Seeking Christmas Spirit

It’s hard to explain to anyone who has not experienced it – this dark cloud that has cast its shadow over everything magical and good. Christmas has always been my favourite time of year, but it is exceedingly difficult to get into any semblance of Christmas spirit this year. My brother’s death on the 19th of November last year did not conjure as  deep a darkness that following the trial of his killer has this year; The next court date is the 8th of January when the defense will do their best to plant seeds of doubt in the judge’s mind.  That date looms over me like a huge black mountain and seems impossible to scale, or to set aside. God knows I am trying. It is a bitter pill to swallow, this knowing that the defendant will be celebrating Christmas with his loved ones while we, the family of the man he killed, do our best to put aside the pain and anguish of our brother’s needless death. Life is not fair – but then who ever promised it would be?

I have read stories that tell us that we agree to certain conditions and circumstances before we are born on this earth. That is a comfort to me in a strange way. I can imagine Chris making the decision to be the one to die in order to save the lives of other people who were travelling the highway that day – one of which was a young mother with her three children in her car.

Chris possessed a generosity of spirit that is hard to convey. He was a truly selfless person in many ways. And he was very kind. So I can totally imagine him agreeing to play the role of victim in this scenario. Ah but he was more than the victim of an impaired driver. The many people who approached me and my sisters and brothers following his funeral attest to the mark he made on this world. And not in any big splashy way, but in the small acts of kindness he performed daily. It is this knowing that gives me comfort that no criminal trial or any amount of anguish can ever take away.

Sleepless night

I can’t sleep. I have learned more details about the violent results that occur when one vehicle slams into another at high speed – my brother didn’t stand a chance.  It is next to impossible to sleep with anger roaring like a wild beast in my head and in my heart. Toxicology reports document the extremely high levels of alcohol in that man’s blood when he drove his car head on into my brother’s. This whole thing is so crazy. He pleaded not guilty, of course. So each and every day until this trial is over my family is subjected to the consequences of this person’s decisions and actions; of having to hear testimony and see photographs of the aftermath. My older brother described the coldness of a courtroom with Chris referred to only as “the deceased” as if he was not a living, breathing human being before that fateful day adds salt to the wounds. Chris is more than a statistic, more than a victim of impaired driving. He was loved in life and he is loved still.

Chris’s daughter has been attending the trial and it makes me sick to my stomach that she is. She is so young. I worry about the effects this trial may have on her. His son has decided not to go, unless his sister needs him to. They are both dealing with the horror in the best way they can – in ways that feel right to each of them.  My niece feels compelled to go; to see it through. I suspect she does it to honour her Dad. My nephew feels that attending the trial will not change the fact that his father is gone and regardless of the outcome it won’t bring his Dad back. He is right.

Why do any of us subject ourselves to the pain and anguish of sitting through this criminal trial? I cannot answer that yet. I do know we all want answers and perhaps by attending the court proceedings we will. get them  This man claims to be “not guilty” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Had he pleaded guilty to the charges I may have felt more empathy and compassion for him, but it is hard to feel anything for him but animosity and disgust.

Tomorrow I will be travelling to Ontario to be with my siblings and all my nieces and nephews. I feel compelled to go – to lend what support I can to all of them, but especially to Chris’s children.  I am apprehensive about what to expect when I finally join them in that courtroom, and so, if you are a person of prayer I ask that you pray for me and for all my family. I like to try to find something positive in every experience, but I must admit I am hard pressed to find the silver lining in this particular cloud. Perhaps one day, in hindsight, I will .

Stony paths and impossible gulches

I have been writing a lot about my brother’s untimely death and about the trial of the man who killed him, whether by “accident” or not. There are court dates almost every day this week. My family will hear more witnesses describe what they saw. They will learn many painful details. We, as a family, are walking a path filled with jagged stones; the pain and anger that results are like an impossible gulch – deep and seemingly escape proof. I know we will rise above it. I know it deep in my soul. I believe we are all children of God – even the driver who caused my brother’s death. I know some day somehow I will find a way to forgive him. I am asking you, dear reader, to please send positive energy and prayers our way, for the path right down is filled with stones and darkness and the gulch is deep.

Connect; disconnect

Life is a funny thing – full of ups and downs. Some days I am fully present to the people I interact with, my listening skills are well honed and I am fully available; on other days, not so much. Some days it’s like a light switch going off and on, off and on. The next court date is this Friday. I am dreading it. I won’t be there to hold a hand or offer a shoulder. I will have to rely on family members to fill me in afterwards. It’s hard being so far away. But I am grateful for my siblings who keep me in the loop, so to speak. I think the worst thing about losing a loved one in such a senseless manner is the continuing saga of grief that has me by the throat in a vice-like grip. I can put it on the back burner in order to continue daily activities like work. I am grateful to have a job that offers distraction from the ever present reality of loss. There have been many deaths in our family – but this is infinitely worse than anything I’ve experienced before. When death is so preventable it leaves a bitterness behind. We are all working through it the best way we can. Impaired drivers take the lives of others on an almost daily basis. I just hope we can find meaning in the death of our brother and I look forward to days when I can fully connect without that light switch going off.

Forgiveness: walking the talk

Forgiveness is something I have struggled to do at many points in my life. As the trial looms closer I am struggling once more to find forgiveness. Immense pain fills my heart and my head. It is torture to say the least. I know that people who are addicted to drugs of any kind have chosen to use them to numb the pain they feel.

But what if, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they commit a heinous act that results in the death of another? Have they made a terrible and grievous mistake? Was it a “mistake”? How do we hold accountable the person who causes intolerable agony? To what extent are we permitted to play judge and jury? To play God? What sentence will ever satisfy? These are some of the questions that haunt my mind and make it difficult to sleep.

I sincerely believe in the inherent goodness of humanity, but often individuals are broken and cast aside by society. “Hurt people do hurt people”. I am endeavoring to walk my talk. I do believe in the power of forgiveness to set us free. But as a wise friend says “forgiveness is not amnesia”. We may in time forgive that which we can never forget for the scar is deep.

It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those who don’t deserve
It’s the opposite of how you feel
When they pain they caused is just too real
Takes everything you have to say the word
Forgiveness, forgiveness
It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It’s always anger’s own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you’ve got a right to hold a grudge
It’s the whisper in your ear saying set it free
Forgiveness, forgiveness
Forgiveness, forgiveness
Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
Forgiveness, forgiveness
Help me now to do the impossible
It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can

Eleven months gone

Today marks 11 months since my brother was yanked from our lives. He was killed in a horrific and totally preventable car accident. It has been eleven months of soul searching and dealing with the turmoil of emotions that his sudden passing left in its wake.

So this morning I wrote my victim impact statement and all the while I wrote it I was wrapped in a sense of unreality – a dream-like state. It still seems so surreal. How can words ever convey the impact his death has had? And does anybody outside of family and friends even care?  I so desperately need to know that it matters – That his death will count for something. My brother was killed when an impaired driver crashed head on into my brother’s van. It adds salt to the wound, his needless and preventable death.

Yet thousands are killed on the roadways every year. What will it take for people to take the message to heart – impaired driving tears families apart every day – both the families of the deceased and the families of the impaired drivers. I would not wish this pain on anyone. So please, do not get behind the wheel of a car if you are impaired in any way. Don’t text and drive. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t take drugs and drive. Just don’t!

I will not be changed

There is madness in the world – no doubt about it. Most recently it was the terrible event in Las Vegas when a lone gunman opened fire on innocent people taking in a country music concert. It is upsetting to say the least. Why such things happen will always be a mystery. Even in our day to day lives we can see examples of negativity and sometimes cruelty. When did the world become so cynical? When did good manners and simple courtesy become passé? When did our focus become so centered on the ugly and the hate-filled?

Aw, I think therein lies the problem. It is easy to get sucked into the fear mongering and hateful speech that spews forth like sulfuric acid from the mouths of some of our so-called leaders. Their words are so charged with intolerance that I wonder how their tongues don’t turn to ashes from all the acrid wording that drip from their lips in the guise of honest opinion. It is not honest – it is closed-minded and prejudiced.

It is easy to get sucked in – to turn on them in anger and self-righteous rage. But then, I think to myself, isn’t this what they want? The camera focused on them; to be center stage in a drama not of their making, but one they will nonetheless wring every ounce of attention from.

No, angry man, I will not lend you my ear, nor give you the attention your overdeveloped (or perhaps underdeveloped) ego demands. I will walk away from you, I will not engage in your full blown tantrum.

When the world has seen one more example of pure insanity I take comfort in the words of a Garth Brooks song called The Change:

One hand reaches out

And pulls a lost soul from harm

While a thousand more go unspoken for

They say, what good have you done by saving  just this one?

It’s like whispering a prayer in the fury of a storm

And I hear them saying you’ll never change a thing

And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing

But it’s not the world that I am changing

I do this so

The world will know

That it will not change me

Three months…. Time goes by so slowly

So tomorrow marks three months since your death; A death that need not have been if only that other driver had not been inebriated; if only you had stopped by our sister’s place as you had planned to do; if only you had been held up at work just a little longer; if only….

Anger, grief, sadness…sometimes I stick my head in the sand like the ostrich hoping when I pull it out I will discover it is all a bad dream. But it’s not. It’s a nightmare that threatens to engulf my very soul if I let it. I will not. I will look to see the good I may be able to do to honour you in some way. I will work toward making others aware of the suffering that comes as a result of impaired driving – and as my niece correctly pointed out: there were two families adversely affected that day. Our family lost a loved one and there is no end to the questions. And the pain seems like a shadow that follows us everywhere. The other family…well I can only surmise that their lives have also been adversely affected. They also have to deal with court cases and the criminal justice system.

One bad decision is all it took. One bad decision and we all have to live with the consequences of it ….if only…

Never forgotten

I was 12 years old, my friend perhaps a year older; she was a year ahead of me in school. Her name is Gloria Scanlon. I think of her often. She befriended me at a time when I was experiencing culture shock after our family moved to Ontario. I was extremely homesick and missing my old school and friends. She defended me when the bully of the classroom would pick on me. In many ways she was my hero. She died when a drunk driver hit her and her pregnant sister-in-law as they were walking to a store.  I remember her face. I remember her funeral. And every year when the organization against drunk driving, MADD, go into high gear to kick off their red ribbon campaign, I am reminded once again of Gloria.

Today I have more reason than ever to think about the victims of drunk driving. Despite millions poured into a public awareness campaign to combat impaired driving people continue to climb behind the wheel of their vehicles while under the influence of alcohol. I don’t get it. Perhaps I never will. On November 19, 2016 my brother was driving home from work, headed north. At the same time a 36-year-old man who had been drinking was driving southbound.  There was a collision. My brother was killed. The other driver is facing charges. And my family is left to grieve. My brother’s children have been left fatherless. Why? Why, after decades of hearing and seeing the message, “don’t drink and drive” do people decide to do just that. Why?

I may never know why. But I do know this: Gloria will never be forgotten. My brother will never be forgotten. I will share their stories. I will work toward finding the answers, not only for my family, not only for Gloria, but for every single person affected by senseless tragedies such as this. They will never, ever, be forgotten.

I hope….

So here it is, New Year’s Eve, and many people I know have been telling me how happy they are to see the end of 2016. I myself cannot look forward with any sense of joyful anticipation to 2017 due to circumstances way beyond my control. Reality is bitter sometimes. And right now it is bitter. My brother died on November 19, 2016 and we face a year of court dates as the impaired driver has been charged in my brother’s death and the wheels of justice roll very slowly.

I am trying to find the positives here. I know the year ahead will also hold joys. At least I hope it will. It’s all a matter of balance, isn’t it? Life is a series of ups and downs – nothing lasts forever, except love. I am grateful, extremely grateful, for the love and support of my family and friends, without whom I do not know how I would get through all this.

Life is a gentle teacher, or so I’ve been told, but there is nothing gentle about death and particularly not violent death. It is one thing to lose a loved one to natural causes and quite another to have them snatched out of our lives so cruelly and senselessly.

Having said all this I do hope I will learn something of value through this horrific experience. I hope and pray to find forgiveness for that impaired driver. I hope to learn something that will benefit others who have to undergo such an experience – though I would not wish it on anyone. I hope I will find much to celebrate this coming year. And I hope the ups will outnumber the downs that are sure to follow. In the end only kindness matters; I hope I will extend my hands in kindness and forgive all else….I hope and pray that this year I will be a channel of peace….