Friday, June 14, 2013

Three Things I Learned From My Father

Those of you who've read this blog before know that my dad died in a tragic way -- he and my mom were hit by a drunk driver, which led to both their deaths.  But I was lucky enough that my dad lived and was happy and healthy until he was nearly 89.  This year would have been his 95th birthday.  In honor of him, and of Father's Day, I'm writing about three things I learned from him over the years.

Focus on what you can do.  Soon after I was born, my dad had a serious back injury and needed to be off work for more than a month.  But he never talked about how much pain he'd been in, instead, he told me how he'd enjoyed getting to be home with me when I was a baby.  (Dads didn't do that very often in the 1960s.)  When I was eight or nine, he had an even more serious back injury that required surgery and left him with a partially paralyzed leg and on-going back pain.  He had to retire ten years early.  He also had to stop doing many of the things he enjoyed, which was hard because he was a very active person.  But he didn't complain.  He pulled out his old aeronautics engineering books from college and spent the next two years designing his own airplane.  Later he built one of the wings out of scrap wood.  I still have part of it hanging on my wall.

Get involved.  For as long as I can remember, my mom and dad belonged to and volunteered with Amvets.  (My dad was a World War II aviator.)   Every third Wednesday night, right up until the week before the crash, my parents loaded their car with soda, no-sugar bakery, and bingo cards and took them to the blind ward at Hines Veteran Hospital.  Amvets members and volunteers helped the patients with their cards, and Amvets provided small cash prizes.  When my brother Tim and I were playing music, my parents organized groups of musicians to put on free concerts at the hospital.  My parents also became involved in a local citizens group to help stop corruption in village government, were volunteer literacy tutors for many years, and well into their eighties gave rides to people who could no longer drive to doctors' appointments, on errands, or to church.  My dad never told us we ought to volunteer, and I never felt he thought it was a big deal.  It was just part of who he was. 

Think for yourself and respect others.  My dad always taught us we shouldn't assume whoever was in charge -- teacher, boss, president -- knew what she or he was doing or had all the answers.  If we thought someone in authority had the wrong facts, we should do the research ourselves to find out what was correct.  If we disagreed with a supervisor's viewpoint, we should stick to our own opinions if we believed them well founded.  He didn't hesitate to say an idea made no sense or a statement was wrong if he thought it was, no matter who said it (which perhaps didn't make him too popular with his bosses).  At the same time, my dad also taught us to treat everyone with respect.  He might question authority or criticize an idea, but I never heard him call anyone names or address anyone by anything other than the proper title.  And even if he had questions about someone's character -- for instance, a politician convicted of embezzling money -- he would say, "I don't understand why someone would do something like that," or "that's a terrible thing to do," rather than saying that person was a bad person. 

I'm grateful to have had my father in my life.  I know many people who lost their dads early in life or had fathers who weren't there or who perhaps did more harm than good.  The main way that I try to honor my dad is by speaking at victim impact panels through the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM) to first-time DUI offenders.  My hope is that by sharing what happened to my parents and our family due to someone else's choice to drink and drive, at least a few other people will make a different choice, and other deaths and injuries will be prevented.  I think my dad would appreciate that. 

Please feel free to share thoughts about your dad below.

Lisa M. Lilly is an attorney and author of Amazon occult bestseller THE AWAKENING, short story collection THE TOWER FORMERLY SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR, and numerous poems, short stories, and articles.  She is currently working on THE AWAKENING, BOOK II: THE UNBELIEVERS.

Follow her on Twitter:  @lisamlilly

Monday, April 22, 2013

It Takes Forever and Nothing Happens: Criminal Court from a Victim’s Perspective – Part II (DUI Loss Entry No. 20)

In 2007, an intoxicated driver hit my parents as they were crossing the street. The criminal court proceedings against the driver lasted a year.  This post continues my guide for victims to the court process.  (1) and (2) in my July 12, 2012 entry explain why the process takes time, and why it often appears little or nothing is happening.  

(3)  The criminal court process – whether or not a trial occurs – is emotionally painful for victims.  This seems obvious, and I certainly ought to have known it, as in my law practice I’ve seen how upset and angry people get over business-related disputes even though no one has been physically hurt and no one has died.  Yet somehow until I went through it, I didn’t connect that with how awful I’d feel at court.  Each month, I saw the man who’d stopped for drinks after work, then got in an SUV to drive home and hit and killed my parents.  The whole time I waited for the court clerk to call the case, which often took an hour or more, I remembered my dad’s surgeries and how hard he struggled to recover.  I imagined how alone my mom must have felt in the icy street where she died.  Sitting in the hard wooden court benches, watching lawyers go in and out, seeing the driver in his prison jumpsuit, I couldn’t seem to think about anything else.   

A couple months after the man was sentenced, I finally was able to let go just a little and focus on the wonderful things I remembered about my mom and dad, as well as on my own life and future.  The best advice I can offer if you are attending court proceedings is to try to plan before court what you might do or think about if you are stuck waiting.  You can't read or use cell phones when court is in session, but you may be able to during breaks.  As for your thoughts, focusing on something pleasant or even something that just occupies your mind -- remembering a weekend away, planning your week’s work, redecorating your living room in your head -- can help.  Anything that draws your mind away from thoughts that make you feel even worse than you already do.  It also helps, if you can, to bring a friend with you, someone who can distract you or just hold your hand.  Also, try to be especially kind to yourself on a court day.  Plan some activity you like, or at least used to like before this happened, as a reward for getting through the hearing.  It might be getting a fancy cup of coffee on your way back to work, taking a walk on a particularly pretty block, calling someone you’ve been meaning to talk to, or taking extra time to play with your pet.  

(4)  The defendant doesn’t say he or she is sorry.  Week after week, month after month, the person responsible for your loved ones’ deaths or injuries – or your own injuries – stands there and never apologizes.  Until the sentencing hearing, if one happens.  And then you wonder how sincere the apology is, because it could be the defendant is just trying to impress the judge.  Or the defendant may seem truly sorry – but only for himself or herself now that the prospect of prison seems real.  Some defendants apologize for “what happened” or “for the loss” without truly accepting fault.  While someone apologizing couldn’t bring back your loved one or erase the pain, most of us feel a sincere apology would help us a little, but we rarely hear anything that sounds like real regret or acceptance of responsibility.  

In the course of speaking for and working with the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists (AAIM), I’ve met and talked with many people who killed someone while driving drunk.  Many are remorseful and express genuine sorrow, but none I’ve spoken to apologized until after they pled guilty.  That’s because their lawyers told them not to.  It’s part of our judicial system – perhaps an unfortunate part – that if someone apologizes for a crime, that statement can be used against him or her in a trial.  Because of that, lawyers advise their clients that they absolutely cannot apologize unless/until they plead guilty.  At that point, they’ve admitted the crime, so they can apologize.  Some defendants don’t apologize anyway, as they don’t feel remorseful and they think that driving drunk and killing someone is “just an accident.”  This attitude infuriates me, but it unfortunately is not an uncommon view in our culture, which is why AAIM works so hard to try to change public opinion.  An acquaintance, despite knowing how my parents died, once commented resentfully to me that she had to stop after 3 drinks at a wedding because otherwise she might get a DUI ticket and lose her license.  When I said, “Or you might kill someone because you were drinking,” she said something along the lines of that accidents happen all the time, even when people aren’t intoxicated.  A friend’s husband (who also knew about my parents’ deaths) once asked me if I was involved in one of those organizations of “ladies with pitchforks who say ‘don’t drink and drive.’” 

Even those who feel real regret about their actions often find it hard to truly accept responsibility. I’ve met genuinely caring people who are appalled at what they did and who have done everything possible – serving their prison sentences, engaging in community service, speaking publicly about their crimes in the hope that others will change their behavior– who still emphasize “I never meant it to happen” over “I chose to drink and drive, and I killed someone.”  It’s hard for caring people to admit to themselves that their deliberate choice to drink and drive caused someone else’s death or serious injuries. 

These reasons do not make it all right that the DUI driver doesn’t apologize or may do so only in a way that leaves the victim feeling even worse.  At the same time, understanding that the defendant may have real remorse but be unable to communicate it for different reasons can help a little as you sit through hearing after hearing.  I always tried to remember that I could not know what was in the defendant’s heart, and so I might as well assume he had some real regret. 

(5) There are people to help you.  The prosecutor should explain to you what’s happening with the case, including what charges she or he is bringing, what you can do to help, when the next court date is, and what will likely happen.  Many courtrooms also have a victim witness advocate, who is there to help victims through the process.  If that person has not found you, ask the prosecutor or call the prosecutor’s office.  You can also explore the prosecutor’s website to see what resources are available.  Finally, in Northern Illinois, AAIM, an Illinois non-profit, provides advocates to help victims of DUI drivers through the court process.  Twyla, who was the court advocate for my parents’ case, attended every court hearing.  If I was there, she sat with me, answered questions, and offered emotional support.  She also explained exactly what was going on and when the next court date would be.  Afterwards, she took me to a local coffee shop overlooking a river, and we talked and unwound before I went back to work.  If I couldn’t be at court, she called me afterwards and told me exactly what happened. 

There's a link to AAIM on the top left corner of this page that you can click for more information.  In addition, AAIM runs a grief group, as do many hospitals, churches and communities.  Talking with others who’ve been through the same experience can be extremely helpful.  If one group doesn’t work for you, try another. 

In future posts, I’ll talk a little about why it is that sometimes a defendant is not convicted, or the person accused of DUI is not prosecuted at all.  In the meantime, please feel free to post questions or comments below.   

Lisa M. Lilly is an attorney and author of Amazon occult bestseller THE AWAKENING, short story collection THE TOWER FORMERLY SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR, and numerous poems, short stories, and articles.  She is currently working on the sequel to THE AWAKENING.

Follow her on Twitter:  @lisamlilly


Sunday, July 29, 2012

It Takes Forever and Nothing Happens: Criminal Court from a Victim’s Perspective – Part I (DUI Loss Entry No.19)

I attended criminal court nearly every month during the year after my parents were hit by a drunk driver.  The driver was eventually sentenced to twelve years in prison for causing their deaths.  On television and in movies, courtroom scenes contain high drama.  In real life, very little happens at most court appearances, and cases take a long time to get to trial.  As a lawyer, I ought to have known that before I ever stepped into the courtroom.  But I handle civil cases that involve money, not anyone being accused of a crime or going to jail, and I assumed criminal cases would be different. I was wrong.

Confusion about what is and isn’t happening in criminal court can make the pain and frustration of losing a loved one, or recovering from severe injuries, so much worse.  Below are some things I’ve learned both from watching the proceedings against the man who killed my parents and from the criminal defense attorneys I’ve gotten to know since then.  If you are a victim of a DUI driver or of another crime, knowing these things won’t make the case move any faster or ensure justice, but it might help you get through the process.

(1)    It takes a long time.  This refers to both individual court dates and the criminal case as a whole.  You may learn from the prosecutor that your case – the one against whoever is accused of the crime – is set for 9 a.m.  First, if this is one of the earliest court dates and injuries or deaths occurred, there won’t be a trial.  This is just the first of many court dates.  Second, you may arrive at 9 a.m., only to sit through an hour or more of proceedings in other cases.  There are lots of reasons for this.  If the case is in a busy county, a dozen or more cases are probably also scheduled for 9 a.m.  If even one takes more time than expected, all the others are delayed.  If you are set for 10 a.m., that probably means you’re waiting until after the 9 a.m. cases, so you could be behind twenty or more other matters. 

Also, usually judges hear cases first where the defendants – the people accused of the crimes – are already in jail.  So if the defendant in your case is not in prison, your case may be called later.  Finally, sometimes – often in the Chicago area – the defense attorney is running late.  Many criminal defense attorneys are solo lawyers.  This means they are the only lawyers in their firms and drive to multiple courtrooms in the same day.  Traffic, other court cases that run long, and car breakdowns can all cause delays.  Most judges try to accommodate these issues.  You might be wondering why it is your problem – you made it to court on time, why can’t the defense attorney?  It doesn’t seem fair.  But, unfortunately, this and the other factors are part of how the system runs day-to-day.  If you know that and are prepared for it, it may help the frustration level.
The case as a whole also can take a long time.  The prosecutor needs to determine what charges to file – that is, what specific crimes under what laws to present to the judge or a jury.  That can change with developments in the investigation or the case.  My mother died at the scene of the crash, and my dad lived another six and a half weeks.  When my father died, the prosecutor added charges and the potential sentence increased by over a decade.  The judge needs to decide if the defendant can be set free while the case is moving toward trial and, if so, if a bond is needed and the amount.  (The bond for the driver who killed my parents was originally set at half a million dollars, then increased to one million when my dad died.  A million dollar bond meant the driver would have needed to deposit with the court $100,000 to be set free pending trial.)  The prosecutor needs to put together evidence – police reports, witness statement, laboratory tests – and then share it with the defense attorney, who needs to time to review it and advise her or his client.  A court-ordered evaluation may need to be performed of the defendant, such as to decide if the defendant has an alcohol problem. 

If the defendant is considering pleading guilty rather than going to trial, there are discussions between the prosecutor and the defense counsel about what type of sentence will be agreed to, if any.  Sometimes there is a conference with the judge about that.  If the defendant enters what’s called a “blind plea,” that means the defendant pleads guilty but leaves the sentence to the judge. Both sides prepare written documents throughout the case to present their arguments to the judge.  For sentencing, the defense attorney usually gets statements from witnesses who say the defendant is a good person. The prosecutor often asks family member to prepare victim statements for the court.   All these steps take time, and most occur even if there is no need for a trial.  A trial is the part of the case most people are more familiar with from books, television, and movies.  That part of the case, if it occurs, takes even longer to prepare for.

(2)    Not much happens.  For the people sitting in the benches at the back of the courtroom, it appears nothing is happening as the case moves along.  Most of the steps described above take place outside the courtroom, and then the attorneys come to court, report what they’ve been doing, and ask for a next court date.  If not enough has been done, the judge may push them along, telling them what they need to accomplish by the following month.  It’s often hard to hear what the attorneys and the judge are saying, so from your perspective, you wait and wait, then the attorneys go in front of the judge, mumble a few sentences, and walk away.  And sometimes you don’t see even that much.  The lawyers may talk on the phone or in the hallway before seeing the judge, agree there is little or nothing to report, and get a new date without saying more than a word or two to the judge or the judge’s clerk.  The thing to remember is that even when it looks like nothing is happening, usually the case is moving toward a conclusion.  Also, as I’ll discuss more in the next post, you should be able to get specific information from the prosecutor or prosecutor’s office about what’s happening in the case and what you can expect at the next date.

Next time I’ll talk about the emotional aspect of attending hearings, including that the defendant rarely apologizes, and the resources to help you through the process.  Until then, my thoughts are with you.

Author's Note:

In honor of my parents, all royalties this year from my short story collection THE TOWER FORMERLY KNOWN AS SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR will be donated to AAIM. Horror writer Carrie Green referred to the stories as “horror in pinstripes,” a description I wish I ’d thought of myself and which I’m happily adopting.

For Kindle or any laptop, smartphone or computer with the free Kindle app:

To learn more about AAIM, or make a donation in honor of someone you love, click here:

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunshine and the Smell of Books (DUI Loss Blog Entry No. 18)

In 2006, my parents celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  For the toast, I talked about the seven most important things I’d learned from them.  One year later, they were hit by a drunk driver while they were crossing the street.  Both died from their injuries.  I spoke at their funerals about what I’d learned from them.  I am so grateful I had the chance to tell them while they were still here how much I appreciated them and how they’d impacted my life. 

For more than a year after their deaths, I found it hard to focus on anything positive.  Despite support from family and friends, the world felt dark.  I remember the first instant I felt really good again, just for a moment.  It was June.  I attended the annual Printers’ Row Book Fair in the South Loop area of Chicago.  The sun warmed my face for the first time I could remember that spring, with just enough of a Lake Michigan breeze to keep the day from being hot.  I stepped out of the Starbucks on Dearborn and Harrison.  Book stalls and tents instead of cars lined the streets and sidewalks.  I inhaled the sweet, spicy scent of my Chai tea latte and the earthy, dry smell of old books, a smell I’ve loved my whole life.  I felt the surge of excitement I always do at that fest, surrounded by books and people who care about them as much as I do.  While I hadn’t put in my notice at work yet, I’d arranged everything for my move to open my own law practice.  So I was in a wonderful state where I felt little pressure at work, and hadn’t yet assumed the responsibilities and challenges of running my own business. 

For the first time in over a year, I breathed deep.  I relaxed.  I felt happy.

For a second. 

Then reality crashed over me.  How could I feel good when my parents had died in such a terrible way?  My mom lying in the street in the ice and snow, my dad struggling for six and a half weeks to recover, enduring surgeries, sometimes needing his hands tied to his bedrails because he got confused and agitated and tried to get out of bed without help.  Those thoughts had haunted me since the crash.  As I stood breathing in sunshine and the smell of books, I finally realized my parents would never want me to spend the rest of my life focusing on how awful their deaths were.  They would want me to be happy and remember the good about them.  Life didn’t become perfect after that.  But I spent more time thinking of what inspired me about my parents’ lives, rather than the type of deaths they suffered.

In memory of my parents on the five year anniversary of the crash, I’ve decided to do two things.  One is to write about what I learned from them.  One of those things is that trying to make the world better is part of what makes life worth living.  My parents did all types of volunteering over the years.  They donated money and ran events for veterans at Hines Hospital, took people who couldn’t drive to doctor visits, the store, or church, and organized local citizens’ movements to address village concerns.    

After my parents’ deaths, I became involved with AAIM (the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists).  The first time I heard of AAIM came when Twyla, an AAIM court advocate, helped me and my family through the criminal court proceedings against the driver who hit my parents.  I started attending a grief group AAIM hosts every month.  Now I speak on AAIM’s victim impact panels, where I tell first-time DUI offenders about the devastating consequences someone’s choice to drink and drive had.  These panels, like the high school programs AAIM runs, focus on preventing further deaths and injuries due to DUI.  This is both a wonderful and frustrating goal, as DUI deaths are 100% preventable.  100%.  No one ever needs to die or be injured again due to DUI driving, and it shouldn’t cost a penny – only a change in attitude.  Imagine if that’s all it took to prevent every death from cancer.  Yet, DUI deaths and injuries continue every day.    

In the coming years, AAIM hopes to extend its advocate and court watching programs into Central and Southern Illinois, continue to support legislation to help deter DUI driving, expand the reach of school programs and victim impact panels, and keep providing financial help to needy people and families who have been victims of a DUI driver. 

Which brings me to the second thing I am doing this year in honor of my parents.  All royalties from my short story collection THE TOWER FORMERLY KNOWN AS SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR will be donated to AAIM.  Horror writer Carrie Green referred to the stories as “horror in pinstripes,” a description I wish I’d thought of myself and which I’m happily adopting.  THE TOWER is available for Kindle or any tablet, laptop or computer using the free Kindle app on Amazon’s site.  Simply click on the link below to buy.  By doing so, you will have the chance to read about Chicago, enjoy some Twilight Zone-like tales, and support the most unknown and yet amazing non-profit in Illinois. 

For Kindle or any laptop, smartphone or computer with the free Kindle app:

To learn more about AAIM, or make a donation in honor of someone you love, click here:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Question & Answers Five Years Later (DUI Loss Entry No. 17)

Five years ago in January, a drunk driver hit my parents as they crossed the street in front of their church. The driver is serving a twelve-year prison sentence now.  Both my parents died – my mom at the scene, my dad six and a half weeks later, after many surgeries and a long struggle to recover.
It took more than a year for me to feel good again, even for a moment.  I often felt I should be able to pull myself out of anger and grief, should be able to stop feeling like I was flying apart inside, even as I walked through life with people telling me how well I was holding up (I wasn’t).  I felt certain I’d never be the same again.  And I never have been.  But I do feel better, more like myself, and happy with my life, though I still grieve.  I’ve thought a lot about what helped me return to what feels like a normal life – normal as in ups and downs, with times I feel sad or angry about the crash, and more times I remember wonderful things about my parents.

A lot of it is questions.  More than a decade before the crash, I read a book by Anthony Robbins called AWAKEN THE GIANT WITHIN.  A friend recommended it.  I was skeptical, especially because Robbins, with his shiny white smile, reminded me of a used car salesman.  But I found the book helpful in changing both how I thought and felt for the better, and finding solutions to seemingly insurmountable difficulties.  One of Robbins’ theories is that we think by asking ourselves questions.  The questions we ask determine the answers our minds provide and so the quality of our lives.  For instance, in a time of grief, if we ask, “Why do bad things always happen?”, our mind obligingly responds with reasons, usually reasons that make us feel worse.  That the world is a terrible place, that we somehow deserve whatever loss we’ve suffered, that people are, at heart, evil.  On the other hand, if we ask a question like, “What can I do that might make things better?”, our minds are almost guaranteed to return an answer that will help us take action in a positive way.

Robbins suggests a list of questions to ask each day, beginning with “What am I happy about?”  This is one I found impossible to ask in the days, months, and even the year after the crash (though I ask it now).  I’m guessing almost anyone whose loved one died would find it difficult if not impossible to answer that question.  But one question I did ask and that I continue to ask is “What am I grateful for?”  Even in the midst of feeling black and angry, I found things to be grateful for.  The nurse-practitioner at Loyola who carefully explained my dad’s medical condition and options, and who was always available to consult.  The Brookfield police and the prosecutors who did everything they could to see that the man who hit my parents was taken off the road.  Friends who did everything from organizing my parents’ financial papers to cooking for out-of-town guests to driving me home from the hospital each night.  And Twyla, the victim advocate from the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists who attended every court hearing in the criminal case and explained every step of the proceedings, then took me for tea afterward at a lovely coffeehouse near the courthouse so I could have some quiet time before returning to work. 

Now I also often ask, “How can I best honor my mom and dad?”  My parents donated monthly to charities despite being on a fixed income.  When I’m feeling uncertain about finances (like any business, running a law practice has its ups and downs, as does being a novelist), and I’m hesitant to give, I remember how my parents did this regularly despite their own concerns about money.  Also, inspired by my parents’ volunteerism, I’ve become involved with AAIM so I can offer support to others who lost loved ones or were injured by DUI drivers and work toward preventing further DUI-related tragedies.  I also try to honor my parents by appreciating everyone in my life.  (I’d like to say I’m perfect at doing that, which wouldn’t be so, but I try.)  All these things make me feel my parents still contribute to this world, even though they are not physically here.

Other questions I’ve found helpful are, “How can I feel just a little better right now?” “What are the things I learned from my parents that most helped me in life?” “Who in my life do I want to contact to say I love them?” “What is one thing I can do this day/week/month that might help someone else through a difficult time?” “Who is one person I want to thank for doing something kind?” “What am I really enjoying in life right now or, at least, what could I be enjoying if I would let myself?” 

I wish I had something more to offer anyone who is grieving – something that would heal the hurt and anger or, better yet, reverse time and change events so no one would ever have been injured or killed. But I don’t. Still, there’s a saying that goes something like:  "Better to light a candle than curse the gathering darkness." So I’ll hope these thoughts light a candle or two and help keep the darkness at bay.

Author's Note: 

In honor of my parents, all royalties this year from my short story collection THE TOWER FORMERLY KNOWN AS SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR will be donated to AAIM. Horror writer Carrie Green referred to the stories as “horror in pinstripes,” a description I wish I’d thought of myself and which I’m happily adopting.  

For Kindle or any laptop, smartphone or computer with the free Kindle app:

To learn more about AAIM, or make a donation in honor of someone you love, click here:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Standing in Traffic

December 11, 2011

Yesterday, I stood in traffic.  I posed with a bride, a groom, and 3 other bridesmaids on the median line on State Street, one of Chicago’s busiest thoroughfares, half a block from the stoplight.  With the historic Chicago theater as a backdrop, no doubt the photo will look amazing.  But all I could think about as we shivered and smiled was how our lives depended upon the competence of the drivers whizzing past on either side.

Not only crazy people or bridal parties (or is that redundant?) stand on the center line.  That is how my parents died.  They were crossing the street to attend an evening church service at St. Barbara’s in Brookfield, the suburb where I grew up.  They crossed at a spot where many churchgoers do, in a direct line from the church parking lot exit to the church entrance across the street.  Unfortunately, there is no crosswalk there, despite the number of people who walk that way.  I was told the church tried to get the village to add a crosswalk, but it’s only half a block from a stop sign, so the request was denied.

The man who hit my parents lived in Brookfield, and his parents belong to the parish, so he would have known people cross there.  Not only that, but the crossing sits in between a jog in the road that has a stop light and a stop sign, so cars usually travel at a low speed. 

On the night of January 22, 2007, traffic on one side of the street stopped for my parents, who had crossed half-way and paused in the median to wait for the road to clear.  An ambulance driver, who later sped my dad to the hospital, saw my parents and stopped.  A passer-by noticed they were smiling and holding hands.  But the man driving to his home, which was only a mile away, who had stopped for drinks after work, didn’t see them.  He didn’t stop.  My mom died in the street.  My dad died six and a half weeks later.

I didn’t see the crash.  But even nearly five years later, the way that crash happened never leaves my mind as I walk to work each day.  In downtown Chicago, construction is frequent.  Saw horses, yellow tape, and barricades often block all or part of designated crosswalks, requiring me to edge around them, partially exposed to the street.  I look over my shoulder, I scan the cars ahead of me and on the cross street, I check again, I check again.  Finally, I walk, stomach clenching, holding my breath until I make it to the other side.  I get angry with friends who walk with me and insist on crossing against lights, in the middle of streets, or where there is no signal.  Of course, the idea that being in a crosswalk or abiding by the lights will keep me safe is an illusion, one in which we all indulge or we’d never leave our homes.  Traffic laws provide safety only when people opt to follow them, and that only works when the people on the road are competent to make that decision and care enough to make it. 

WGN radio personality Garry Meier was kind enough to speak at the annual benefit for AAIM, the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists, as was Illinois Senator Carole Pankau.  Garry likens drunk drivers to terrorists because you never know when they will strike.  At first, despite my parents’ deaths, I thought this metaphor might be extreme.  But then I thought about how I look over my shoulder, and I check, and I check again.  And I never feel safe.  Garry’s right.  It’s not police enforcement that keeps roads safe at least some of the time.  It’s that as a culture we believe that those laws, if followed, will protect us, so we follow them.  If a person opts to violate that most important traffic law – refraining from driving while intoxicated – the others go out the window, along with the safety of any person in or near that driver’s path.

Until as a country we decide that drinking and driving is unacceptable, we are all standing in traffic.

Author's Note:

In honor of my parents, all royalties this year from my short story collection THE TOWER FORMERLY KNOWN AS SEARS AND TWO OTHER TALES OF URBAN HORROR will be donated to AAIM. Horror writer Carrie Green referred to the stories as “horror in pinstripes,” a description I wish I’d thought of myself and which I’m happily adopting.  

For Kindle or any laptop, smartphone or computer with the free Kindle app:

To learn more about AAIM, or make a donation in honor of someone you love, click here:

Lisa M. Lilly is also the author of the Amazon Occult Horror Best Seller The Awakening

Will Tara Spencer’s mysterious pregnancy trigger the first stage of the Apocalypse?  Or bring the world its first female messiah? 
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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"Thank You For Everything" (DUI Loss Entry No. 15)

“Thank you for everything.”  That is the last thing my mom ever said to me.  Like a lot of mothers and daughters, we had some difficult times.  There were a few years when she hardly spoke to me, as she was unhappy my boyfriend and I were living together (a little more unusual in the late 1980s than it would be now).  But by the time my mom reached her 80s and I my 40s, we’d found a way to leave the hot button issues alone.  She stopped asking if I was going to mass, I stopped trying to get her to understand what I believed and didn’t believe and why.  I felt she was pleased I became a lawyer and kept writing and was doing well in the world.  But I often felt she’d be happier if instead I’d married a lawyer and had kids.  Perhaps partly because it would have given us more in common. 

In the last few years of my mom’s life I really tried to find things we could do together.  The last day I saw her, I read through and explained her and my dad’s insurance and social security issues, helped her balance my aunt’s checkbook (my mom’s sister lived well into her 90s, and Mom was handling her affairs), and shoveled snow.  And so, after all the ups and downs and difficulties, when I left that day, my mom said, “Thank you for everything.”

The next night she and my dad were crossing the street and were hit by an intoxicated driver.  My mom died at the scene.  My dad lived about 6 weeks before he died. 

Neither of my parents were much for expressing emotion.  I knew my parents loved me because my mom always stocked a refrigerator full of food when I came over and clipped coupons for me, and because my dad insisted on giving me a ride to the train every time I visited, even though the walk was only a few blocks, and saved newspaper and magazine articles for me.  When my dad was in the hospital, I came in during one of his speech and cognitive therapy sessions.  This was after a couple surgeries.  Before them, he’d been clear headed and understood what was happening, after he sometimes was confused and didn’t know exactly where he was and who was who.  So the therapist asked him who I was.  He said, “Lisa.”  And she said, “And who is Lisa?”  And he said, “My daughter and close friend.”  It never occurred to me my dad thought of me as his friend, and that made me happy.

Of course I never expected my parents would die in a traumatic way, or so close in time to one another.  But because they were in their eighties, despite their good health and history of longevity in their families, I knew they might not be with us much longer.  So I thought a lot about wanting the time I had with them to be good, about not wanting to let past differences keep us apart, and about how I could best have a good relationship with them.

Not everyone gets the chance to hear kind words from, or say kinds words to, the people they love before they are suddenly gone.  On an on-going basis I talk with people who lost children or spouses because one day someone else chose to drink alcohol and get behind the wheel. 

We all have conflicts with people we care about, and we can’t always say something kind.  Sometimes we’ll say something angry, and even if that is the last thing we say, it doesn’t cancel out or define a whole relationship.  At the same time, it’s so easy to take for granted the great things about people, and life, and focus on the negative, on what we don’t like or would like to change.  Every morning now, I ask myself, what am I grateful for?  Often the answer is that I am grateful for someone being part of my life.  I try to remember to tell that to whoever it is, whether by phone or email or in conversation.  At first I felt a little awkward (I grew up in a family where people don’t talk much about feelings remember).  And then I discovered it means a lot to others to know how much they mean to me.   And whether it is the last thing I say to a person or one of many things, it makes life richer for both of us.  For me, that has been the best way to live with loss and focus on what’s good and wonderful in this world. 

Lisa M. Lilly
The Awakening  ($2.99) by Lisa M. Lilly

Tara Spencer’s mysterious pregnancy alters her life forever.  Will it also change the fate of the world?