Losing a loved one to impaired driving

Mamma K

It’s hard sometimes to explain to people how losing a loved one to impaired driving is different from losing someone in a way that doesn’t involve a criminal act. I say that because I was one of those people who had no idea. It never dawned on me. And not because I’m not a sensitive or empathic person, I most certainly am. But until you’ve experienced it, you can’t know what you don’t know.

I lost my Dad in a car accident in 1991. An oncoming driver hit a piece of black ice, spun out of control and hit my Dad head on. He was killed instantly. And although it was devastating, our family always knew that it was an accident. We knew that the driver wasn’t negligent, he wasn’t on the phone or texting, he hadn’t been drinking, and he wasn’t on drugs. What happened just happened. No one could have predicted it or prevented it. And in that “knowing”, the family had peace and never blamed the driver of the truck that hit Dad. We grieved, we mourned, we were devastated but we were able to heal, grown, move on and rebuild.

When an impaired driver steals a loved one from your life (or injures them), it’s very different. It’s someone’s fault. Someone made a choice, a conscious decision that resulted in the death or injury of a loved one…that resulted in your pain and suffering!

When Mamma K was killed and The Dude injured on August 1, 2009, we were told almost immediately that the police suspected the driver was impaired and that a blood sample had been sent away for analysis. That was in August. We waited months (6 months in fact) after Mamma K was killed to finally get official notice that the blood sample came back from the lab and that the offender would be officially charged with impaired driving causing death.

The emotional toll of waiting MONTHS to hear this verdict was devastating. The family couldn’t move forward. Everything was suspended in time. The wound was open and festering while we wondering if salt was about to be poured on it or not. There was no healing. There was no growing. It was an opened, angered pain waiting to erupt at any moment…for months on end.

It was like watching a thriller movie where you are sitting on the edge of your seat, the terrifying music building and building as you know the “jump” scene is coming at any moment and then BAM! You leap from your seat with almost relief to have the building tension finally over. Only ours lasted for months….

When the driver was finally charged with impaired driving causing death, everything became real in the blink of an eye. All of a sudden we were stricken with a deep and profound knowing that this didn’t have to happen. That it had been preventable. Mamma K didn’t have to die and The Dude didn’t need to be injured and emotionally scarred for life.

Suddenly, we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt (court or no court) that someone knowingly and consciously made the choice to put the lives of innocent people at risk and we were the ones that lost his gamble. You have no idea how that consumes you. How it permeates through your entire being. How the pain and anger curses through your veins…every moment of every single day. There was intense and all-consuming anger, pain, hatred, revenge, blame, unfairness, and disgust that now couples in with your grief. Suddenly….someone has DONE this TO you.

How do you swallow that? How you come to terms with that? How do you accept that someone killed and injured someone you love?

Let me tell you…you don’t…ever!

And then, to make matters worse, starts the endless sea of court dates and the emotional roller coaster of that experience. Ours was 20 months and well over a dozen court visits.

  • Will he get charged?
  • What will he plead?
  • Why did he plead not guilty?
  • Will he get off?
  • Will the defense’s arguments stand?
  • Will the prosecution’s arguments stand?
  • Wait and see….
  • OMG, the defense won and that evidence is out. Devastation. The man who did this will get off.
  • But wait…there’s another possible way to get the evidence in….
  • More arguments on both sides….more waiting…
  • The decision that the other evidence is in. Elation!
  • The guilty verdict. Elation.
  • Closure? Nope.
  • More pain. Writing and reading victim impact statements. How do you put into worse the impact of losing your loved one and seeing your step-son profoundly injured? You try. But somehow you never feel like your words quite capture it.
  • Sentencing.
  • Closure? Nope.
  • Jail notification – he got day parole.
  • Jail notification – he went to Moncton for something.
  • Jail notifications keep coming – for this that and the other thing.
  • Jail notification – he’s up for parole.
  • Jail notification – do you want to submit new victim impact statements, do you want to read them aloud, do you want to attend his parole hearing, fill out forms upon forms upon forms.
  • Drive to attend parole hearing.
  • Bite your lip as you watch his mother defend him…as he defends himself…as he demonstrates no remorse or accountability.
  • Parole denied…elation.
  • More pain knowing he’ll get statutory release after serving only 2 years for killing Mamma K and injuring The Dude…devastation.

It goes on and on…

Our impaired driving case has been going on for nearly 4 years. Even though he was found guilty and sentenced to jail, it doesn’t stop there. It’s like this never-ending emotional roller coaster. How do you ever put it behind you? How do you ever find closure when it’s like a gaping wound, open and festering being poked over and over again?

After my Dad died, yes it was hard. Yes it took time. Yes it was horrific and devastating and awful but we were able to grieve…heal…and move forward with our lives. We weren’t entangled with this massive thing called the criminal justice system that seems to do anything but provide justice…that seems to re-victimize the true innocents over and over again. After Dad died, we weren’t reading the Criminal Code of Canada, talking to lawyers and prosecutors, researching other drunk driving cases and the like for days and months and years. We were able to grieve and move on. Period.

This…is so much more!

I share this with you not so you feel sorry for us. Not so you send hugs and love (although I know you do and they are gratefully appreciated). I share this with you all so that you know.

  • So when you hear of an impaired driving story where someone has died or has been injured, you can have a better appreciation for the process that family is embarking on.
  • So when you see a suspected impaired driver on the road, you won’t hesitate to call 911.
  • So when you host a party this holiday season, you will be diligent in having alcohol-free options and will insist everyone have a safe and sober plan to get home.
  • So when you hear of someone talking in passing about having driven drunk, you won’t hesitate to speak out.

Because…now you know. You know the devastation. You know the risk is way too high. You know the cost is much too high. And the more of us who are out there, who know and who spread the message, the greater the chance that one day we will win this battle and will stop impaired driving once and for all….

Losing a loved one is tragic and devastating enough on its own – knowing someone’s negligence and choices were responsible just makes it that much worse.

Please…share our story! Help save a life!

How has the lost or injury of a loved on impacted your life? How do you cope and heal? How do you plan to spread the awareness of the dangers of impaired driving this holiday season?  I’d love to hear your thoughts?

On August 1, 2009, my beautiful mother-in-law’s life was cut tragically short by an impaired driver and my stepson’s life changed forever. In honor of Donna and Jordan Kennie, please don’t drink and drive. Impaired driving is 100% preventable. Think about it.

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

Text MADD to 45678 to donate $5 today. Report impaired drivers – CALL 911.

More blog deliciousness here:

For the month of November and December, I am proud to be taking part in the Holiday Yum Blog Hop where a group of uber bloggers will regale you with recipes and funny cooking stories.

This week’s highlights:

Already Posted:

Stay tuned for:

  • December 2: Estee Lavitt’s Latkes
  • December 5: Yours truly with French Lace Cookies
  • December 10: Kathy Owen’s Butter Spritz Cookies
  • December 14: Ellen M. Gregg’s Old-fashioned Buttermilk Sugar Cookies (with Christmas punch)
  • December 17: I am back with a recipe for Cheesecake that is so simple but even I messed it up once
  • December 19: Jenny Hansen’s Holly Candy
  • December 23: Jess Witkins will entice us with either some comfort food or appetizer
  • December 26: Kathy Owen will come through with beef rib-eye roast with currant jelly brown gravy
  • December 28:  I will give you some fabulous Mocktail options for your New Year’s Eve parties

Be sure to check out our ever uberlicious host, Kathy Owen’s Holiday Yum page and leave her some blog hop luv!



  1. prudencemacleod says:

    Every time you retell this story my heart breaks for you. You’re right, the system seems to continue to victimize the innocent rather than punish the guilty. It sucks and it needs changing, I agree.
    However, my dear friends, you must let go of this man and grieve then heal. Continue to work towards the changes we need in the system, but let go of this man, for he has not only destroyed one life in your family, he is now destroying you.
    Hugs to the family. Pru

    • Such great advice Prudence!! He has already taken up too much real estate in our lives, for sure. I am happy to say that we are all in a much better place and that we have started to heal and put the whole thing behind us…it’ll definitely come…for sure! HUGS and thanks so much for your wonderful comments and support!

  2. Hubby aka The Blog Heckler says:

    You have a knackfor capturing this and putting in into words – perfectly put!!!

  3. Hubby aka The Blog Heckler says:

    PS: Don’t forget to check out Hubby’s Corner on Monday!!!

  4. Natalie, you did a great job conveying some of what you’ve gone through, and continue to go through. My heart goes out to you, honey.

    I have been fortunate enough not to have lost a loved one because of a drunk driver. I’ve had a little taste of the court system, though, when my then- 8th grader was set upon in the woods on his way home by 3 high schoolers who stole his new (birthday present the DAY before) iPod. If I’ve told you this before, just skip the rest. 😉

    There had been a string of incidents in that area from the day before, a fact that the school, in its bureaucratic head-up-its-ass wisdom, had NOT yet seen fit to share with the parents, until AFTER my child had been a victim. That was absolutely infuriating, since I would not have let him walk home that day if I’d known.

    Then there were endless police interviews, emails to administrators, phone calls. Then – elation! They caught the guys. Then juvenile court hearings – at least half a dozen – and statements, more phone calls, taking him out of school to attend these hearings. Then continuances, postponements. 13 months later(!), the ringleader was finally tried in court. By then, my scrawny 8th-grader was a high schooler, half a foot taller, running track and looking very fit. The ringleader was shorter (but he’d been accompanied by large friends) and was 18 by then and had finished growing. Amy my son’s memory of the incident, after all that time, was getting hazy. They had the two boys stand next to each other in court – can you believe it?? Victim and perpetrator. My son towered over him by this point. The kid got off.

    The court’s victim advocate bemoaned the verdict and the process, of course, and she told us to take heart that this kid had since then turned his life around and was taking responsible steps toward his future, but it wasn’t much of a consolation to us. And I’m not sure what impression my son came away with about the justice system. I know I’m not impressed with it. I only hope that the perpetrator suffered even more hassle – and certainly more expense – than we did. All for a $150 iPod.

    Anyway, sorry to ramble on. Thanks for reading!

    • Kathy, thank you so much for sharing your story! I love it when anyone stops by and shares…at length!

      What a horrible situation for you, your family and your son to go through. My god! You do know first hand how “unfair” the system can be to the victims. I know we need “a” system but the one we have is certainly far from perfect.

      Here’s hoping the perpetrator did indeed suffer…and hopefully learned!!

  5. Oops! Just realized I posted my comment on your linked article. Either way, you know I support you in this righteous cause to save lives and bring awareness. ::hugs::

  6. Natalie,
    Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. I can’t imagine losing someone to an impaired driver. My oldest brother was killed in June 2005 because of negligent driver, but no alcohol was involved. At least we didn’t have that to add to our suffering. Great job on continuing to raise awareness.

    • I can’t imagine losing a loved on to negligence Stacy…preventable as well and such a senseless crime. How did you guys cope and let go? Did you find you had a lot of anger?

      Deepest sympathies…hopefully through all our stories people will hear the message and will commit to driving sober and alert!

  7. The right amount of passion and advocacy. Perfect.

  8. Natalie I’m so sorry that not only did you have to go on living without your dear Mom-in-law but you have to put up so much B.S. with the legal system. My daughter and her therapy dog recently went on a visit to a rehab hospital and one of her visits included a young woman who lost her leg including part of her upper thigh, her fiance and her sister in an accident caused by a drunk driver. Needless to say, this has had quite an effect on my daughter, a young twenty-five yr old with an active social life that often includes “drinks” We need M.A.D.D. and people like you and my daughter to spread the word. Don’t drink and drive. Period. Thank you for all you do.

    • Your daughter sounds like one incredible woman and I am sure she’s touching the lives of many. Wow….

      Having “drinks” is perfectly fabulous as long as a person doesn’t drive afterwards, which I am sure she doesn’t…especially after meeting that brave and incredible young woman! What a sad, desperate story…and all preventable…so senseless! I am sure your daughter will be a powerful advocate…we could use another bunch just like her – so dedicated and responsible! You must be incredibly proud!!!

      Here’s to all of us continuing to spread the message…

      Thanks for swinging by and sharing Kate…and let your daughter know that all the way from Eastern Canada, I appreciate the work she’s doing!

  9. Raani York says:

    Reblogged this on raaniyork and commented:
    I think it’s important to read this. Thank you!!

  10. Raani York says:

    I’m not going to say much to the blog post, Natalie… I think you can vividly imagine how it made me feel…
    That’s why I just reblogged it.

  11. This heartbreaking story doesn’t get any easier to hear, Natalie. I admire your commitment to this cause and, at this time of year in particular, it’s important that as many people read this message as possible. I’m off to tweet …

  12. Firstly I send a big hug your way. This story can’t be easy to tell and it’s horrifying and awful and I applaud you because it’s so so important to tell because maybe one day people will listen up and stop being such self absorbed asses! So a big Thank You.

    • From your words to God’s ears Caroline!!! Here’s hoping…here’s praying!!!

      Thank you so much for swinging by and sharing your support. It means so much to me…hope your holidays are fabulous and safe…

  13. Thank you for sharing the story. It is so heartbreaking. My thoughts are with you.

  14. Reblogged this on little box of books and commented:
    Please remember your responsibilities.

  15. I am so sorry for your pain.

  16. My friend’s husband lost his father by an impaired driver many years ago. I could not imagine loosing a loved one in that manner.


  1. […] information for another post. It may be that this piece ended up where it needed to be. As Natalie Hartford can tell you, we must always be mindful of other drivers on the road. During the holiday season, […]

  2. […] information for another post. It may be that this piece ended up where it needed to be. As Natalie Hartford can tell you, we must always be mindful of other drivers on the road. During the holiday season, […]

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