When the Rain Falls Hard
by Maurine Jensen Proctor
It’s that time of year again, when Christmas lights are strung against the dark, good smells fill the air, and Claudia and Steve Goodman are caught in memory. It was on a Sunday afternoon in December 1996, when the world was busy celebrating the Savior, that their little red Diahatsu was struck broadside in an intersection, smashed and twisted like a tin can, thrown into a field, and three of their children David, 12: Peter, 11; and LeAnne, 10 were killed. Two other daughters, Aimee and Andrea were life flighted to local hospitals, not expected to live, and Steve would only remember a bright light and the whirr of the life flight helicopter before pain was absorbed in the darkness of unconsciousness.
It was an accident filled with irony. Christmas, we think, should somehow be a time of protection, when the cruelties and mishaps of the world fall away and for a little season, all is well. Christmas carols should not be drowned out with the clash of steel on steel, or colored lights adorn a house of mourning. What’s more, many people counted the world a better place because the Goodman family with their twelve children sang together.
Earlier in 1996, the Goodman family had begun to make newspaper headlines because they had gone to a UN conference in Istanbul, where radical forces were ramming through resolutions bent on dismantling the family. They had not gone to politick or lobby, but to present a program that asked, “Who will raise a voice for the family?” With sweet faces and winning voices, their children had presented a convincing picture-that home was the fortress of love, and that family was the strength and joy of life. People in their audiences, not even knowing why, cried when they sang, as if their message touched a chord of memory, an idea of a world of deep, committed relationships where each person was valued in a family setting.
There was something about this family that caught hearts. Maybe it was David’s remarkable voice, a young Donny Osmond in the making. Maybe it was Peter’s mathematical mind; he seemed to automatically know the number of chairs in each theater. They were so polite, so kind, quick to greet people in their own language, quick to take the long days with smiles.Surprise for the Anti-family Forces
The anti-family forces had expected a UN resolution from the Istanbul conference that would express their plan of action. Instead, a miracle happened. Instead of feeling like they had to follow the lead of a few western nations with their radical, anti-family ideas, the delegates from the developing nations stood up and were counted. They said they wouldn’t vote for any resolution that undid the natural family. The Goodmans songs about the family had found their way into hearts and played a key part in urging delegates to stand for something.
Then in November, just three weeks before that terrible afternoon, the Goodmans had been in Rome meeting the Pope. They hoped to sing for him, weren’t sure they could, but just as he was about to leave the ornate chapel where they met, there was a moment, a pause. Steve had given a nod to Aimee and she began singing in Italian, “I am a child of God.”
So, the Goodman family had come to belong to everyone who knew them. They had become the very symbol of the family-of a handful of people who worked when they were too tired and had faith to make a stand, even when their hearts were shaking.
Not them, people thought when news of the accident flew around the world that December three years ago. Not those lovely children. If a blanket of protection didn’t surround the Goodmans, then life was infinitely more fragile than everyone had thought. How can this be?
Where is God? And in the hours following the accident as three children lay in the mortuary, two more on the edge of death, and a father unconscious, people wondered how can Claudia survive? To what Grand Canyon of pain has she been introduced, and how will she ever smile again?
Here is the story the newspapers never told.No Warning
As the Goodmans had come home from Rome that November of 1996, not the slightest hint of worry marred their days. No subtle, chill wind made them shiver, no uneasiness plagued them. Later, looking back, offhand moments took on greater significance, of course. Claudia, for example, felt an urgency to get the family’s picture taken for their CD cover. A rhythm plagued her, “It has to be done right away, right away.”
Phrases that seemed insignificant at the moment later became large. For years the Goodmans had put on a Christmas program, becoming more polished with time, but consistent in that it was centered in Christ’s birth and always had a nativity scene. The chance to play Mary had worked its way down the family from the older to the younger girls. LeAnne had had her turn, but for the last two years the honor had gone to Aimee, the youngest.
This year, however, LeAnne wanted to play Mary again. For someone usually so quiet and unassuming, the depth of her desire was unusual. She just begged and begged Claudia, saying, “Please let me be Mary. It’s the last year I can ever get to be her. It’s the last year.”
Sunday morning, December 8, was hectic. The Goodmans spoke in church, then piled into two cars to drive 45 miles south to Provo for a family gathering. When it came time for the return trip, Claudia stayed behind with the older girls to hear them perform in a BYU student ward, and Steve drove the younger children home.
Andrea piled into the passenger seat of the little red Daihatsu next to her father and four children crowded in back-David, Peter, LeAnne and Aimee. Claudia waved goodbye without a second thought, “See you in a little while.”
“Did I kiss them goodbye? I don’t remember,” said Claudia. “I thought I was going to see them in a couple of hours.”
The weather was cheerless, a December slate gray as the red Daihatsu headed north on the I-15 toward Sandy. In the car Andrea was entertaining everybody in her typical way-reading a story. The four children in the back seat leaned way forward as Andrea read a story with choices, “Once upon a time there was an a) elephant, b) dog, or c) little girl.”
It was about three o’clock in the afternoon when Steve pulled up to a familiar stop, the intersection of 114th South and 700 East, the most complained of corner in the southern part of the Salt Lake Valley where over 100 accidents had happened.
On that colorless Sunday afternoon, Steve faced what so many other drivers had before. Cars coming from the south on the driver’s right were difficult to see because of an unfortunate combination of rises, hills, shrubs and trees which obscured the view of oncoming cars until nearly the last minute.
Today none of the Goodmans would see what was coming. The red Daihatsu was midway through the intersection when the driver of a brown Chevy pickup coming from the south suddenly saw the little car like an iceberg before the Titanic, his senses alerted too late to do anything but veer slightly to the right in a vain attempt to miss an impact. No skid marks were left on the road. Brakes were applied too late and were insufficient. The pickup crashed into the passenger side of the red Daihatsu, crumpling the car like an aluminum can and sending it hurtling into a field on the northeast corner of the block, an unrecognizable mass of collapsed steel. The sound of its childishly giggling passengers was immediately silenced, overtaken and stilled by a deafening crash. The forward momentum of the heavy truck, traveling even at a speed of 50 miles an hour, hitting the car already in the intersection was like ramming an object standing still, and its contents exploded.
Howard Green, a police officer with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office was off-duty that Sunday afternoon, just pulling out of a church parking lot on about 600 East and 114th South when he saw the red Daihatsu pass heading east. He turned onto the road about 50 yards behind the car , his window rolled up, music playing, “absorbed” as he said “in his own little world.” Just then some friends pulled by in a van and his attention was momentarily diverted, and when he turned back, the Daihatsu in front of him was gone. Assuming the car had turned left or right when he wasn’t looking, he didn’t think anything of it, but as he pulled up to the intersection, his wife shouted, “There’s a child in the road.”
How could that be? “No,” he said, “No, it’s just a pile of rags.” Even as he said it, he knew that it wasn’t. He looked both ways and he saw cars coming down the hill toward the intersection and the child, a little girl, lying there. She was just over the crest of the hill where any oncoming cars wouldn’t have seen her until they were right on top of her. The Greens pulled across the intersection, turned north, and blocked both lanes to oncoming traffic so she would be protected.
It was Aimee lying in the road in a green velvet dress, having flown out the back window in a splatter of glass when the car was struck. To this point Howard had not yet seen the car which had been flung so far off the road and was baffled “A hundred things were running through my mind. Why was this child lying out in the middle of the road and nobody was around? I couldn’t figure it out until my wife got up and said, ‘There’s more over here.’ I looked up and saw the car in the field. It was facing west bound, having been hit and spun 180 degrees as it flew into the field. I thought with a sinking heart. ‘This is just the beginning. It isn’t just this one we’re going to treat.'”
In the field was the crumpled car with LeAnne, like a wilted doll, flung part way out the back window, her hair matted across her face. Peter had flipped over the back seat into the hatchback. Sprayed across the field were shoes, garments, scriptures, and tapes of inspirational music.
By now the sight was a chaos of activity. Crowds had come running from the Circle K on the corner. Many cars had stopped, people were wringing their hands, giving advice and trying to figure out how to be helpful. People felt panic and helplessness and shock at children dressed for Sunday School lying about an intersection like broken toys, CTR rings on their slender fingers. “Choose the right,” the initials meant, and their sweet faces showed they had, but these sweet faces were pooled in blood. Each new glimpse expanded the scope of the tragedy. “There’s another one over here,” someone called, finding David’s lifeless body thrown 25 feet away from the car and hidden in the field by the grasses. “Please somebody come and help him,” but help in this life was too late for David. The woman who came upon him saw his scriptures beside him, flung from the car at the same instant, scriptures that were marked and well-used. She picked them up, opened them and saw the words, “David Goodman” written inside, and then solemnly put them back beside him, feeling that mix of awe and terror at the unexpected ripping of life from mortality, and she marveled at the little boy in a suit lying still in a field with his scriptures. “I just had the overpowering feeling that I was standing in the presence of a great missionary,” she said.
Peter and David were dead. LeAnne was barely breathing, but her life signs were shallow, her pulse weak. Scuffed and bleeding with cuts and abrasions, she had a slice across her head that went through her scalp and possibly into her skull. Howard looked to find a man with some oil, and failing to see him, gave her a blessing without it.
He had seen only a few accidents worse than this, but had been at these as an officer. Now he saw it as a father, and it was the first time he had ever given a blessing at an accident scene. It was short and plainspoken. “Let her be all right, but above all, let thy will prevail.”
Confusion reigned at the scene. People were shouting, “Call the police; call the ambulance,” long after they had been called. While a few people were able to keep their heads, many were caught in the grip of a fear they had never thought possible, a sudden shock that life was not as safe as it sometimes seemed. No, if little children in velvet and suits dressed for church could be so violently swept away like so much litter, what did it mean? And of what power was human aid as a beautiful child who had just played Mary was slipping away while fifty people watched helplessly?Claudia Comes to the Accident Scene
It’s every mother’s worst nightmare. It comes to her when a child is later than he said he’d be, or when she hears a siren at night and her daughter isn’t home yet. She tries to be calm, rational. After all, what are the chances that the siren is blaring for your child, or that the too long absence means danger? Still the worry creeps forward at times. What if anything should happen to this child I have loved and fiercely protected? “I have checked on your safety a thousand, thousand times. When you were small, I have gone seeking you when I couldn’t hear you in the next room.” And the very deepest part of that nightmare would be this-to come upon an accident, feel through your very bones the pain of the victims, and look again to realize they were familiar.
Claudia, with Steve’s parents and two of her daughters were 45 minutes behind Steve on the road. As they approached 114th South and 700 East, they could see the intersection was ablaze with activity, lights flashing, barricades blocking traffic, multiple fire engines and at least fifteen police cars. About a hundred people were standing around, unable to help, unable to leave, mesmerized by a scene they hoped would never happen to them.
“Wow. It looks like there’s been a terrible accident here,” Claudia said. Then as she pulled up to the corner and could see across the street through the vehicles and milling crowds, she said to Melissa, “That’s not our car is it?”
Melissa said, “Well, it’s got the same kind of license plate.”
Claudia started to get a little shaky. She pulled into the Circle K and said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve just gotta to check this out and see what’s going on.”
As Claudia got out of the car, she looked over and saw a Gurney being wheeled into an ambulance on which a little body lay, covered by a white sheet. She turned to a man standing on the corner and said, “What happened?”
“Oh,” he answered. There’s been a terrible accident. Three children were killed, and it was just really awful.”
Her eyes started scanning the crowd and one image jumped out at her. It was Heidi Glenn, a friend from her ward crying uncontrollably across the street. Heidi’s crying. Heidi’s crying.
Claudia started running then, across the street to see the car, but it was blocked off with yellow tape. As she came close a policeman stopped her, “What are you trying to do?”
“I just want to see if that was our car. Can you tell me if it’s a Daihatsu?”
“Why do you want to know?” asked the policeman.
“Because my husband was driving a red car across this intersection just a few minutes ago.”
“What is your name?”
“You’d better go get your coat. It’s really cold out here.”
It was icy, but Claudia didn’t want her coat. She had questions, but nobody would answer. As she started to walk back toward her car, she was surrounded by three or four other policemen and people who had questions for her.
“Who was in your husband’s car? How old were the children?
A realization was beginning to hit Claudia, a dawning that was slow because everything in her system refused to accept it. The chance was that this might be her family, and yet she still couldn’t tell for sure if that heap smashed right to the middle was her car. She stood back to look at it, straining to see the words. Was that mangled writing “Daihatsu Charade?” It was too snarled to read, but it was more than that. Something inside Claudia didn’t want to read it.
Somehow the policeman got her into a police car. Somehow Marilee and Melissa were there too, with Steve’s parents in a second car. Thoughts swirled. “Who got hurt? Did someone die? Were those my children the man was talking about?”
Trying to be circumspect and unsure of their own information, the police told her almost nothing, but by this time the comfort of denial was beginning to flee before the pieces of evidence all around her. As she looked at the scene through the police car windows, suddenly the focus was sharp-edged. How could she have not seen it before? Several people from her ward stood around, shock and emotion lining their faces. These were her friends. They were weeping for her family.
“No, it can’t be,” she thought. “We have a cause to fight. We are about a mission. This couldn’t be happening to us. Maybe the people hurt were in the other car. There could have been children in the other car. But Heidi Glenn’s tears were too much.” That is when she had really known. “That was our car in the accident, and at least some of those children killed were probably ours.”
Shock to the system, pain coursing down every nerve. “Can’t be, can’t be, can’t be” drumming in the head. As she rode in the police car toward Alta View Hospital, she asked more questions. “Please tell me what happened. Was anybody killed?”
The policeman only answered, “I really don’t know. I wasn’t there.”
Claudia could see she wasn’t going to get anymore out of him. It was useless to ask questions, and so they sat in silence during the ten-minute ride to the hospital and she asked her questions instead to the God who had always been there for her.
“Dear God, Oh, God. What has happened to my family? Please tell me what has happened to my family. Have my children been hurt? Are my children dead? What about Steve?”
And then it happened, something so powerful, so beyond normal experience that it transformed the terror in an instant. A warmth began to grow inside of Claudia, a warm burning. She had never before in her life felt such a warmth through her whole chest and especially in her abdomen. It was just as if she were on fire, as if she had pushed through an encompassing fog to a bright, clear world beyond this one.
She had felt the warmth of the Spirit often in her life. It had come sometimes as a witness, sometimes as a steady flow like a river of light in her being, but nothing had approached this tangible burning, this burning so comforting and physical that it washed over the pain like a healing fire.
With the burning were words, repeated again and again in her mind. “Your children are in my hands. This is right. They’ve completed the missions I sent them here to do. And this is the next step in my plan for you and your family.”
Claudia asked herself questions on that ride. Will we ever sing together again? What would happen to the cause we have sacrificed so much for? If what we have been doing is important, why take key players now? But the phrase, “This is the next step in my plan for you and your family” came back again and again, a reassuring message, a comfort that surrounded her aching heart like a warm blanket. It certainly made no sense to her, but her submission to the warmth that she felt didn’t demand that it made sense right now, or that comfort would only follow explanations.
People would say of Claudia in the next few days, she displayed a magnificent calm, and those who knew her best were not surprised. Her stillness amidst the chaos of emotions that would follow, was not born of a good attitude nor of denial. Nor did it come because she was somehow unattached to the goodness and beauty of this life. Nor did it come because she did not ache for her children to fill her empty arms. But she knew a well-hidden truth. Living close to the Spirit sheds a kind of light into life that transforms the bleakness, and even in the midst of tragedy that cuts you to the very heart, a peace can come.
A Warm Wind in December
The sky was growing darker on this nearly darkest day of the year, and with dark came increased chill, as the police car neared the hospital and the hard news that awaited Claudia. Later a friend wrote her a poem that captured for Claudia the ironic warmth and peace she had felt in the face of such grave tragedy.
A warm wind blew
In my hair as I cried;
And the money I’d spent
This Christmas meant
Not much anymore
And it was comforting how warm
It was for December
They taught of families and love
And of God above
And they passed away
On his Sabbath day
While a wreath hung at their door.
And it was comforting how warm
It was for December.
O Holy Night, Jesus Our Greatest Gift
United with memories of children that lift
Our hearts in caroled song.
In remembrance of babes gone.
Though winter storms may fiercely blow
And ice stream from above
My heart this month will always glow.
With joy from memories and love
That will always keep it warm in December.
Flurry at the Hospital
For Claudia almost every piece of news was bad that night. It came at her like the ocean waves, ceaseless, endless. Knocked by the first news, she could hardly stagger up, her breath stopped and mouth full of seawater, before another wave came, knocking her again. Three of her children were dead, and it looked terrible for Andrea and Aimee. Steve had a collapsed lung, nine broken ribs and a concussion. His injuries were agonizing, debilitating, but not mortal, and he was in excruciating pain.
The children, however, were barely hanging on to life, and the doctors were frankly pessimistic. At Primary Children’s Hospital with Aimee, Claudia was told she had to hurry to LDS Hospital because Andrea was dying. Once at LDS hospital, she was told Aimee might not make it back at the other hospital..
The Goodmans had sung at worldwide meetings that the home was a fortress of love, a place of protection and power when the rain falls hard and the storm blows wild. Now they were being asked to live their music. When they were stripped to the very bone of all semblance of safety, did their love for each other and their belief in God have the power to sustain them? Was the family unit strong enough to give each member the power to withstand such blows?
Claudia couldn’t be with her remaining children that night very much to comfort them, but she and Steve had been with their children in a thousand thousand other moments, and in a night that might have left them spiritually drained and shaken, each of them began to pull upon the resources of the spirit that had already been put in place.
“Pray always” is the commandment, but there was no need for commandment in this thing. Their souls prayed because they could not help themselves. Crushed with this much anguish, they knew the only well to drink from. The refreshment was familiar; it was home. It was the reality behind the harsher features of this world. The older sisters sang, their notes echoing through the hospital corridors “Be Still My Soul.”Trying to Sleep
At LDS Hospital where she slept in her clothes, Claudia had her own questions through the night. Will Andrea and Aimee live? Will we ever sing together again? She knew full well that the odds were that her daughters would be severely handicapped for the rest of their lives, and she wondered how she might do in a lifetime of nursing disabled children.
How could such questions be tolerated? How could her system endure the uncertainty? How could she bear to think of children who had just hours before been warm and laughing now lying cold in a mortuary? How could she see her family members mangled and dependent on life support in hospital rooms?
She knew how. Since she was bearing something as stunning as losing three children-as well as having three other lives on the line-she had only one recourse. That was to put the whole thing in the Lord’s hands. There was no other way to deal with it. She knew that sometimes she had tried to carry her burdens alone, but in this case the burden was so staggering, it was impossible. She might try to carry grocery bags or a fifty pound weight, but to carry a house was impossible. This loss was a house and she had to give it to her Savior.
If I know that God is in my life, she thought, and feel his strong presence, if I have complete faith in him, if I know that he loves me perfectly and knows the end from the beginning, if I know that he can make all things work together for my good, then why should I fear?
Allowing God into her life meant she could accept his revisions of her plans, because they were motivated by his love, his omniscience and his intimate knowledge of what she and her family needed.
With that she put her worries aside-all the need for explanations and answers-because she knew that God wouldn’t give her any more than she could handle, and that he would give her strength to deal with things that she couldn’t even comprehend dealing with herself.How Do You Feel?
The next day, the media had questions for Claudia, the question that everybody was wondering, but was too shy to ask, “How do you feel?” It is curious that we demand an answer to that query. It is as if we all understand there is a place in human experience that is beyond our own, a place where people go who have just experienced the shocking or the terrible or the heartrending and we wonder. What is it like in that place-that dark corner of the woods where most of us have never been and hope not to go? What frontier of the heart do you explore in that new place?
The Goodmans had been front-page news. Their grief was felt by strangers they would never know-and the reporters had questions.
Claudia was told that some reporters wanted to talk to her, but that she didn’t have to do respond if she didn’t want to. At first she said, “Good, it’s too much right now.” Yet, then she thought again. “Maybe I would be crazy not to do this. We have been trying to forward a message about the importance of families and how we supply for each other a fortress of love for each other for life’s tough times. Maybe this is a golden opportunity to be what we’ve sung.”
That afternoon a press conference was set up. As the hour approached, she thought, “I can’t do this. The children are in front of people all of the time, but even during my introductions, I stammer and don’t come across nearly as confidently as they do. I was afraid I would go up there and go blank because of the emotional stress I was under,” Claudia said. She said out loud, “I can’t do this.”
“Then,” she said, “something just came into me and I said, “Yes, Yes, I can. I can do this. I know I can do it, and I just walked into that press conference with a power that was beyond me.”
A clutch of reporters and cameras had gathered and what the viewers saw at home were the remaining uninjured Goodman children sitting at a table looking pale, disheveled and weary from a long night. Their mother sat in the midst. Her eyes shone with moisture and her voice was almost tremulous, but she spoke with a calm and majesty. The instructions were that she would answer no questions about the particulars of the accident because she hadn’t been there, but they were free to ask anything else. The condition of Steve and the children? Unchanged. Her feelings about what had happened? We have lost our children, but I can truly say that I can look back on our time together without regrets. It’s not that we are perfect parents, but we have done our very best to love them, we have shared wonderful experiences, and that love extends beyond this life. “Will the family continue singing? “We will sing,” Claudia said, “but now we will have three angels singing with us.”
Kenneth Cope said, “It was an amazing moment. Here the Goodmans had gone all over the world singing about family. They had made every sacrifice to stand boldly for the idea that the family unit is the salvation of society, but their message rang out clearest in this moment. Many people at home didn’t even know who the Goodmans were until the accident, and now their message had been given a power it didn’t have before. There they were, leaning together on each other, before the camera and their very connectedness and strength shone through. See how families work.”
Beyond the Accident
In the days and weeks that followed Andrea and Aimee recovered. Claudia knew what it was to spend all night long in a hospital room praying, her knees aching against the hard floor. While both girls and Papa Steve were still in the hospital, the rest of the family kept their next singing engagement. Only twelve days after the accident, on December 20, those who could, sang at the Utah State Prison. By the end of January, Andrea and Aimee joined the family in a concert for a BYU group.
“I’ve never seen such courage,” said Susan Roylance. ” The girls hid the scars on their faces with makeup and sang through lungs that had until weeks before been on a ventilator.”
A year after the accident, on Christmas Eve, the Goodmans interrupted their celebrations to visit the prison. Steve and Claudia had learned that the man who had driven the truck that had smashed into their car was in prison for some reason. They told the children, and all of them agreed that they wanted to visit him more than anything else they could do on Christmas Eve.
“For I was in prison, and ye came unto me,” Christ had said. What better way to celebrate his birth?
Then on the way home, they stopped at a place that had become familiar to them-the cemetery. Steve went ahead with a shovel for with the crust of snow, finding the graves wasn’t easy. He shoveled off snow until he saw their names, the carved words, David Curtis Goodman slowly emerging from the layers of ice that covered it. Once he had located the flat stones, then he shoveled a path for the family from the road to the graves. Steve had ordered a beautiful wreath framed by a ribbon decorated with music notes and staff. They placed it in the circle the family made around the sacred place. Hugging each other and leaning tight together for love, they did what came naturally-they started to sing. It was the song they did in their dressing room before every concert. “We’re here together again, we’re here, we’re here. We’re here together again, we’re here. We’re here. Here we are singing all together again, singing all together again, We’re here, we’re here.
The circle seemed to them to have no vacancies for family ties are not bound by time nor absence. On that Christmas Eve, a year after their accident, they were all together again.
And it was comforting how warm it was for December.
The Goodman Family
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.