helmet when riding. However, she had trained Phantom well and was comfortable riding bare-back that day as she was only going a few feet away from the corral.  After the accident, I remember talking with the neighbors that witnessed it all and one of them mentioned how Fran would always bring Phantom over to ‘mow the lawn’ – meaning graze, eating grass, making the grass shorter.  Get it?  Mowing the lawn?  My Mom did have cheesy humor sometimes.  That’s something I loved about her.  Anyway, after a brief conversation our neighbor headed back into the house and that’s the last time she talked with Fran.  She does recall hearing Fran screaming at Phantom to stop.  She also recollects how fast the events unfolded and had little time to respond to the panicked tone in the distance.  According to witnesses, the horse was obviously spooked by something and continued to run at a full sprint towards Highway 105.  This county highway is the main drag through Monument and usually has a fair amount of traffic.  Fran, riding Phantom, reached Highway 105 and witnesses say Phantom attempted to leap over this two-laned stretch of road, falling backwards and causing Fran to plummet to the ground resulting in her death.  Two ladies actually witnessed Phantom making the leap and assured us Fran did not suffer and passed instantly.  Even so, first responders from the Tri-Lakes Fire Department worked tirelessly to revive her but, to our dismay, were unable to.

Finding out about this tragedy a few hours later sent me into a state of shock  and immediate concern about other family members.  I remember the evening vividly.  Noelle and I had just finished up a delightful afternoon with her Dad and Lynn, showing them our church that we were to be married in.  We had dinner downtown and were about to walk into Noelle’s house to watch a movie and eat ice cream.  Before we got in the door, Noelle received a phone call from Maggie, a good friend of ours, with the news.  Unfortunately, Fran didn’t have names clearly defined in her phone and the fire department didn’t know who to contact.  Long story, but needless to say, I now have Noelle labeled as “Wife” in my phone.

Initially, I wasn’t sure what to do.  Do I cry?  How about throw-up?  I certainly felt like I could of.  Instead of all that, I began to think this was misinformation.  Noelle and I hopped into the car and sped off to my house in Monument, where I found out the truth.  She actually died!  I couldn’t believe it.  Suddenly, I felt helpless and didn’t know what the next steps were.  My Dad was on a business trip and after looking around for his itinerary, I discovered he didn’t get in till 9ish.  He hadn’t heard the tragic news yet.  He’s was still on a plane back to Denver.  After wavering back and forth whether to try and make it to the airport on time, Noelle convinced me to go for it.  So again, Noelle and I made our way up I-25 to DIA (Denver International Airport).  For the record – yes I did speed and yes I blew the tolls on I-470, but of course I had good reason.  The Denver PD, the Coroners office and the airport staff worked with me to make sure I’d make it on time so my Dad would not have time to even react when debarking the plane.  The pilot of the aircraft even slowed his taxi so that Noelle and I could make it there on time.  It was amazing to see all the coordination that took place to ensure our meeting.

I will never forget what happened next.  I’m sure you can imagine how terrified I was to tell him the news.  Think about this.  Right before my dad boarded the plane to come home to his wife, they spoke on the phone.  Nothing was wrong and everything seemed as normal.  Now he would be getting off the plane to discover his wife of 19 years is gone.  So I was really feeling sick by this time – waiting in anticipation of him responding in ways I never imagined.  I was still holding it together, and I really feel God supplied ample grace during that time so that I could be there for him.  When we made contact, I asked him to sit down but he refused so I took him over to the chairs of a pretty desolate airport at that time.  I said, “Dad, there’s been an accident and Mom is gone.”   I think that moment will be engrained in my brain for life.  His face had a look of such despair and he responded in a way I did not expect.  To be honest, I didn’t know what to expect or how he would respond, so I embraced him making an effort to comfort him repeating over and over that I was sorry.  I didn’t know what else to say.  Ugh…its so hard to explain how difficult that was for me – to see my dad in so much pain, to see him wailing in such a way I’ve never seen before.  What a horrible scene.

I guess it was about 20-30 minutes later when we got up and left.  My dad’s colleague was with him and was very helpful.  She and Noelle went one way and my dad and I went another.  We walked out the door and jumped in the jeep curbside and headed home.  Frequently, dad would have outbursts during the hour-long drive, and I would continue to try and comfort him.  I felt helpless.  How do you disarm a situation of this nature?  You can’t.  You just need to be consistent, reassuring, and be able to tolerate anything.  So this event was probably one of the most bittersweet experiences of my life.  It was so tragic and difficult, but I was able to be there at my Dad’s side to give him the news.  I wouldn’t have been anywhere else.   Driving home seemed like a lifetime, but once we arrived, there were plenty of friends to take care of us including Noelle’s dad and stepmom, Lynn.  Over the next hour or two, it was quite the wailing fest.  I’ve never cried that much in my entire life.  I didn’t care what I sounded like – I just let it out till I couldn’t anymore.  That was the first time Noelle had seen me cry.  I’m not a big crier, but when I do, I seem to be an emotional wreck.  My dad and I got no sleep that night.  In fact, I remember laying out in the living room and starring at the ceiling, back at my dad and the ceiling again.  It was such a long night.  I was hurting so badly, not only for my own loss, but for my dad as well.  He’s blood!  I love him so much and it was killing me inside to see him so torn.  Over the next few days, family arrived from all corners and coasts.  They were so great, but the Goodlin house filled up quick, which meant kid pandemonium.  This wasn’t a bad thing – just not used to it.  I found myself needing quiet time often, so I would retreat to the office and star into space in between standing guard at my dad’s side.  I was so protective over my dad.  I didn’t want him to worry about a thing and soon decided it would be best if I moved in with him until I got married.

After planning and making decisions about what to do with Mom’s body, we finally nailed down a date for a memorial service at the World Prayer Center.  Ahhh, what a glorious day that was!  The memorial service was full of great stories and of course some sadness – but Jesus was definitely glorified that day. He knew what was going on and there was such assurance that Mom was dancing in Heaven with the Almighty!  That sanctuary was packed from wall to wall.  I couldn’t believe how many people showed up.  So after the choir did their thing and Ross spoke, it was time for the few of us in the family including my dad to speak and say a few things.  Let’s say I was pretty anxious about getting up there and speaking, especially when I broke down as the choir got up and sang.  But once I got up there, I was in the zone talking about my mom – about the good things and the times we remembered.  Even then as I spoke, I found myself thinking back to favorable times with Fran at the Goodlin house.  I thought about times back in Shawnee, KS where we first lived as a family and how difficult it must have been for Fran and Dan to merge all of us.  I must say they did an incredible job!  Unbelievably, we all turned out ok.

Looking back at these events in retrospect, I learned that God is more strategic than we know.  It takes an experience of this magnitude to really see what the Lord had in mind.  There were many things that took place prior to Fran’s death that make total sense now.  What does this mean looking at the big picture?  I am confident Jesus knew that Fran was going to die when she did.  It was unfortunate, but because of God’s design, He had our best interest in mind.  What is your plan?  Do you really let God clear the path for you or are there obstacles in the way?  These represent a small fraction of questions I’ve been asking myself since her death.  Gosh, I guess I need to read the Bible more so that I can have some answers to these ever-circulating questions in my head.

Anyway, it’s been an interesting journey so far.  My dad is doing well – as well as can be expected.  He’s doing an excellent job of walking through the grief process.  From what I’ve observed, it seems very healthy.  He’s such a good man – a man that walks with the Lord, soaks His word up everyday and sets a godly example for me.  I love him so much.  I’m moved out now.  Obviously, since I got married and now I get to share a bed with my bride.  How amazing!  Noelle has helped in ways I can’t express in words.  She has been my rock, loving supporter and now she is my wife.  I have endless freedom to open up with her and since her Mom passed 7 years ago, she can relate to what the Goodlins are going through.  She has been more than amazing.  Thanks babycakes.

To conclude, I want to give God the glory He deserves.  He is awesome, omnipotent, wonderful, loving, caring, gentle, kind, and a guardian.  He is my God, and I will never stop serving Him.  He is my King.