It was a drizzly day, big fluffy clouds with varying shades of gray swirled overhead. The humidity hung in the air whispering of the storm that was threatening to overtake the city. It was mid-afternoon when I received a phone call to pick up a deceased man from the Medical Examiner’s (ME) office, so I jumped in the funeral home van and hit the road. Once I arrived at the ME’s office I backed the van into a small alleyway that ended with a railing and ramp that led to a large metal door. I rang a bell next to the metal door and a staff member escorted me with my cot inside to retrieve the deceased man. The staff member and I chatted and bantered back and forth, talking about what cases he had seen lately, I talked about the families I was currently serving. He then retrieved the man from a back room, and I proceeded to check the name on the tag attached to the man’s foot, verifying it was the right person. We transferred the man onto my cot and I left the building just like I had countless times before.
After getting my passenger safely into the back of the van, I climb into the driver’s seat and hit the road again. It only took a few minutes and I was on the freeway headed back to the mortuary. The clouds were ominous. Darker than before. Then, as I was driving it started to hail and the wind became angrier, so much so that I had to keep a tight grip on the steering wheel to prevent the van from careening into another lane. There wasn’t a lot of traffic on the freeway, but every car was slowing down due to the severe weather conditions. The hail stones became bigger and bounced off the windshield with so much force that I feared it would crack the glass. The wind had become so strong at this point that almost all of the traffic was moving at a crawl as the drivers struggled to keep control of their cars. This scenario is incredibly difficult to explain if you haven’t ever experienced it. I was surrounded by a black and brown haze as the wind picked up dust and debris from the streets and hurled it around like an angry child throwing an epic temper tantrum. The hail stones crashed and smashed with incredible energy.
At this point I was thinking that I had to get off the freeway and under some cover. As I neared the next overpass it became apparent that I was not getting off the freeway any time soon. The cars that were ahead of me had stopped under the overpass for protection and blocked any other cars from getting passed. I was stuck! Cars stopped in front of me and cars now stopped behind me, my only option was to put the van in park and climb in the back of the van away from the windows and wait it out. It was just me and the man I was charged with keeping safe hunkered down with nowhere else to go.
The baseball sized hailstones hit the van, threatening to break the windows and punch through the seemingly thin metal that protected me and my passenger. The sound was deafening, the booms echoed in the cramped metal space. The wind bullied the van, pushing it from side to side seeming to try and knock us over. I talked to the dead man lying on the cot next to me. I told him I would do whatever it took to get him back to the mortuary safe so that his family didn’t have to experience any more trauma than they already had. In my head I thought about what I would have to say to them if by chance we were thrown over and the body was injured. I was mentally preparing myself for the possible hours of reconstruction I would be faced with if this whole thing went badly. I would do what I had to do to assure the family could say goodbye to a complete and whole person. As these thoughts and scenarios swam around in my head, the wind slowly lost its rage and calmed. The hail storm abated, and the clouds parted. How long had it been? a minute, an hour? I am not sure. The storm had passed, well not so much a storm but a tornado that had run amok around the city and seriously close to the freeway I had been trapped on.
Through this entire ordeal, there was not one crack in the windshield, not one dent in the metal of the van and the man that I had picked up from the ME’s office was safe and unscathed. I was able to present him to his family unharmed.
This was the 2008 tornado that ripped through Atlanta and tore open Georgia dome! 30 people were injured and one person was killed. The video below is my father telling the story during one of my book readings.