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The Legacy of Others Lives Through You

Franklin Lee and familyMost sons rarely appreciate the sacrifices of their mothers until adulthood, and I was no different.  Being the younger of two boys, I was a little more spoiled by a mother’s love.

My mom was always quick to whip up a meal or a snack, patch a ripped pair of pants, or tend to all my scrapes and cuts suffered on the playground. No matter where we were, mom was always the one who could provide the comforts of home. During my pre-adolescent years, my mother would wish for the retention of my innocence and would often tell me, “Don’t get any older than you are right now.”

During my rebellious teen years mom spent many nights on the couch waiting for me to come home from a late night out. I still remember the look of relief on her face when I would walk through the front door. During my college years, she tolerated my free-spirited nature and independent behavior.

I can still see her shaking her head in almost comical disbelief at the buddies and girlfriends I’d bring home.  During my “mature” adult years, she gave me endless support, encouragement, and love as I spread my wings and went into the “real world” looking for career work. All the while I was still her baby boy that grew up into the man from the little boy she wanted me to stay forever.

My adult relationship with my mother lasted only a few short years and ended on August 6, 1999, when she died in a car accident. It was a Friday and I bolted from the office after a long day and excitedly started the weekend, which would be spent at a church retreat in the San Bernardino Mountains.

After picking up a few necessities I hit the road later than expected. Weekend traffic would delay me even further. As I was transitioning from one Southern California freeway to another and still not quite out of the city I received a call on my cell phone.

It was not a number I recognized and I would have normally not answered it as I was driving, but a strange compulsion came over me to answer it anyway. I remember a woman’s voice — the voice of a stranger telling me that I need to come back to a certain intersection near my home because my parents had just been in an automobile accident.

I remember my dad barely being able to speak as he was telling me to get there as soon as possible. I remember sensing a seriousness about the situation, and contacting my brother. I remember listening to the radio and hearing a traffic report about a fatality exactly where my mother’s accident had been reported.

What?  Fatal?

I remember hoping that my mother wasn’t the fatality, and then immediately feeling guilty about wishing someone else was. I remember arriving at the scene and being told by police to go to the hospital. I remember arriving at the ER, and as soon as we walked into a room where my father was, hearing the words, “Your mother is dead.”

We hugged and cried, and this is where my journey of grief began. I wanted to know what events put me on this path.  I walked out to the hallway to speak to the police officers who were obviously assigned the task of disclosing the details to us.

My parents had been involved in a very minor automobile collision in the middle of a roadway. As my father traded the pertinent information with the other driver, my mother stood at the back of her car inspecting the damage. It was at this point, a third vehicle operated by a drunk driver collided with her and the back of her car, essentially crushing my mother to death. The police reported that they were certain the fatality was instantaneous and that she felt no pain. A little bit of consolation.

I wish I could say that I’ve gotten over the death of my mother and my life is back to normal, but while there is a sense of a new normalcy in my life, it will never be back to the way it was.

Life moves on.  The living must keep on living and we honor the dead as best as we can.  And I don’t think I will ever fully get over the loss of my mom because the journey of grief continues, and all who have lost cope in their own unique way.

Life changed in the twinkling of an eye, and it changed forever. And the magnitude to which my life has changed cannot be sufficiently described in one article, but I have a new perspective on life since that day. I appreciate the people in my life more. My family and friends are much more valued to me and I treasure the times I have to spend with them.

I realize that while we all have ways to cope and get through our everyday struggles, the only thing we can truly rely on to get through life is each other. Life is not meant to be lived alone. Life is easier when we get a little help from family and friends and life is more rewarding and fulfilling when we give a little help in return.

The simple things in life — a hike in the woods, a stroll on the beach, a sunset, a sunrise — are all taken in with great gratitude. The little irritants in life are brushed away because there are more important things to worry about and life is too short to waste time on the trivial matters.

Like most mothers, my mom lived sacrificially for her children.  Sometimes I think that there was a greater reason for her death and she gave the ultimate sacrifice for me and my brother, and the rest of our family. As I continue on this journey of grief I have undoubtedly become a stronger person, a more patient person, a more compassionate person.

You might think I have a strong sense of resentment towards the drunk driver that was responsible for the horror that night, but I don’t.  You might think I now have a strong stance or opinion on drinking and driving, but I don’t .

It wasn’t the alcohol that took my mother’s life.  It was the decision of an individual to get behind the wheel after having one (or a few) too many.  We make decisions every day that can potentially have serious consequences; consequences that can have a profoundly negative impact on others, even on those whom we have never met.

As I take in the world around me I think of my own mortality and I’d like to leave it a better place than when I came into it.  I know my mother did.  So I made a decision of my own to have a positive impact to those around me and those I come in contact with, and in doing so, my mother’s death led me to Comfort Zone Camp where I can remember my mother, honor my mother, but most importantly use her tragic death to bring comfort to kids that have experienced the loss of their mom, or dad, or brother, or sister.

The loss we experience through physical death cannot, and should not, limit the legacy of our loved one.  They are a part of you and live on through you.

Our thanks to Franklin Lee for sharing his story. Franklin has been a Comfort Zone Camp [1] volunteer since 2010 and has served as a Big Buddy and Healing Circle Assistant. He also has served on the Volunteer Council at the California Comfort Zone Camp office since November 2011.

State Farm - Celebrate My DriveComfort Zone Camp [2] and State Farm have partnered to promote Celebrate My Drive®, a community celebration of safe driving habits. Celebrate My Drive® emphasizes the positives of safe choices behind the wheel, as teens celebrate the freedom that comes with the rite of passage of getting a drivers’ license. The articles featured on Hello Grief in support of Celebrate My Drive® provide those who have experienced a loss due to auto accident with the opportunity to share their story and reinforce the importance of making safe choices each and every time you get behind the wheel of a car. To learn more about Celebrate My Drive®, visit www.celebratemydrive.com [3] or teendriving.statefarm.com [4].