In 1998, six years after the loss of my family, the women’s magazine, Marie Claire published my story in an article titled “Will a drunk driver kill someone you love?” I thought I would share their words today, the 25th anniversary of their deaths.
Albert and I were high school sweethearts, deeply in love with each other and our two wonderful sons, Justin and Jared. The nucleus of our world was the family until January 26, 1992, when my husband and children were killed by a drunk driver.
It was Superbowl Sunday and they had gone to watch the game on a big screen television at our church with a bunch of other guys. I chose to stay home and catch up on my college course load.
Albert had mentioned that if the boys were tired, he might spend the night at my parents home rather than make the long drive home. By 11 p.m., I went to bed assuming I would see them in the morning. Looking back, I had a feeling that something was wrong and was afraid to make the call to find out, so I reassured myself that they were at my parents’ house and went to bed.
The doorbell rang at 3 a.m. Two state troopers were standing on my doorstep and one of them told me that there had been a serious accident. I said, “And…,” all the while thinking that I would get dressed and run over to the hospital. They repeated that a truck driving in the opposite direction had lost control, become airborne and landed on top of my family’s car, killing everybody instantly.
I remember asking the trooper, “Everybody?” He said, “Yes.”
The troopers stayed and asked me if there were guns in the house. I told them not to worry because the hunting guns were locked up. And besides, I told them, I don’t need a gun to kill myself. (I was obviously distraught, but I was also annoyed by their hovering.) I did not have family nearby, so the troopers called neighbors and a cousin who lived nearby to come and stay with me. By daylight, other people started showing up, including my parents and most of my siblings. (I have three brothers and three sisters.)
The morning after the crash, I asked my sister, “How is the driver of the other vehicle? Is he or she OK?” I had lost my entire family, but I couldn’t help but be concerned about everyone involved. She told me that the driver, a bread delivery man who’d been on duty, had been drunk. That is when I lost it – there is a difference between an accident and a choice. Drunk driving is like driving around with a loaded gun, shooting people. He had a choice.
He was in his twenties at the time and he was drunk on the job. He never showed any remorse. In court, he was told to stand up while pictures of my husband and sons were displayed and I spoke about his choice had destroyed my life. I finished speaking and the judge asked him if he had anything to say to me and he said, “No.” He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 2 – 7 years in prison for DUI and second-degree manslaughter. Feeling a lack of closure, I reached out to his parole officer and expressed that if he were to write me a letter, I would read it. He never did.
The three most important men in my life were absolutely beautiful people. My boys were my superheroes in the making, rife with life and opportunity to bring so much into the world.
My husband was my rock, my best friend – his energy was completely contagious as he was utterly in love with life. Albert was a wonderful husband and father – a unique combination of strong yet gentle, he valued and enjoyed his family fervently; but this nature extended beyond us, he loved people and would have given the shirt off of his back to be of service.
My boys were superheroes in the making – both of them were overflowing with the opportunity to add so much good to the world. They were a wonderful expression of their father (and some of me!) Justin was a funny, street-smart kid, and he had a really, really good heart. He was 14 and had just started high school and was the captain of the swim team. He wanted to be an actor or comedian and could have made it on his looks alone. He was dark-skinned and handsome, like my husband. Justin charged through life with a go-getter spirit that would leave me spinning. On the other hand, Jared was the type that would take the time to notice everything – he really would smell the flowers, examine them closely, look at the colors and the textures and then go inside and paint them. He was a sensitive and quiet little boy and 10 when he died. He gave of himself freely and was everyone’s best friend. I delighted in his easygoing attitude. He was a gentle soul and his dream was to design his own video game. As different as my sons were, I know that they loved each other very much.
After the crash, I withdrew from college. Pain and void became my daily companions. I would cry so hard that I would vomit. I had to learn how to breathe again. Numb, I would sit and literally, forget to breathe. The only time I could regulate my breathing was someone would hug me. Feeling their heart beating against my chest reminded me to breathe.
Someone once said, “If you lose a parent, you bury your past; if you lose a spouse, you bury your present; if you lose a child, you bury your future.” On that night I lost my present and my future. I had to accept that I would never again kiss my husband and children goodnight and hear them say, “I love you.” I would never again feel the comfort of Albert’s arms around me or see the sunset through my children’s eyes.
I had to re-learn who I was. It took a long time for me to figure out what part of me to keep and what I should discard. If I wasn’t a mother, who was I? My life had been taking care of my husband and sons. Now I had to take care of myself and I had no clue as to where to begin.
Six years later, I learned that you can only find happiness within yourself. As much as it hurt, I wasn’t going to get anywhere unless I got up and found it.
written by Tamar Schreibman
Marie Claire Magazine
Published December 1998