Some days are hard – harder than others. I have been scrolling through Facebook and looking at the adorable photos of children (and adults) dressed up for Halloween. This is usually a favorite activity of mine, after all is said and done and only the deformed remains of jack-o-lanterns and candy wrappers are left to tell the tale of this annual loot fest.
I heard a news item on the radio today about a group who are petitioning government to have the annual holiday held on the last Saturday in October instead of the 31st, as is customary. That makes a lot of sense to me, as the news piece pointed out, there are too many accidents on this day every year. Don’t ask me for stats – I don’t have them, but it was something that struck close to home this year.
Yesterday afternoon my sister-in-law was in a horrific car accident as she was driving home. Details are still sketchy and I don’t know exactly what happened., except that the car she was driving was t-boned by a transport truck. She had her daughter and one-year-old baby grandson in the car when the accident occurred. Fortunately her daughter and the baby are relatively okay. But my sister-in-law remains in hospital. She was seriously injured in the wreck. We have heard she is now in stable condition and we are grateful for that. I am hoping and praying for a complete and speedy recovery. My heart breaks for her children and her ‘other half’. We live in another province and sometimes the waiting is excruciating.
I don’t know what role Halloween may have played in the incident, if any, but I do know there are more reports of car accidents every year on this date. To move the holiday so it does not land on a weekday makes sense to me – not so many people traveling to or from work, meaning less traffic on the roads, making it safer for trick-or-treaters. In addition it would mean more time and less stress on parents, and on people in general as preparations for the frivolities can and do add stress.
Halloween definitely did not equal fun for my husband’s family this year, nor for our own little family. It was a scare I would not wish on anyone. It was a very tough day, and those days are likely to continue into the foreseeable future as we wait and hope and pray….
“The littlest feet make the biggest footprints on our hearts.” – Author unknown
I woke up this morning to the happy news that my niece had her baby girl. Life is so wondrous and so precious. This is my brother’s first grandchild and her birth has been much anticipated. She has given us something wonderful to focus on and a much-needed break from the jumble of emotions this past 18 months have been. If you follow this blog you know my brother was killed by an impaired driver a year and a half ago. This precious child is bringing healing and a new focus on the joys of life. While I am saddened that Chris is not here to hold this precious baby, I am rejoicing that she has arrived safe and sound and both mother and child are recuperating from the rigors of childbirth. Yes, life is fragile, but life is also very, very good.
There have been a series of setbacks in my life, but the one I have been most affected by was the sudden and preventable death of my brother, Chris. Since his death I have done my best to honor his memory and have written a lot about Chris, the impact his passing has had on my life and the struggles with grief since then. I don’t know if every family is the same, but for me, personally, the bond formed in childhood is a life-long bond that even death cannot erase. And so I have been playing with the words grief and grieving and have found this acronym for “grieve” to be true:
When your heart is ripped open and the wound goes deep into your soul it becomes very difficult to get through the days. And each experience of grief triggers every single past experience with other loved ones. Like some kind of heinous dominoe effect each fresh bereavement carries with it the ability to marshal forth every memory of pain ever experienced. So in my experience it is very important to be incredibly gentle with yourself as you traverse the minefields of grief. Grief can make you feel a little crazy and definitely off balance. Here is what grief, as an acronym, means to me:
Round (and round)
I miss my brother. We all do. I hope that sharing my grief and pain helps others going through similar circumstances know they are not alone. May everyone going through the turmoil of grief be healed and know the love and comfort of family members and friends. I know mine have helped me tremendously.
Well, it’s been a very bumpy month so far. But, on positive note, my husband is out of hospital and hopefully will gain back his strength. After a total of three weeks in hospital I am finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and feel more hopeful for the future, whatever it may bring. And I sincerely hope it is better health for my life partner, best friend, and spouse.
At the other end of the spectrum is the ongoing drama of the trial, which resumes tomorrow. I have no idea what it may bring – I think my whole family will be glad to see an end to this painful journey through the criminal justice system. And, of course, I cannot help but think of Chris, and of his children. It’s been a long, hard row to hoe. If you follow this blog you know that I am referring to the trial of the man who killed my brother when he crashed into his vehicle on Nov. 19, 2016. He faces several charges, among them impaired driving causing death.
The trial was slated to continue on the 8th of this month, but that date was cancelled due to the illness of the defense attorney. And so here we are, waiting to see what transpires next. It hasn’t been pleasant, this waiting game, to say the least. My heart goes out to my niece and nephew who have been going through the grief of losing their father compounded by the stress and anguish of the trial. I know how difficult it has been for me, and I am his sibling. Yet, everyone who knew my brother well were shocked and deeply wounded when he died. It wasn’t only that he died, but the manner in which it came about – snatched from life in the most preventable of circumstances.; And so all the people who knew Chris, no matter what the relationship, have been deeply affected by the tragedy of his death.
What can I write that would make people think twice before climbing behind the wheel of any vehicle if their judgment is impaired in any way? Sometimes I wonder if my efforts mean anything at all. But, if nothing else, people will know that Chris lived and that his life mattered….and he is forever loved…. forever missed.
Two weeks ago I was getting ready for my flight to Ontario to join my family and to lend my support while the trial of the man who killed my brother continued. The evidence against him is overwhelming; from the many witnesses to the collision, to professionals such as police officers, nurses, and the technician who administered the breathalyzer, and many more.
I spent a week with my sisters and brothers and some of my nieces and nephews. We are a large family, which is a huge blessing in times like this. For not only do we each receive support, we give it as well – which, I think, we all need right now. I know I certainly needed it as I sat there gripping my sister’s hand as we listened to the pathologist describe in detail the extent of the injuries Chris suffered – that was incredibly hard to hear and hard to bear – by far the most difficult thing I have ever done.
And my blood still boils recalling the complete lack – or seeming complete lack of any remorse in the defendant’s demeanor as we watched a video of an early police interview with him. He continually denied having had anything to drink as the detective questioned him, finally owning up to having had “one beer” a half hour before the collision – a collision that witnesses said showed no braking of any kind as he sped toward my unsuspecting brother (and narrowly missing hitting at least two other vehicles). There was a total absence of any skid marks at the scene. Meanwhile the breathalyzer revealed an extremely high level of alcohol in this guy’s blood 2 hours after the collision – one beer my ass!
The lack of any sense of accountability boggles my mind. Why does this person seem to think there should not be a consequence for his actions? It mystifies me. It really does. I honestly don’t think I could ever live with myself if I ever were to cause the death of another human being.
And it’s not that I want vengeance on this guy – I simply want him to acknowledge the seriousness of his crime and make a public apology for the pain and suffering Chris’s family has had to live with and will continue to live with for some time to come. We all know that impaired drivers get very little in the way of jail time so a guilty sentence will not likely result in any long term incarceration.
We are still in limbo as the trial has been remanded until January and the final verdict and sentencing are months away. It is a sad fact that it is Chris’s children, his siblings, and extended family who will serve a life sentence; a life sentence of loss that nothing can change.
And so you are gone
You slipped away
Leaving us your words of wisdom
Brutal honesty coupled with humility
You took us on your journey
Through pain and heartache
Through joys and thanksgiving
And I just want your loved ones to know
To all the strangers you made your friends
You are gone
But your words live on
And I am grateful for that
For your life, for your courage and tenacity
And here in Canada
Where fall is descending
And the days grow shorter
I remember you
With each little bird that visits our feeder
On its way south to warmer climes
“Oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain
I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I’d see you again”
– James Taylor
Grief is a road we must walk alone, despite being with others, despite the comfort offered and given; we each must feel the pain within. There is no choice but to live through it.
May has two big anniversaries for me. The first was the wildfire that swept through Fort McMurray last year and the anguish and post traumatic stress that ensued. The second is the six month anniversary of my brother’s untimely death, and the agony of loss that followed it – especially since it was a totally preventable accident that took him from us. If you follow this blog you know he was killed when an impaired driver, driving on the wrong side of the highway, crashed head on into my brother’s vehicle. There was no escaping the oncoming car – nowhere for my brother to turn to avoid it, though he tried. The other driver survived and is facing charges. It is a very bitter pill to swallow.
However, I do not want to dwell on my grief here. I simply want to point out how often we take our loved ones for granted. We believe we can catch up another day, visit another time, make that phone call tomorrow….but sometimes tomorrow doesn’t come and the opportunity to show our affection is lost forever. In the weeks preceding my brother’s death I kept telling myself, “I’ll call Chris tomorrow”. Needless to say I procrastinated – and then he was gone. The quote at the top of this blog is from a James Taylor tune, Fire and Rain, and it has been playing in my mind off and on for six months and three days….
So I say to you: Take time out to make that phone call, pay that visit, hug your loved ones, and always let them know what they mean to you. For tomorrow may never come.
“Don’t feel guilty for having a laugh at something. You might say, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t be laughing.’ Yeah, you should be. … Your family is with you, you’re alive and that’s joyful.” – Sharon Watcher, Slave Lake, AB
The above quote was taken from a news story talking about how the people of Slave Lake, Alberta, who also survived fire, were reaching out to evacuees from Fort McMurray to offer their support and advice. The quote struck me because one of the long lasting effects of the fire was the incredible sense of guilt I feel for not losing anything of material worth to the fire. They call it “survivor’s guilt” and it’s with me still, even a year later. Mostly it’s because so many people have yet to rebuild their homes, or have taken a substantial financial loss by walking away. I witness faces filled with frustration, sadness, or pain almost on a daily basis.
Last year we spent the month of May safely ensconced in Sylvan Lake, a picturesque little town halfway between Calgary and Edmonton. It was a stressful time, but it was also a time filled with more blessings than I can count. And I do like to keep a positive attitude as much as possible. But a year after the fire it feels like Fort McMurray has been forgotten, except for the obligatory news stories. Yet many here continue to grieve and to struggle with the trauma left by “the beast”. (That’s the name firefighters gave to the inferno,)
For the people of Fort McMurray the fire cannot be forgotten. There are reminders of it everywhere. – Blackened tree trucks and dead wood are everywhere around the city – so it makes forgetting impossible. We live with it. What other choice is there? But I hope that the moments of sheer grief are lessening for my fellow citizens, that there are more moments of joy than of pain. Tree trunks will remain black for years to come, but our hearts need not be.
It’s been a tough few weeks. Moving is never fun but I am so very grateful for the people who stepped up to help. Family and friends are definitely the super glue that holds me together. Through good times and bad times they’ve been there for me to lean on, or to help celebrate life’s joys. I feel like I have been walking along a razor’s edge between these seemingly opposite emotions – one minute happy the next grief-stricken once again. Because you see, it was my younger brother, Chris, who so often stepped up to help us, whether it was moving our belongings or something as simple as a ride to the airport, he was always there for us – it’s been four months now since his death, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. Even through the exhaustion of moving, or perhaps especially because of that fatigue, he sprang to mind frequently. I remember when he helped us move and also made sure there was a hot supper waiting when the last load had finally been dropped at our new place. I not only appreciated his strength, I was inspired once again by his thoughtfulness. He was an amazing brother and friend. I miss him.
So, for what it’s worth – I am back! Thank you for reading my blog and I will spare you further exposure to my grief. For those of you who know my family you know Chris was killed when an impaired driver crashed into my brother’s vehicle. So, once again, I implore all of you – never get into a vehicle with an impaired driver; and be careful on the highways and byways, for I would not wish this pain on anyone. Stay safe my friends.
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…