Don’t Drink and Drive

I’ve often thought that if I had a chance to speak to high schoolers on the subject of drinking and driving, I would ask them if they realized going to jail or prison (if over the age of 18) could be the end result to a night of partying should they choose to drink and drive.

We’ve all seen the stories or videos of simulated accidents portrayed to students in a drunk driving “scared straight” program. Simulated accidents or “grim reapers” try to impact students with the possible outcomes of driving drunk. I wonder how many of them include information or speakers about the possibility of prison time.

The young man (18 years old and a high school senior) who hit Jason and Alina had a “bad boy” reputation at school and with the local police. I’m sure none of it prepared him for going to prison with the big boys, though. Under Washington State’s “three strikes” law, had the charges of two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of felony hit and run stood, he could have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Talk about being scared straight!

J.H.*, in a plea bargain, pleaded guilty to the two counts of vehicular homicide. The felony hit and run was reduced to a misdemeanor in order to avoid the three strikes law. At 19 years old, he was sentenced to four years in prison for the vehicular homicide counts and one year in jail for the hit and run. He served 2 2/3 years in prison, and the judge waived the jail time.

I hope, with all my heart, J.H. has taken the opportunity in front of him to make good choices with his life. We have all paid high prices for his bad choices.

From my journal dated January 10, 2003:

I found out recently that an acquaintance’s recent “non-driving” status/ability is because of a DUI drivers license suspension after wrecking his car. He was driving home drunk and ran into a telephone pole. He walked away just fine except for a few bumps and bruises, but it sure has put a crimp in his style. I know it’s frustrating and depressing for him. Embarrassing and expensive, too, I imagine. Fines, insurance rates go up, having to replace the totaled car.

But the whole crux of the matter is that it was his choice to drink and then drive. How could he choose to drive drunk after what happened to Jason and Alina?? I hope he’s at least learned something, or will stop and think before driving drunk again. If he’s too drunk to make good choices, someone just needs to take his keys away. He only hurt himself and his car this time, but he easily could have hurt or killed other people.

I’m sure J.H.* [the young man who hit and killed Jason and Alina] and his friends had no conception when they started partying and drinking the night of March 2, 2002 that their actions would end with the death of two great young people. I’m sure going to prison never even crossed their minds when they got into those cars drunk.

If drunk drivers only hurt themselves, that would be one thing. Their choices. Their actions. Their losses. But so many accidents caused by drunk drivers involve others – innocent bystanders – who pay the price while the drunk driver walks away. J.H. broadsided Jason and Alina and literally walked away.

Our price tag seems so much higher than J.H.’s. Sure, he and his family have to pay for a lawyer, and J.H. may do jail time for a few years. But our “sentence” – our price tag – is a “life sentence.” They have imposed a life sentence on us by their choices. For the rest of our lives, we are without Jason. Our lives are never going to be the same.

J.H. can bargain down his sentence, take a plea bargain, or serve a few years for vehicular homicide. But he at least has the opportunity to go on. If he chooses to, he can make a good life for himself, make better choices, marry, have a family. J.H. and his family will move past this because, once he gets through whatever the consequences are, he still has a life to live. He has to live with the fact that he killed two people, but the fact of the matter is that he still has a life.

Jason and Alina don’t. Their lives are over, taken by the hand and choices of another. We don’t have their precious lives or presence with us any more. We had no choice. Jason and Alina had no choice. By his choices, J.H. stole it from them, from us.

Jason and Alina weren’t doing anything wrong. They were making good choices. They made good choices that night. Movies at our house, kettle corn, sodas, laughing, joking. Fun. Enjoying each other’s company.

It seems that people who drink, drive, and then kill someone as a result deserve a more than a slap on the hand. There has to be some kind of accountability. There has to be something to stop this insanity. When will people who drink and drive realize their choices affect others?? Their choice to drink and drive kills.

We, who have done nothing wrong, are paying the price for these kids’ choices and stupidity. Jason and Alina have paid the ultimate price for the choices of J.H. and his friends. They paid the price with their lives. The cost just goes on and on. We pay in so many days every day, and we will continue to pay for the rest of our lives.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

“Angry stage”? Perhaps.

This is probably the harshest, angriest journal entry I wrote after Jason died. I was very hurt at the time. The mama bear in me raised her head and roared. The “angry stage” of grief? Perhaps. I’m not a big fan of labeling stages of grief. They make grief look too neat, too tidy, too linear, too easy for someone else to apply their own assumptions to where the griever should be in the “stages” or what the bereaved should be doing. In an effort to promote understanding, I have promised not to shy away from the harsh things we faced following Jason’s death, so I am including it below. It’s where I was and how I felt at the time. I was angry.

From my journal dated January 4, 2003:

Well, we took the Christmas tree and decorations down today. All is put away and cleaned up for another year. Every Saturday and Sunday are the same – and this one is no different. We do what we need to do, and then we sit on the couch and look at each other. “Now what do we do?”

Janice stopped by last evening and brought us some flowers. If she’s in town, she tries to remember the 3rd in some way. I really appreciate that. Since we were about to sit down to dinner, I invited her to join us.

Janice started asking Jenna about what she’d done and about who she had seen over Christmas, specifically asking if Jenna had done anything with [the two gals who stopped by the other day for coffee where Jenna works]. I think Janice thought people who were home from college would get together with Jenna. She thought friends would call, invite her to do things with them. People like to picture happy, rosy scenarios – when it’s just not that way. After Jenna left, I just vented some of my frustration about “friends.” I’m just so mad. I honestly can take the desertion for myself, but it’s just so hard to see how everyone has been treating my family.

We’ve served in the church, in the homeschool community. We’ve opened our home and lives over and over again. I’ve spent hours and hours praying for our kids and their friends. We’ve cared about them, invested our lives in them. Now they avoid us, pretend they don’t see us, duck down the next aisle at the grocery store. It makes it hard to respect some of the Christians we know. Aren’t Christians supposed to have a heart after God? Aren’t Christians supposed to be the hands and feet of God on this earth? Doesn’t the Bible say that faith without works is dead?

Janice kept saying how, whenever she sees anyone we know, they ask her how we’re doing. They tell her they think of us daily, that they’re praying for us. They very well may be, but…honestly! How are supposed to know that? We see no evidence of it at all! To leave us so alone, we really can’t tell one way or the other.

Janice said the typical “people don’t know what to do, don’t know what to say, don’t want to intrude in our family time.” Intrude on our family time??!! Really? Our “family time” all by ourselves screams the lack of Jason’s presence. Our “family time” emphasizes the huge hole in our family. Our “family time” isn’t what it used to be; it’s not what everyone must picture. Jeesh!! I have such a hard time swallowing those excuses. That’s what they are – excuses! I told her I don’t understand how practically everybody we know doesn’t have the guts to step up to the the plate and be here for us. Seriously! Where are they? Even if some of these kids and parents are dealing with their own grief, can’t someone step up to the plate?? Anyone? We know lot of people!!

I told her that it’s almost too late now for any of these people to try to “be there” for us. It’s been so long…too long. How do we trust them? How do we believe that NOW they want to be around us?

I don’t want Janice to feel that she needs to go and “talk” to people, to guilt them into calling or trying to hang out with us or whatever. I made sure she knows that motives are extremely important to us. We are not a project. We don’t need anyone to sweep in and fix us or rescue us. We don’t want anyone to do anything out of guilt. Either they want to be around us or they don’t. Either they care about us or they don’t. Either it shows or it doesn’t.

Janice said several times that a lot of people care about us. Really?? Where are they????? It’s really hard to tell. Are we just supposed to “feel” the caring in the airwaves? Maybe it’s the “faith” kind of caring. We just have to have faith that people care…because we sure flat out don’t see it and we don’t feel it.

I told Janice I can’t wait to move far away. She said it would be starting over in a place where we didn’t know anybody, that at least we know people here and there’s a chance to restore relationships. But how do we trust those relationships now? How do we believe these friendships and relationships are true? If they are true, why have all of us been so alone since Jason died? Do I want to restore those relationships? How would I go about doing that? How do I trust them? It just looks like so much work on my part. Even thinking about it is exhausting.

Trust once broken is not easily mended. You don’t just snap your fingers and things are as they once were. I trusted those people! I trusted them to be here for us when we had absolutely no family close by. They knew we had no family here. I trusted them to be gentle with our hearts. I reached out to them and they did nothing! They did nothing!! Nothing! I told Janice trust has been broken in those relationships, and I don’t have anywhere near the energy that it would take to restore them.

In talking later with Jenna about what Janice and I discussed, Jenna said, “People and the way they have treated us have made it 100 times worse.”

“100 times worse” may be a little high, but it definitely has caused wounds on top of wounds. It has affected us. It has made this grieving so much harder. So much lonelier. People don’t see that when they do nothing they create a greater hurt or wound than if they at least tried to do something. Even doing something small with the right heart is better than doing nothing!

A small kindness goes a long way. If people just put on their thinking caps – along with a little sensitivity – a person of any age can do a small kindness that helps the healing…or at least momentarily lessens the hurting to some degree. It doesn’t take much, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or some aged wise man to figure out something small that would help. Kindness. We just needed kindness heaped our broken and wounded hearts.

Janice has a tendency to excuse the “kids” – Jason’s and Jenna’s friends. “They don’t know what to do.” “They don’t know how to deal with it.” Okay. I can understand that. Truly, I do. But when they ignore “it,” they ignore us. We pay the price again and again. How do I trust or respect these people again? I just don’t believe people any more. I don’t see how they could possibly even care when it looks to me like they haven’t even thought of us in months and months. At least, that’s the way it looks from this side. They haven’t even bothered to reach across the grief barrier to us for what seems like an eternity – and, whenever they decide it’s “safe” to call or whatever, we’re supposed to believe them, welcome their words and open up our hearts/emotions like a book?? How do we do that?

Trust has always been a big issue for me. Trust. Truth. Honesty. They’re important to me. It’s hard for me to trust once it’s been broken, especially now. It just feels like the stakes are so much higher. Our hearts are involved. Our hearts are broken and fragile. I feel so vulnerable and hurt. I feel like I’ve had to put up walls to protect myself from more pain, more broken trust, more broken relationships. I’ve crawled inside those walls. I feel so depleted emotionally. I’m worn down. It takes a lot of energy grieve. It takes a lot of energy to heal wounds – not only the huge one from Jason’s death, but all of the secondary wounds. I guess it takes less energy to keep the walls up than tear them down to let people in.

I’m sure I came across harshly to Janice, but I think she was trying to understand. I really appreciate that. I don’t want to be mad. I don’t want to be harsh or bitter. It helps no one and hurts no one but me. No one really knows what it’s been like to be so alone.

God, forgive us if we’re jaded. It feels like we’ve been walking across a long, harsh, empty, barren terrain of grief. We’re all so very, very weary.

© 2011 Rebecca R. Carney

Invisible

From my journal dated July 4, 2002:

July 4th – Trying to get out and be more sociable. We met Debra* and her family for dinner and fireworks tonight. We went to Cheesecake Factory and then to the park across the street from Bellevue Square to watch the fireworks. Nicole* [Debra's oldest daughter, Jason's age] had met a friend there, Ryan, and came over to say hi.

Ryan had hung out some with Jason last summer and other times…came with Nicole to Jason’s 19th birthday party at the park. Debra said something like, “You guys know Ryan, don’t you?” I said, “Sure!” and said hello.

But people react so strangely to us now. It was like we were invisible to him. We were shocked! He just sort of looked around us like we weren’t even there!! He didn’t say hello. He just sort of looked through us. It’s not like he hadn’t heard Debra or me. We just disappeared.

Once again, we’re the oddity to be avoided…and we continue to pay and pay…all for something beyond our control. Some thoughtless, drunk 18 year old guy robbed us of our precious son. He changed our lives for ever in one split second in innumerable ways. We are now the oddity, the pariah, the unlovable, to be avoided, the invisible.

Invisible

From my journal dated June 11, 2002:

It happened again! I just hate it when people who know us and normally would have said hello pretend they don’t see us. They look right through us or past us as if we are invisible. Do they think we don’t know or notice? It just feels like we pay and pay and pay for the death of our precious son.

What did we do wrong?? Nothing!!! And yet people avoid us. There’s definitely something wrong with this picture!