My youngest daughter was in graduate school working on her Masters of Social Work degree about five years ago. She called me up and asked for help with an assignment.
“I have to interview someone about grieving.”
“What do you grieve about?”
“Gosh, I don’t know, no one close has died in years…”
“Come on, Dad, you must grieve about something.”
“Well, I guess the thing I grieve for the most, sounds kind of dumb, is I grieve for the time you kids were little and we were all together as a family.”
“That works, so what do you do to cope with it?”
“I remember one time when you were little, not much over two. You had a dry washcloth from the laundry and I was sitting on the floor after dinner. You ran over to me waving the wash cloth and you said ‘I’m going to make you clean!’ and started wiping my face.
“I laughed and thought, ‘I have to remember this, this is pretty special.’ After that I tried to focus things I knew I would look back on as special later in my life. I guess they call it being in the moment…”
The next morning I got a call from my wife. My daughter had been in an accident. While waiting in her car behind a school bus, she was hit by a drunken driver who came over a hill at 50 miles an hour. He never hit his brakes. His Chevy Tahoe ended up under the back of the school bus. It was 8:00 am, his blood alcohol percentage was .21, and he didn’t remember later that he had hit a car. Six students, the bus driver and the driver of the Tahoe were injured. My daughter ended up with only a totaled car and a few bruises. She had missed being killed by a tenth of a second by flooring her car to the left into the oncoming lane, which was empty. If she had gone right she would have hit several children and their grandparents waiting for the bus.
I drove the 40 miles to where my daughter lived. I picked her up and we drove around looking for her car, as we weren’t clear on where it had been towed. When we found it, I realized how close I had come to losing her; the entire car behind the front seat was crushed.
I looked at my daughter. “So, it looks like you came pretty close…how did you get out of the way?”
“Well, I was sitting behind the bus and I started to look in the visor mirror to check my make up and I thought ‘No, I’m going to focus and be in the moment today.’ So I looked around me instead. I looked to the right and saw some grandparents ready to put their grandkids on the bus. I looked left into the oncoming lane and I didn’t see anything. Of course, I realized, it was because the bus had it’s stop lights on. And I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a truck coming about 100 miles per hour, so I turned left and stepped on the gas…”
The driver was a former high school, college Big Ten, and Canadian Football League player. Alcohol had cost him his job, his home and marriage. When I went to the yard to get my daughter’s belongings out of her car, I looked in his totaled Tahoe. It looked like he had been living in it. The judge ruled he had to spend three weekends in jail, attend three 12-step meetings per week, and pay about $4,000 in restitution. My daughter seemed begrudgingly accepting of the verdict.
“Maybe he’ll get some help now.”
My older daughter was not happy. “He came this close to killing her!”
A couple of weeks ago my daughter was cleaning out the trunk of her car. She had bought it with the insurance money from her totaled car five years earlier. In the back was a newspaper from five years before with an article about the crash and sentencing. She looked it over. Her husband walked up.
“Here,” She said, “read this if you want. But then I’m throwing it away. I’m not going to think about this again. I’m done with it.”
The driver had quite a few mishaps the last five years. With a blood alcohol percentage of .36 he assaulted a man and called him a racial slur. The man, who was three-quarters his size, but twenty years younger, beat him almost to death. He was in jail frequently for not paying child support. The day my daughter found the newspaper in her trunk, he got drunk in a bar in Ohio and left at noon without paying his bill. The staff called the police, who put him in jail for disorderly conduct, petty theft and obstructing official business.
At 11:00 pm that night it was found he had died in his cell.