William H. Badger. Feb 4, 1929 – December 23, 2004.
Eighteen years without you is a long time. And no time.
You should have had more time.
Sometimes it feels like we’ve made no progress at all. And sometimes I know we’ve at least stopped some of the unsafe propositions, maybe even made a few inroads toward safety.
You should have had more time, and we can’t fix that for you or any of the thousands of families trying to move forward with their own grief. Their own new normal. I hate that term.
Eighteen years ago this morning. Last night, laying sleeplessly in bed, I imagined you getting up so very early in the dark morning, making sure the heat was turned down, the water turned off, and the doors locked, putting your suitcase into the trunk of your car and heading toward the airport.
You never got there. You never got to come home.
It’s not right, not for you or for us. Not for the 5,000 plus families that faced similar facts in 2021, or the as yet unnumbered thousands from 2022. And the hundreds of thousands of injured every single year.
We have to keep working, even though we’re all tired.
It’s now a proven fact that walking quickly on a treadmill, especially at an incline while wearing a mask, is not fun. I had a stress test this morning, as if life in times of covid isn’t already stressful enough.
While the tech was gathering “before” ultrasound images of my heart I gazed up at the ceiling wondering what a broken heart looked like. And if he’d be able to see that mine surely was.
Seventeen years ago this morning my dad was killed, while slowed in traffic, by a semitruck driver who fell asleep at the wheel. Dad never had a chance.
So today I wonder about a lot of things. Whether our driver ever thinks about the man he killed. Whether today’s date stirs his heart like it stirs the hearts of my family. Whether he measures time in before and afters like we do.
And I think a lot about the recent sentence of the truck driver in Colorado who killed four people and injured several more in a firey crash in 2019. Colorado laws required that sentences for each of the charges he was convicted of be served consequently, and that’s why his sentence was 110 years.
Is 110 years too long? I don’t know. What is the right number of years for killing a person, intentionally or not? The Colorado driver made several bad decisions on his way to that devastating crash, the most important being him passing the truck runoff lane on his way to rear ending all those cars.
The driver that killed my dad made several bad decisions too, the most important being continuing to drive tired and not stopping at the state visitor center only 12 miles prior to the crash site. But in Georgia his bad decisions resulted in a misdemeanor and the max time he could serve in jail was 30 days. Is 30 days too short a time to pay for negligence that results in the death of someone else?
On one hand I’m sorry the Colorado driver got such a heavy sentence because it’s garnering sympathy for the driver. He says he wishes he had died instead of all those people. I thought for a moment that he felt remorse. And then he added, he wishes he had died ‘because this is no life.” His statement reflects his own fear and frustration and loss rather than any feeling of responsibility. Lost in all of the hyperbole are the injured, the dead, and their families. The real victims of this crash.
On the other hand, I am grateful that the Colorado driver got such a heavy sentence, because it’s bringing attention to these types of crashes which occur all too frequently. Time and time again I hear the same story. Someone was stopped in traffic. A truck doesn’t stop, for any number of reasons. People die horrible deaths. Truck drivers die too. Some people survive to live lives that are never the same.
Everybody involved lives in a world of before and after.
Earlier this week I attended a Zoom meeting with several volunteers of the Truck Safety Coalition. We’re trying to get through the holidays by leaning on each other. My heart, toughened by seventeen years of scarring, broke again as I listened to several new stories.
One young man feels lost because his fiancé was killed on her way to work a few months ago. They had a whole life planned — he was helping her get through nursing school, after which she would work and help him get through pilot school. Now he sits in their apartment stunned as he trys to come to terms of his ‘after.’
And another young person has been married only eighteen months when her husband was hit by a semi last month. He’s in an ICU now, can’t move, is on a ventilator and communicates by blinking his eyes. She had just started law school. Now she sits with him, advocating for his care in a hospital short staffed and overrun with covid. It’s not clear yet what their ‘after’ will look like.
That night our group talked a little bit about the Colorado driver and his sentence. The widow of one of the victims of that crash is new to our organization. She doesn’t want his sentence commuted. She says the people pushing for that have not sat through three weeks of testimoney. That they don’t know the whole truth.
She says that she, and all of us, were handed life sentences, too, the day that marked our own before and afters.
It’s a complicated issue and will take more pondering on my part before I know exactly where I stand. Meanwhile, I’ll start again repairing my battle scarred heart. No matter how many layers of patches I’ve put on it, it seems to break just as easily as it did seventeen years ago.
Thank you all for reading this far. Drive carefully. Stay safe. Protect that heart of yours and hug your families close. It’s a proven fact that broken hearts can’t ever be entirely healed.
My parents’ 1952 honeymoon was spent camping in northern Michigan. One of their favorite places was near Frankfort — Point Betsie and it’s beautiful lighthouse.
And so, over the years, it has become one of my favorite places too. I visit when I’m up in that part of the country, sometimes for only a minute or two, sometimes for a longer walk.
I stopped on my way home from Northport last week. It was a pretty day with blue skies and high white clouds. The waves lapped peacefully, the sun made the red roof glow. As always I spent a few moments imaging my parents there, years before I was born, enjoying each other and the beautiful lake.
I thought about how young they were, how they had no idea they’d have four children or that they’d run a small business. They didn’t know that someday they’d move away from the lakes and the state they loved, far from their family, and that they’d settle on another pretty lake in a faraway state and enjoy it almost as much. Way back then they never dreamed they’d live in the South or that most of their children would follow them there.
But I know they hoped they would live happy, contented and fulfilled lives.
Empty nesters back at their favorite lake.
And they did.
Today is their 64th wedding anniversary. I like to think they’re enjoying each other and a beautiful view — maybe even a gorgeous lake with a lighthouse standing tall behind them.
And I like to think they are happy with the way things turned out even though their lives were shorter than any of us wished. I know they are proud of us and happiest when we are happy. So I guess the best anniversary gift we can give them is to enjoy and be content with the lives we are living today.
And to make every day count. Because you just never know.