On Friday October 19th we made one change to our daily schedule and it has turned our lives upside. Jeff had joined us for family dinner at my parents house late, which meant he drove his own truck over. He had been rubbing one of his eyes and despite our efforts to see what was wrong, we couldn’t help relieve the irritation. I finally told him to head to the ER to see if they could figure out the problem. So instead of sticking together for the night, Jeff headed to the ER while I took the girls home.
3 hours later I got a call from Jeff. On his way home from the hospital he had been driving past the high school. The street was lined with parked cars on either side and on the one side was the school’s field. As Jeff drove down this street, mere blocks from our home, a man on an illegal dirt bike had come off the field, onto the sidewalk, through 2 parked cars directly onto the road and into the front of Jeff’s truck. Jeff hit him full on and dragged him 50 feet before he was able to stop the truck. The man had no helmet, no lights, no brakes, no insurance and no license to drive. There is also a strong possibility that he may have had alcohol in his system.
I have never heard Jeff so upset as that phone call. I couldn’t come to see him since the girls were asleep, so made frantic calls to 2 friends. Our friend Jayson immediately went and met and stayed with Jeff at the scene of the accident. (Something for which I’m eternally grateful for) Right from the get go, the police let Jeff know that the accident was not his fault. There were witnesses that also confirmed that Jeff literally had no chance of stopping, it was just that quick.
Living in a small village means that it is almost inevitable that somehow, someway we would be connected to the person Jeff hit. His family attends one of the local churches, the same church that Jeff’s employer goes too. This man was also well connected to all the people in the trades, so over the next few days and weeks went by Jeff met a lot of them in passing and most of those meetings were good. Without going into much detail, let me just say that the family of the victim immediately extended grace and let Jeff know that in no way did they blame him for the accident. Unfortunately, the man died 2 weeks after the accident. His injuries had been extensive and a blood clot after surgery was the tipping point.
I’m not actually sure that I can put into words what this accident has done to Jeff. I have certainly tried over these last weeks to varying degrees of success. The reality is that it has been deeply traumatizing for Jeff. Even though the police, witnesses and the family have absolved Jeff of any blame, he has not been able to do the same for himself. For the first several weeks the physical memory of hitting a person was hard to bear, then his death set Jeff back again. I have often described Jeff as a raging extrovert, but in these weeks he has become someone who cannot bear crowds, gatherings, teaching his preteens and Sunday school and has a significantly diminished capacity to handle family life. He has received counseling which has been very helpful. And 2 weeks ago he met with the parents of the man.
Several people have asked if there has been closure now that the man died and Jeff met with the family. The short answer is NO. There is no closure for something like this. There is simply an increased ability to bear the pain. This is a permanent part of Jeff now, a wound that will hopefully heal into a scar. It is like my Achilles tendon injury; a sudden, traumatic injury that healed into a ugly scar. It is sensitive when touched and I’m always aware of it but I can live days and weeks without actively thinking about it. Both Jeff and I have spoken to counselors about this and they have both mentioned that this sort of trauma takes months and perhaps years to deal with. So no, there is no neat closure…
The man had parents and siblings who loved him, a wife and newborn son who miss him and a community of friends and co-workers who are mourning the loss. He had a name, Peter.