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: