Have You Made a Plan for a Catastrophe?

(Almost) Losing Sarah

planBig City Traveling

We looked like something out of a freak show. A plump, flustered lady lugging a lawn chair, blankets, a pillow and a bag standing next to a tall, bald man who looked liked he’d escaped from the set of Schindler’s List. Two excited, fluttering children jabbering about swimming in the ocean while gripping beach towels and waiting impatiently for the Muni to show up.

The brisk San Francisco winds wafted the words of our strange group around. I looked up, glad for the sunny October skies and the ability to fulfill our daughters’ desire to swim in the ocean (we lived in Montana—one swims in the ocean when one has the chance, not just if the water is warm). Everything and anything we could do to make the few days we got to spend together normal was worth every grey hair and frazzled nerve.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

“I’ll help Daddy up the steps!” declared Laura, our oldest daughter, as she moved into place at his side.

“Thank you. Need help.” Pedro’s words required effort because his facial muscles remained frozen.

“I have the towels!” Sarah excitedly grabbed Laura’s towel and stood in the front of our

I snapped this photo the day before our almost loss.

I snapped this photo the day before our almost loss.

group. I shifted my load and worried about whether or not Laura’s nine-year-old muscles would provide enough help for Pedro to negotiate the two steep steps onto the approaching train.

The Muni slid to a stop in front of us. Sarah danced around behind the people in line ahead of us, waiting for the disembarking passengers. I decided at the last minute that I could carry everything in one hand and assist Pedro with the other. While shifting my load to one hand, I heard the doors start to slide closed I looked up in shock. Pedro and Laura stood inches away from the entrance. Sarah was inside the Muni. Her face frozen in horror as the door whissst closed with a solid thud.

Without a Backup Plan

The world around me entered slow motion. I heard the lawn chair clatter to the sidewalk as I lunged for the door and pounded on it with both fists. Laura screamed. Pedro sounded like it came from underwater.

The train gave a jerk forward. Some smart person inside the train hit the emergency button. The train jerked again. The doors slid open. Eager hands reached out to help us gather our belongings and lumber onto the train. The doors slid shut.

In retrospect, I probably could have sprinted alongside the train to the next stop—the Muni doesn’t move that fast in that area. But Sarah was only eight.  We had been caught off guard in a big city with no proper plan for what to do if we should get separated. I didn’t know if our girls knew our cell phone numbers.

As we neared the end of the line and the Pacific Ocean, my mind kept repeating the scene. The whissst of the doors. The look of horror on Sarah’s face. The feeling of drowning. I didn’t even notice that the man in the corner was rocking back and forth talking about the voices, or the old man carrying a parrot on his shoulder. All I could think about was our loss—our almost loss.

How unprepared we remained for emergencies and separation.

Difficult Conversations

We lugged everything off the train and the girls ran into the bathroom to change. After crossing the street to the sand dunes, Laura and Sarah flew ahead, oblivious to the cold, the wind and the near loss. I dragged the lawn chair, the blanket, the pillow and my bag to a sheltered spot with a view of the surf and helped Pedro settle himself.
The girls lunged into the ocean, splashing and squealing in delight.

“Scary.” Pedro said.

I nodded, unable to speak about it yet. Finally, I ventured, “Maybe we should have a plan about what to do in case of emergencies.”

“Good idea.”

Silence cloaked us.

“I’m cold. Can we go?”

I nodded and called to the girls, “Five minute warning! Daddy’s freezing and we need to get him warm!”

They grumbled good-naturedly, but their blue lips belied their words of wanting to stay in the ocean longer.

I looked at my watch. Fifteen minutes. We’d almost lost Sarah for fifteen minutes at the beach. I shrugged. It didn’t matter. Fifteen minutes or five hours. When life holds only uncertainty, every minute counts.


You should have one. If everyone in your family enjoys good health, now is a great time to talk about plans. The best time to make a plan for a #catastrophe is BEFORE one happens. #cancer Click To TweetPlans for emergencies, plans for disasters, plans for ICU and catastrophic events. Not talking about those things won’t prevent them from happening. Make plans before you almost lose someone. Trust me. It’s better that way.


Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a ‘recovering cancer caregiver’ who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

Please note: We reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Oh this story grabbed my mama heart! Thank you for sharing, and for linking up with me today! Honored to read your words.

    • Anita Ojeda

      And thank YOU for creating a fun link up!

  • I’m not sure I can find the right words to express how much your words and story and photo grab my heart. Like Crystal said – it’s an honor to read your words and a good reminder to not take life for granted. I always resist having conversations about “what if”, because my mind so easily jumps to the worst case scenario and then, left to simmer and stew, the panic sets in deep and wide and all consuming. But, you’re right – we DO need to be prepared, because we don’t know what tomorrow holds. ((hugs)) to you and grateful for your words here.

    • Anita Ojeda

      Thank you for your kind words, Stephanie :). God always provides! We’d had the ‘vegetable’ conversation before this time (which leads to a whole new story…), but there were so many others that we hadn’t had! Maybe having regular ‘Worst Case Scenario’ conversations around the dinner table would be a great way to get everyone involved in thinking about what to do in emergencies. For example, ask your kids, “What would you do if your parent got lost in the mall?” It could be both fun and informative and a way to talk through crazy situation before they happened!

  • Mel

    This is really powerful…both the storytelling and the reminders. Thank you for sharing today…great post! Blessings! 🙂

    • Anita Ojeda

      Thank you for your kind words :). I feel cyber-hugged!

  • Wow, what a scary moment that must have been for you! Praise Jesus for His hand of protection over your family. Beautiful post:).

    • Anita Ojeda

      Amen! My eldest daughter reminded me this morning that the SAME thing happened to her and Sarah while traveling together in Europe this summer (they were 18 and 19). No one stopped the subway this time, but Laura was able to read Sarah’s lips as she called through the closed doors, “Take the next train!” Maybe I should have reviewed this story with them before I let them travel in Europe…God watches out for us, even when we repeat our mistakes!

  • Anita. I was in tears reading this. What you must have gone through when those doors closed. Nothing compares to that fear. But this —>When life holds only uncertainty, every minute counts. –> This is settling quite nicely into my heart. Thank you for the reminder.

    • Anita Ojeda

      I’m sorry to have brought on the tears, Tonya (although it’s good to cry every so often, isn’t it?!). God holds us through each impossible situation. Hugs!

  • Wow! Thanks for sharing this story. Great reminder. We will be making a plan for our little fam.

    • Anita Ojeda

      If there’s one thing I’m learning, it’s to expect the unexpected and to have basic plans in place! Cell phones really help ;).

  • Poppy Don

    Wow! What a recounting. I believe that I was there on that occasion, but it was far more emotion ladened in the re-telling. I guess I just had too much on my mind to let that “little” incident affect me long-term.
    BTW, I’m really enjoying your point of view of these catastrophic events in the lives of your family. Thanks for sharing so candidly.

    • Anita Ojeda

      You’re welcome :). I’m so glad you and Mom dropped everything to help us through our traumatic year!

  • I held my breath. This happened with an elevator and my little brother when we were little and we could hear his screams for like 5 minutes while the thing went up and then back down and we tried to figure out what to do. HORRIBLE. Glad you wrote this post and that it was okay!!
    Kirsten Oliphant recently posted…Get Your Face in FacebookMy Profile

    • Oh, that would be HORRIBLE! It’s those simple little conversations that we fail to have that sometimes produce the scariest moments.