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!

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An unhappy anniversary

Donna Kennie (Mamma K) on her 60th birthday just four short months before her death.

Two years ago yesterday, my mother-in-law was gunned down on a gorgeous sunny day. I say gunned down because even though it was a car accident, it feels like she was brutally murdered by a gun-wielding psychopath. Instead, it was a seemingly harmless driver who had one too many drinks and smoked some weed. Someone who likely thought he was “fine” to drive but clearly wasn’t when he cut sharply into the other lane and took out my beautiful Mamma K.

A witness driving behind Mamma K testified in court that when the 1-ton truck rammed into Mamma K’s 2-door sunfire nearly head on, the force of the collision propelled the truck literally 10 feet in the air as it flipped over and landed on its hood sliding into the gravel. The impact tore the driver side of the car off where it was found imbedded in the truck’s front grill.

My Mamma K was nearly ripped in two and died almost instantly. She lived long enough to turn to her right and see that her 16-year-old grandson was alive as she took her final breath. He watched her mutilated body fade away to the afterlife before his very eyes.  My step-son has lived with recurring nightmares and sleepless nights ever since.

This wasn’t a Saturday night at 2 am. This occurred on a holiday Monday. It was a gorgeous sunny day at 2:30 in the afternoon. Drunk drivers don’t discriminate against time of day. They don’t care where they are, if the road conditions are ideal, or if anyone will get hurt. Nothing matters to them because you see…they tell themselves they are ok to drive….they think their harmless…

I think they are gun wielding psychopaths!

My husband Scott looks over his mother's car and the spot where she died wondering if she suffered...asking himself; "why?????"

After her death, Trent Mallet, the driver of the truck, did her family the honor (being sarcastic here) of pleading not-guilty to impaired driving causing death. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the Canadian justice system and Trent’s right to plead not guilty to try to get away with it. But that choice meant my family was drug through 18 months and over a dozen court dates before finally seeing this guy found guilty and sentenced for his crime.

The entire court process was like having a Band-Aid slowly torn off with salt pouring directly on an open, festering wound over and over again. No one in the family was able to get closure, heal, or move forward having the hurt and anger stirred up every few months for nearly two years. And then there was the added emotional roller coaster of not knowing from court date to court date what was going to happen next; were we going to win, was he going to get off on a technicality? I can’t even begin to put into words the emotional torture this was to my family; the not knowing if he’d ever be held accountable for his choices and actions…for her murder.

The devastation that impaired driving inflicts on families is undeniable and unspeakable.

Why ever take the chance? Why drive even after a drink or two; even if you feel fine? Why take the risk? What if you inadvertently murder some innocent person(s)…just to save a few bucks on a cab? It’s not worth it!

It doesn’t make sense.  

How has your life been impacted by impaired driving?

To read our story:

Dear blog…a tough 20th anniversary

I have struggled to sit down and make blog time this week. It was the 20th anniversary of my Dad’s death on Monday and it’s left me sullen, fatigued and withdrawn. It’s weird because often I feel like so much time has passed, it shouldn’t hurt anymore. I mean, he’s been gone longer than I knew him living, by four years. Why should this affect me or upset me anymore? But every year the anniversary crawls up and I find myself struggling.

It’s also the week leading up to my birthday. My Dad died five days before my 16th birthday. For years I’ve always tried to compensate in the same way; planning a huge birthday celebration to try to alleviate my melancholy and give myself a good distraction. This has definitely meant some fairly great birthday shindigs but in the end, truthfully, this time of year just sucks and I am sad.

I feel very alone in my sadness. Having moved about two years after he died has meant that other than my mother, there’s next to no one in my life today that knew him. None of my friends or new family knew him and it means that there’s no one to share in memories or laugh about the old times with. There’s no one to tell me how much I look like him, sound like him, or remind them of him. There is no one around to help me keep him “alive” and present in my life through the retelling and reliving of stories.

And each year, I lose more and more of him in fading memories and stories untold. The sound of his laughter, the twinkle in eye, his bantering style, the touch of his hands, the strength of his hug, and the smell of his aftershave all fade more and more from my mind’s eye as time passes. A grief and loss compounded.

But at the end of this self-pity party rainbow, there is a barrel of gold!

In other ways, I feel closer to my Dad. As I have grown and matured as a woman, my spirituality and belief in the afterlife has enabled me to develop a relationship with him that resides on a different plain and at an entirely different level than the physical world. I go to him, I talk to him, and I share with him myself with pure honesty and authenticity. And in those moments, I sense his presence and I feel his unconditional love more powerfully than I did when he was living. Our relationship now transcends time and space and it has allowed me to know, in my heart, soul and spirit that he lives on and that he is always with me.

I still grieve and it’s still difficult – I wish he was here in the physical world – but I have found comfort.

How have you dealt with the loss of a parent?

Dear blog…my heart is breaking…

The life partner of my nearest and dearest best friend died Tuesday evening of a heart attack. He was 43 years old and they have a four-year old son together. They were just getting ready to put their son to bed when he collapsed. A skilled lifeguard, she did CPR for nearly 25 minutes waiting for the ambulance to arrive but he was gone and was pronounced dead at the hospital.

This week when she should be making plans for the weekend to go sliding, or maybe to build a snowman, or perhaps to grab a movie, she’s making funeral arrangements and wondering how she’ll ever put the pieces of her life back together. My mind reels…

I lost a father at 16 and a mother-in-law at 34 – both suddenly in car accidents. I know what that shock and all-consuming grief feels like. I know the devastation. I know the anger, confusion, and pain. I know the fog and the distrust. I know the feeling that your world has just be blown to bits. I know the feeling of lost footing.

But I don’t know what it would be like to lose a life partner. Grief isn’t grief. Not every person grieves the same way, even when it’s two people sharing in the same loss. My brother grieved very differently than I did for our father and has had a 180-degree different experience than myself.

I also believe that the experience of losing different types of loved ones (parent, child, partner, grandparent) and how we lose them (slow disease ridden death, accident, murder, heart attack, natural, old age) is different and has a huge impact on the grieving process. So even though I have experienced my fair share of pretty intense, life impactful grief, I am not her, and I have never lost a life partner suddenly by a heart attack with a four-year old son to raise…so I know that I cannot begin to even imagine how she might be feeling or how she’ll move forward throughout the next few months and years.

When I lost my Dad, my life changed dramatically and the fallout from it played a significant role in the new direction that I took my life. A year after his death, my mother moved to a different city which allowed me to break out from the social stigmas I had placed upon myself in small town NB. This gave me the perceived notion of freedom to become someone new. I felt like I was able to start over with a clean slate and I took full advantage and reinvented myself (or more accurately, came into my own finally). For me, the change in venue allowed me to straighten up, go to college and university, get great jobs and pursue the life of happiness I have been able to create. Whereas, had my mom stayed in small town NB, I don’t know what my life would look like right now. Although I can say this, I don’t believe it would have be anywhere near as wonderful as it is now. I simply do not think that in that environment, I would have had the “cahonas” to make the changes needed. Maybe but…I doubt it.

Back to my point, I was 16 and although losing my Dad had great impact in a lot of arenas of my life, it didn’t entirely alter my view on my long-term goals or dreams. Although I had planned on him “being there” throughout my life and at those momentous occasions, his physical presence wasn’t required for me to get married, have kids, graduate school etc. Yes, he was missed desperately but he wasn’t going to be the main character in those parts of my life story.

Whereas for my best friend, she just lost the main character in her life story. He was her world. They had plans, dreams, goals. Everything in her present and future revolved around what “they” were doing and what they were going to do. Not only was he ingrained in her past and present, he was ingrained in everything in the future. And not just for the next month or two years, he was a part of every idea for the next fifty years.

That’s what we do with our life partners. That is the vulnerability we open to. That is the shift we make. We ingrain our life partners into nearly every aspect of our being; past, present and future. They become a part of us, an extension, and an integral player in our world.

So it’s not only the death of him in the present sense that makes her grief devastating but it’s the death of all the dreams, ideas, goals, and plans that she made that makes the devastation that much more mind-boggling. Losing a loved one at any time, in any way, is terrible but I think losing a life partner, or a child, has got to be the most heart breaking sadness there is.

In wondering how I can best support her through this, I think about how my mother might have felt having lost her life partner with two children still to raise. What helped her? What gave her small bits of peace? What comforted her, if for only a second or two? What eased her mind? What allowed her to catch a few hours of sleep? What made her smile, if only slightly? What gave her the strength to get out of bed? What gave her hope?

As I drive two hours to be at my BFFs side, I will ponder these questions. In all likelihood, in the end the only thing any of us can do for those around us grieving is to simply be there – to be an ear, to lend a shoulder or a hand, to share in some tears, and to spread the love.

How have you comforted grieving friends and family throughout your life? Or in your time of grief, what has brought you great comfort?

My request of all of you tonight, is to go home and tell your family how much they mean to you and how much you love them because forever is no guarantee.

P.S. I’ll be gone today through Sunday so likely no posts coming this weekend and I apologize if I don’t reply to comments until early next week.

A memorable memorial

On the one-year anniversary of Mamma K’s death, August 1, 2010, her friends and family gathered to celebrate her life. The first thing we did was to errect a roadside memorial. The stretch of road where she died is on a fairly busy road and is part of an open field before the city airport. Scott built a gorgeous large cross, stained it a wonderful dark, rich stain, and had a plaque mounted that says:
In Loving Memory of
Donna J. Kennie
April 5, 1949 – August 1, 2009
A gift to all who knew her.
Roadside Memorial

Roadside memorial

Plaque

Roadside cross plaque

 As Jordan and I stood together watching Scott put the superspike into the ground and mount the cross, we were overwelcomed with emotions. For Jordan, I can only begin to imagine the memories, the pain, and the trauma that shakes him to the very core anytime he comes to this resting place.
For me, I not only remember Mamma K, but I felt her spirit and her presence wrapping us all in her arms of love!
Afterwards, we all headed to cemetary in Bains Corner, where Scott and his sisters grew up. We bought a burial plot and headstone to mark a spot so that family and friends would feel like they have “some place to go” and be with her.
Her daughter started off the service by welcoming everyone and sharing some stories about her. Scott took a turn as did many others. I could feel her spirit so strongly. I knew she was with us.
Afterwards, Scott and I arranged to have alloon Release Ceremony. Each person who attended wrote a message to Mamma K on a small piece of paper. We filled up over 40 red balloons (MADD Canada official color is red) and we attached those messages to the balloons. When we were all ready, I spoke:
Today we let a balloon go for you. The life and meaning you have brought to our lives will never be extinguished. It is forever ours to guide our steps. As we watch the balloon disappear out of sight, we feel it lifting away the grief, the sorrow, the anger, the pain, and the heartache…
and we all let go of the balloons….
It was incredible, moving, emotional and had a sense of “awe” to it as we all watched these balloons float higher and higher, reaching out to Mamma K in heaven, carrying messages of love and adoration to her. It was one of the most intense ceremonies I’ve ever had the honor to take part in.
Balloon ceremony

Balloon ceremony

Balloons

Balloon ceremony

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