From a mother’s heart addresses tragedy and hope
By: Shannon Courington
“In the mere seconds it took for the drunk driver to cross that center line, my world as I knew it came to a screeching halt.” Cowart penned these words remembering vividly the phone call that changed the trajectory of her life forever. Brandy, age 10, Taylor, age 8 and Sara-Frances, age 6, would never enter their home again. They would never again play with their “baby” siblings, Gus, age 2, and Mary Alice who was one-week shy of her first birthday. In an instant, half of Cowart’s family was gone. “My children are gone, but they are not lost. I know exactly where my children are.”
Toni Cowart’s story is one that has been in the making for almost 22 years. A beautiful October day turned dark in 1997 when three of Cowart’s children lost their lives in a horrific car crash that has not been forgotten by those who live in Clarke County. The Wiggins Children Memorial Bridge on Highway 84 east of Grove Hill is a poignant reminder of tragedy, the brevity of life and the consequences of drinking and driving.
Over two decades later, Cowart has chosen to embrace hope and to share her story and the lessons that she learned from her children’s lives and sadly, from their deaths. Her memories of Brandy, Taylor and Sara-Frances fill the pages of her first book, From a Mother’s Heart. “As a mom, I want to tell stories about my children. I want to say their names. I want other people to say their names. I also want to tell people that whatever they are facing, whatever they are going through, they are not alone.”
Cowart’s book began in a unique way. “I had a tote bag full of slivers of paper and a notebook and I carried it with me. I would just write things down and I journaled back at that time, but I started fine tuning things about a year and a half ago.”
That’s when Cowart decided that it was time to pursue the project that been consuming a large portion of her thoughts for two decades. In a leap of faith, she stepped away from her job as an insurance broker and began to write using those journals and precious slips of paper filled with memories. Cowart describes the process as a “healing” one. “It would hurt me more not to be able to talk about those precious lives.”
Cowart understands that many people are uncomfortable in the presence of someone who has had a difficult loss because of the emotions associated with it and because no one wants to intentionally hurt those who are already wounded. No one really knows what to say or how to say anything when tragedy strikes. “I want everyone who knows me to know about my babies. I can’t meet someone and become their friend without telling them about my children. I have five children, three of them are in Heaven. They are still as much a part of my life today as they were then. My whole point for the book was to share about my babies. I also want people to know who have suffered hurt, pain, loss that they are not alone in the path that they are walking. The world is not kind to us on a regular basis.
In the years that have passed since that grim day in 1997, Cowart has relied on her faith to be able to face each day, each child’s birthday, each holiday, each milestone event that her children’s classmates celebrated, and each painful anniversary of the day that forever altered her life. She openly shares her faith with readers and with audiences that she addresses as she speaks around the region. The book is Cowart’s attempt to invest in the lives of hurting people while keeping the memory and spirit of her children alive.
During a recent local book signing event, people that Cowart had never met poured in to hug her, to speak encouraging words to her and to share that they had prayed for her intermittently since that dark day in 1997. In turn, she thanked each person and answered questions openly. Other mothers who had experienced the loss of children approached her and the evidence of an invisible, inexplicable sisterhood was present. None of them had chosen these paths. Nor had they anticipated them. Yet here they were, in new seasons without the people around whom their worlds once revolved.
Though at times tearful, Cowart exuded a peace that is indescribable, except maybe from her own words, “In spite of the scars that history has etched upon my very being, I am in an amazing place and I am happier than I ever truly thought possible. I am learning to embrace each new season I come to and that personal experience is priceless. We don’t ask for ‘our story’, but it is ours nonetheless. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade mine with anyone else. God has given me the sweetest gift-the gift of beauty from ashes. Being able to truly embrace and enjoy life in spite of tragedy gives me an incredible freedom.”
From a Mother’s Heart can be purchased from Amazon. Toni would love to hear from you and to speak for your events, contact her at email@example.com
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.