The Final Storm
One night, a couple of weeks ago, a close friend of mine and I drove out to one of our local beaches to spend some time away from the house. Upon arrival, it was clear that being out around that area was anything but safe. The winds were around 60 mph. The waves were noted to be up to 12 feet about 50 yards from shore. The lake was actively making its way across the roadway. The sand was hitting my car with such force that I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have any paint left on the right side.
As I sat there in the car watching the unfettered power of Mother Nature, I was amazed. I wanted to capture the experience. I needed to feel the power, but only within the safety of being a few feet away from my car. I decided to step out and was immediately hit with a wall of water. I got soaked, sandblasted, and pushed around by the wind in a way that I haven’t experienced. I tried to grab a few pictures but immediately ran back into the car.
As my friend and I sat there laughing at my stupid decision, we noticed a firetruck speed by signifying that there was some sort of emergency nearby. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a firetruck by the beach before, so it threw me off for a brief moment. Regardless, we went back to talking. All of a sudden, multiple local and state police cars were flying towards whatever was happening.
My friend and I decided to get on Facebook and look at one of the local scanner pages. People who make it a point to listen to police and fire frequencies post on this page to alert the community about what is going on. It was then that we realized a horrific story was beginning to unfold.
We saw all the lights and vehicles stop just up the road from us by the main beach. After putting information together, we realized that the responders were out by the pier. As the news began to pour into that Facebook group, I felt my heart begin to sink. A feeling of helplessness washed over my body and mind, and I began to feel as if I wanted to cry.
There were four people out on the pier that night. The pier had been getting hammered by the wind and waves all day. Not only was it unsafe to be out there, but choosing to go out there was essentially a death wish. We heard that two people had been swept into the lake off of the pier. One had made it out, but there was a man who was unreachable but was spotted hanging onto the rocks for dear life.
We saw frantic posts about how the responders needed more support. Firetrucks from at least four other cities came out. We saw more police cars speeding by us. Community members who are first responders also began to trickle in. We saw calls come in requesting rope to help out with the situation.
I saw the beams of the flashlights bouncing off the rock wall that surrounded the pier. We heard that firefighters linked together to try to get to the individual, but they ended up being injured and were pulled back into safety. As the minutes agonizingly passed by, my friend and I sat with bated breath, waiting to see what the next move was.
We saw someone post that they heard the Coast Guard dispatched a boat to get out to the pier in order to attempt a rescue that way. It seemed like an eternity, but we finally saw the light from the boat. It was vigorously bouncing up and down, and, internally, I knew there was no possible way they could make a rescue in this weather. That was proven to be accurate, and they had to call the boat back in. Next, we heard that the Coast Guard was dispatching their helicopter as a last-ditch effort.
We knew that there was the Coast Guard about twenty minutes from where we were, so I figured they would get there relatively quickly. However, it took an hour and a half before the helicopter showed up. We frantically watched the posts, wondering what was happening. We saw that someone said the Coast Guard was flying in From Traverse City, MI. The beach that we were at is located in Muskegon, MI. Traverse City is 130+ miles away from the beach. Still, we held on to hope that this man was still somehow holding on to life.
We watched with weak anticipation as the helicopter finally got to the beach, but we saw it immediately fly over the spot where this person was supposed to be. I was so confused. My friend and I hypothesized as to why this happened. We thought maybe they had to figure out how to deal with the wind. We wondered if they were doing a quick check of the perimeter. I was sure they would come right back and shine a big spotlight on the area where the man was reported to be.
Yet, that never happened. The helicopter maintained a course to which were not privy. At that time, reports came in that there was no longer a visual of the man who was clinging to the rocks for dear life. It was then that we pieced together the fact that this was no longer a rescue. It was a recovery.
I am naturally a helper. I have been doing some sort of social work or therapy for over a decade. I have been in the middle of extreme situations multiple times, and I feel comfortable amidst the chaos. I know that I can help in even the direst of circumstances. I felt emotional and helpless at the beginning of this experience because I could not be there to help.
There were multiple times where I battled within myself and almost put the car in reverse just to go over to see if there was any way that I could help. I was reminded by my friend that I have children to consider, and that helped to ground me, but I still felt a deep sense of guilt for not doing anything I could to help this individual.
I cannot imagine spending the last hour of my life being trapped on a rock wall, being unmercifully pounded by huge waves, and seeing help seemingly within arms reach but unable to get to me. The terror involved in that experience is something that continues to go through my head.
At some point, strength gave out. Hope finally released its white-knuckled grip on those sharp, unforgiving rocks. Exhaustion overtook the will to live. A legacy was swept out into the tumultuous waves of Lake Michigan. A life was returned to the earth as nature deemed the life to be at the end of its cycle.
Someone’s father/son/uncle/brother completed their purpose on this earth that night. I cannot imagine what it is like for the survivors who experienced all of this. My heart is broken for any family or friends left in the wake of such a tragedy.
Oftentimes I can bring stories like this to a positive closure. Yet, I don’t have anything this time around. My heart still feels like it is 100lbs in my chest when I think about this. My mind attempts to immediately shuffle this experience to the back of my memories as fast as possible. My emotions remind me that staying numb in these situations is what has helped me survive throughout life.
To the gentleman who lost his life:
Please know that I wanted to do all I could to help. I sat in my car watching this scene unfold, unable to do anything but sit helplessly by and hope that some sort of rescue would happen. I wanted to risk it all to help bring you to safety. I was ready to help however I could. I wish I could have done something.
Though the last moments of your life were enveloped in a violent, unforgiving storm, I hope you have now found peace and that you are spending time with your loved ones that have passed on before you.