He watched his grandmother die; words from a survivor

In 2009, my 16-year-old step-son (the Dude) and his grandmother were out getting groceries for a family reunion camping trip. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. A beautiful day. Clear, sunny, and hot. Suddently, a 1-ton truck veered across the center line and plowed into them head on. Moments later, the Dude watched his grandmother take her last breath.

The guy who mowed them down was charged with impaired driving causing death. He was twice the legal limit but plead not guilty none the less. And after 20 months and well over a dozen court dates, we had a guilty verdict and it was time for sentencing. As part of the process, family members and friends were encouraged to write victim impact statements. The judge said that in all his years he had never received so many.

With The Dude’s permission, I’d like to share with you his victim impact statement. I warn you, his words will haunt you. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

After the accident, and the loss of my grandmother, my life has change drastically. Right after it happened I had a few sleepless nights and they weren’t the last. These sleepless nights still occur and I don’t know if they will ever stop. Every now and then I have flashbacks of the condition my grandmother was in after the accident, rolling over to see the passenger side seat to see if I was still alive, and sleep is impossible. The wreckage from the accident was traumatizing and shocking experience. The ambulance ride; the cuts, scrapes and bruises on my face; the useless hope that my grandmother may be alive as I’m headed to the hospital, hoping I would have something more than just ashes to hold at Christmas.

Ever since the accident there’s been a hole in my life that just hasn’t, and never will be filled.

At our family gatherings it doesn’t seem like everyone is as connected as they used to be because my grandmother is gone. Every year we have a pumpkin carving day where our whole family gets together on Halloween and have a potluck and carve pumpkins. And it’s not as important to me or anyone else because she’s not there.

I resent having to celebrate Christmas every year.

Ever since I could remember she spent Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with my family and she made Christmas for me. Now that she’s gone I hate putting up the tree without her, and opening presents, and the whole process of Christmas depresses me. 

This depression carries on throughout my life daily, I’ve been told that I haven’t looked truly happy since the day of the accident by people I care about the most and it makes them sad for me and I’m sure it makes them feel unappreciated. At school there are days where something reminds me of that day, something as simple as a sandwich or someone talking about a family reunion, and I cry because of my experience.

Every year there are presentations about drunk driving at my school. One presentation tried to show the wreckage and damage that drunk driving can do to people. This was like my own personal hell. Stuck in a gymnasium, watching several images of “accidents” that looked exactly like the one that killed my grandmother, the one I was in, over and over again. I broke down crying, sitting in the middle of a crowd of 1800 of my peers. I was shaking, hyperventilating, and had to get out to be sick because I couldn’t handle it anymore. My marks have gone significantly down because of the sleepless nights, missing school to go to court, hoping that eventually I would finally see justice served for what was taken from me, my family, her friends, co-workers, and even the cancer patients at the hospital who looked forward to her daily visits.  

I miss the little things!

It’s funny the things you miss when you lose someone. I miss her calls that happen two days after my birthday because she couldn’t remember if it was the 17 or 19. I miss spending weekends with her and doing things that I’m sure she hated, just so she could spend time with her grandson. I miss taking care of her if she was sick and I miss her little car she was so proud of and basically could live out of if she needed to. 

That little car that was crushed instantly, along with my grandmother.

Being 16 when the accident happened, I just received my driver’s licence two weeks before the accident. I took the driver’s education course and opted out of learning to drive a standard vehicle. I’m thankful in more ways than you can imagine for this decision. I would have been the one killed in the accident if that were the case because I know my grandmother was excited to hear that I passed my driving test. She would have let me take that wheel and wanted to see me growing up, right before I would have died.

I’m grateful to be alive.

I feel like I can’t waste one second of my life because it could be taken away from me in the time it takes to snap your finger. I’m shocked that I am alive and didn’t receive any major injuries physically from this accident. Seeing the condition that car was in and knowing that somehow I managed to make it out alive is more than a miracle to me.

I travel very differently then I used to.

Whether I am driving or a passenger I cannot stop thinking that there is going to be a car come into my lane and kill me at any moment. I still have dreams about the day that it will happen to me. Oncoming traffic scares me more than I could describe, especially trucks and transport trucks. I’ve seen what happens when a bigger vehicle hits a smaller one more than once in my life. It results in death.

Overall I feel like I was forced to experience what it was like to be violently robbed a grandparent. See what it’s like to see someone you love with the back of their head missing; to see their jaw torn off on one side and just hanging there. To see her flesh ripped apart, her legs crushed and her throat sliced apart because the seat belt dug into her so deep she couldn’t breathe. And taking her last breathes trying to see if I was okay and alive. That image plays in my head at least once every day; usually more. No amount of counselling could ever fix that. No one should have to see that, and I hope to god that no one has to see a loved one, a member of their family, in the condition that I’ve seen my grandmother. No one deserves that kind of traumatization.

Please join me, hubby, and the Dude and take a stand against impaired driving!

Support MADD Canada and follow them on Facebook, Twitter (@maddcanada), and on the Web.

Today, I’d like to share only one other post with you:

  • August McLaughlin’s story about her fight with an eating disorder will move you to tears! It’s by far one of the most powerful posts I’ve ever read. Her journey to hell and back is both astounding and inspirational. Go read it now!
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Comments

  1. Another powerful post, Natalie. Your voice is so strong in this series. and every post is moving and emotional. thank Dude for sharing his statement with us.

  2. Oh my goodness, Natalie: My heart breaks for what your stepson experienced. He is right: No one should have to go through that — especially just because someone else wanted one more drink and didn’t want to call a cab. I thank you and him for using your experience to speak out against drunk driving. I do pray that healing will come to your family, but that you will continue to use your voices to encourage responsibility. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you Julie!!!! I know, every time I read his VIS, I cry. No one should ever have to experience such a thing when impaired driving is 100% preventable. He’s a brave soul for his willingness to share his story in the hopes of preventing other impaired driving incidents!!!

  3. Oh, Natalie, I am so sorry for what Dude, you, and your family have gone through. He’s a very brave young man.

  4. I feel for your son and entire family, but I applaud you for sharing.

    Somehow people seem to disconnect from the reality of driving impaired. They may say it’s something they would never do, yet when the time comes to make the choice, they think it’s ok.

    It is never ok. I hope your story makes others think twice about the seriousness of getting behind the wheel.

    [Between you and August, my tissue box is needing a refill this week. Hugs!]

    • I couldn’t agree more Amber. People just don’t seem to clue in. They think they are ok. And you are right, it’s never ok. People are better off just setting a rule that even one drink is one too many. Why risk it? Why take the chance? It’s just not worth it!
      I hope that our story does make people stop, think about it, and make a solid decision. Here’s hoping!
      I know…wasn’t August’s post ahhhmazing!!!! I cried!! And I cried at yours today as well – beautiful story!!!
      Thanks so much for the comment and the support!!!

  5. Hoping for more than ashes to hold at Christmas… Oh, Natalie. Your introduction brought tears to my eyes and that line of Dude’s spilled them.

    I’m continually inspired by you and your family. You all may never know how many lives you’ve changed or saved. You bring such love and voice to a problem of epidemic proportions…and, as you never let us forget, Natalie, one that’s 100% preventable. Hugs and love to you both!

  6. Powerful and heartbreaking. There are no words meaningful enough to make a difference to the pain and sorrow. You and your family continue to bring to the forefront the important issues around this terrible blight on our society. I applaud all of you … and send hugs.

  7. Coleen Patrick says:

    So powerful–I feel for your whole family Natalie, Sending hugs!!

  8. I always know these posts are going to be difficult to read, but I read every single word because they’re important. You’re important. Mamma K is important. The Dude is important. These words are his Truth and I respect that he took the time to write them down because you know it wasn’t easy for him. If there was one thing I could do for him, it would be to somehow ease his thoughts so that he could find a way to live like a normal kid again. That driver not only robbed him of his sweet grandmother, he robbed the Dude of a childhood that should be filled with happiness and fun. Not sleepless nights and stress.

    Thank you for sharing his impact statement. Hugs to all of you.

    • I couldn’t agree more Tameri! Thank you soooo much for seeing the value in theses posts, for your never-ending support, and for the importance you’ve place on them, me, and my family. It moves me more than words could ever express.
      HUGS!!!!!!!!!

  9. Thank the Dude for sharing his story, Natalie. It’s very powerful.

  10. Wow, I think there’s going to be another writer in the family. That was so well written “Dude” and everything you said I could tell was spilled onto the page from deep within your heart. No, you probably will never be able to put aside the most tragic event of your life. But by bravely sharing your feelings shows us what a beautiful person you are and how much you loved your grandmother. Years ago my husband got hit head-on by an oncoming vehicle. For years he would flinch and I can only imagine the pain that you have been made to suffer. Please keep sharing your story as I can only hope that by doing so you will not only be helping others, but that it will also mend your dear tender loving heart. Thank you. :)

  11. Elena Aitken says:

    Wow! Tears are streaming down my face. Thank you for sharing, Natalie. And thank, the Dude too. Then give him a hug.
    He is obviously a strong, amazing young man that has amazing purpose in life.
    Everyone should read this.
    Thank you. ((hugs))

    • Awwww…thank you Elena – I will definitely pass along your hugs and your encouragement and pride.
      We are very, very proud of him! He’s an outstanding individual.
      I agree, everyone should read it…
      HUGS!!!!!!!!!

  12. What an eloquent young man! Keep sharing your story Dude, it is powerful. I applaud your bravery and hope right along side you no one ever has to see a loved one in the condition you saw your beloved grandmother. “…hoping I would have something more than just ashes to hold at Christmas” will stay with me forever. {{hugs}}

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  1. […] Hartford: He Watched His Grandmother Die: Words from a Survivor This heart-wrenching post gives a face and name to an issue that continues to run rampant, though […]

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