Treat every moment like it’s your last


Ashley Tanner

Down Memory lane: author Ashley Tanner visits the scene of the accident with memorable photograph in honor of her late stepfather.[vc_empty_space]Often the only time I saw my stepdad Jim was during the weekend. He worked from 3-11:30 p.m. at University Hospital as a surgical technician. By the time I got home from school, he was already at work. One day I had come home during AUT to get my laptop and a few other supplies. He was getting ready to leave for work, and he sat at the counter with his laptop open, scrolling through Facebook.
I went to my room to get my computer and came back into the kitchen, set my laptop on the table and then walked out. As soon as I got to my car I realized I had left my laptop inside. When I walked back in to get it I said, “School was great!” Jim laughed. I picked up my laptop and left.
That Friday was like every other Friday. I went to work after school and it had been a horrible shift, so when I got home I took a shower and started reading “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” on the couch and fell asleep.
At 3 a.m. a knock on the door woke me. It was three officers from the sheriff’s department, and they were asking for my mom. I walked down the hall to her room and I lightly tapped her on the shoulder to wake her up. I was being careful not to wake Jim, whom I thought was lying in bed asleep next to her. Mom and I walked down the hall to see why the sheriff’s department had knocked on our door at such an early hour. A police officer greeted my mom and asked her to step outside for a moment. I stood close by the door, listening, trying to figure out what was going on. One of the officers told my mom that Jim had gotten into a car accident and died.
It felt like a wrecking ball had hit me in the stomach. When they told her they were sorry for her loss, I nearly collapsed. My mind began spinning. Jim couldn’t have possibly been dead; I had just seen him that day. As I began to process the situation, my last interaction with him played over and over in my mind.

Jim was never too keen on talking about his feelings, but his smile said it all. How blessed I am to have seen him smile one last time.”

Had I known that casual encounter was going to be the last time I saw him, I would have hugged him and told him I loved him, which was something out of character for our relationship. I would have told him how in the few short years we knew each other he was a better father to me than my own dad and how he put the pieces of my family back together after my father left. I would have told him how grateful I was that he tried his hardest to make our family work when they got married. It was through that processing that I came to realize that any conversation we have could be the last. Life is so unpredictable and not guaranteed, but it’s easy to get in the pattern of seeing them every day and forgetting that they could be gone in an instant.
On April 17, 2015 at 11:50 p.m., Jim wrecked his car. He was driving around after work to let off some steam when he attempted to make a 90 degree turn on a winding road. He failed to complete the turn and crashed. He hit some trees, hit his head on the window of his car, and he passed out. His car fell about 10 feet down into a creek. As his car sank, it flipped and landed top down, and he drowned. He was unconscious, so he went quick, and hopefully, it was painless. A driver behind him had seen the accident and called 911. The paramedics did everything they could, but he was pronounced dead on April 18 at 12:16 a.m. by University Hospital staff.
Jim’s death shed light on how short life really is. He would have been 54 this October but I only knew him for about two and a half years. I thought he would be going to my graduation in the spring, sending me off to college and eventually celebrating a 30th anniversary with my mom; at the very least getting to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron, a movie we had both been looking forward to seeing together. He will miss out on a lifetime of Father’s Days, birthdays, Christmases and anniversaries for my brothers, stepsister, mom and me. Because of this experience, I have begun ending phone conversations with ‘I love you’ more often.
Jim was never too keen on talking about his feelings, but his smile said it all. How blessed I am to have seen him smile one last time.
The video below is a memorial video of Jim Gonzalez.[TS-VCSC-Vimeo content_vimeo=”″]