Alta Batterman survived a deadly car crash 14 years ago. Now she hopes the book she wrote about her experience will help others facing grief and loss.
“I never wanted to write a book,” Batterman said. “It was overwhelming. Impossible.”
But ever since she lost her husband and their newborn son in that tragic accident in Idaho, Batterman says she’s felt driven to write a book about it.
“It was a feeling I had constantly,” said Batterman. “And it wasn’t for me. It was about helping others.”
Last December, thanks in great part to encouragement from her oldest daughter, Leahra, Batterman finally published “Look Up to God and Live Happily” through High Grace Publishing. The book recounts her life before and after the accident, detailing her recovery process and lessons learned along the way.
Batterman was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Venezuela. After earning a bachelor’s degree in architecture from a university in the Dominican Republic, she joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and later moved to Utah. She married Victor Smith in 2002 and gave birth to their son, Alvi, the next year. Alta and Victor crafted Alvi’s name from the first two letters of their own.
Smith was the man Batterman had always dreamed of: a strong spiritual partner and father figure for her three young children from her first marriage. Batterman describes their life together as idyllic. But just six weeks after Alvi’s birth, she, Smith and the baby were driving to visit family in Idaho when a drunk driver ran a stop sign and collided with their car, instantly killing her husband and son.
Batterman survived the crash but was severely injured.
She now faced the reality of raising three young children from her first marriage alone, with a broken body and an anguished soul. Her future was in question, but the past was not. She felt compelled to document the painful present — the dates, the people, the feelings — in her journal.
That mostly handwritten record would become both the precursor and source for Batterman’s book.
She recorded hardships and fears, inspirational dreams and poignant conversations. She jotted down song lyrics that touched her, scriptures that rang true, excerpts of talks and articles that hit home. She wrote about finding solace in faith, moving to Florida, laughing with her children and eventually meeting Chris Batterman.
She and Chris Batterman were married in 2005. They relocated to Utah in 2009 to be closer to his children from a previous marriage. They currently live in Grantsville with her daughters and two more of their very own.
“I joke that we’re a modern day version of ‘Yours, Mine and Ours,’ Batterman said, referring to the 1968 film.
Despite the fulfillment Batterman’s new chapter has brought, as the years passed, she could never shake the thought that something had been left undone. That was when her daughter, Leahra, who was serving an LDS mission in Houston, Texas, insisted she write the book.
“She gave me a one-year deadline,” Batterman said. “I couldn’t disappoint her.”
Batterman read every book she could find on grieving and loss, but always found them lacking.
“Most books tell the story, but never what they did about it,” she said.
For Batterman, the accident was only part of the narrative — the plot but not the overall point. One of the keys to coming to grips with her loss, she said, was helping others find answers.
“I needed to help other people,” she said. “I had something and I needed to share it with others.”
In December, 2015, Batterman began pouring through her journals to compile the book. She copied many entries directly from her journals, a process complicated by the fact that English is her second language, and she had written in what she called “Spanglish” (a combination of Spanish and English). Her youngest daughter, Adda, helped her format the text for an English speaking audience.
The process of transforming Spanglish to English, transcribing analog to digital immersed her anew in each moment. She experienced everything again, but this time in full context.
“I realized how I was blessed, how my past affected my present, and what I had learned,” Batterman said. “I came full circle. It clicked. I finally felt closure.”
The book’s title is inspired by a favorite LDS scripture. And while it’s written from an LDS viewpoint, Batterman considers the strategies she outlines to be universal. She intends “Look Up to God and Live Happily” to be a road map for readers who are dealing first-hand with grief and for those caring for others who are suffering loss.
She also hopes it will provide important perspective to those who are not — a reminder that life is precious and fleeting.
What advice would she offer her readers, regardless of current state in life?
“Enjoy each day,” she admonished. “If you have a conflict, resolve it today. Don’t leave it for later. Whatever it is you’re concerned about right now, think about if that person were suddenly gone. And automatically it’s in perspective.
Is it really going to matter that my husband left his socks on the floor every day?”
At one point during her arduous recovery, Batterman remembered expressing her love to Victor Smith just hours before the wreck.
“He looked at me through the rear view mirror and smiled, saying ‘I love you too,’ she records in the book. “Today I am so glad that I took the time to express my love and gratitude to him.”
Batterman stresses the importance of having meaningful every-day moments with loved ones, and being mindful of the future while avoiding fixation on it.
“If I’m checking everyone’s schedules and worried about how busy I am right now, but I don’t take a moment to look my son in the eye and tell him I love him today, I’ve missed it,” She said. “Even if that calendar is full of things I’m doing with him! If I don’t take the time for that personal touch — that spiritual connection — it’s wasted.”
Batterman encourages people to keep journals: “When I read my journals I was blown away by how much I had forgotten. And I was the one who lived it! We need to write things down or as we tell about it, we forget it. Or change it.”
Finally, Batterman makes a conscious effort to make sure all her interactions with others are positive.
“We’re here to help each other,” she said. “Be OK with who you are. Realize that God doesn’t make mistakes. Shine. Because your tone of shine is yours alone, and it is good.”