224: Causing Someone’s Death

Some mistakes cannot be fixed. That is one reason why most real grownups try very hard not to make them. Some mistakes are permanent. I made one of those. On the last day of school in 2004, I made what was supposed to be a normal journey: our morning commute to school with my daughter, and my husband’s son and daughter. We made it to the end of the road, where our small residential road joins the highway. There, I pulled out into the road in front of a black pickup truck.

I only know this from what others have told me, and what I have managed to figure out after the fact. The last thing I remember is opening the car’s door to look and see if there was any traffic coming. I did this because the window would not roll down, we had not yet had it fixed, and there was condensation on the glass. So I opened the door to be sure before I pulled out into the road. I never saw the truck. I tried.

The truck hit us in classic “t-bone” style, on the driver’s side, which explains why there is a big blank spot in my memory of the event. I was knocked OUT. My daughter said my eyes were open, but she said, “Mama, you were not there.” She called my husband, who was still at home, and he was the first to arrive; even before the paramedics or the police…or the life flight helicopters they called for us. My daughter, in the front passenger seat, was not injured other than a bump on the head – apparently my head and hers collided. My husband’s son, on the passenger side in the back seat, was very mildly injured, but was treated and released. I had a broken collarbone and some broken ribs, along with the big blank place in my memory. My husband’s nine-year-old daughter, who was sitting with her seatbelt on (all of us had them on) directly behind me, got the brunt of the blunt force trauma. That’s what they listed on her death certificate as her cause of death. They tried. The surgeries she underwent at Emory in Atlanta, where the life flight helicopter landed at the state’s finest trauma center, totaled a quarter of a million dollars in cost, and would have been worth every penny (and more) had they managed to save her. They could not.

I won’t go into the horrible details of her funeral home family visit, where her mother’s family (my husband’s ex) blamed me publicly for her death, as if I had intended that she perish, and had set out that morning to accomplish that feat; or the horrors of her funeral service, where they again did the same thing in front of my church family, even though I personally had paid for the entire service and all the other arrangements because they were all too generationally poverty-stricken to be able to afford to bury her.

That is something I will live with forever. I caused her death, even though I did not mean to do so. I pulled out in front of that truck, even though I looked, and did not see it. Even though I had no intentions of harming anyone, I am responsible. I was driving. No one can take that away, and it cannot be fixed.

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