Friday, October 5, 2012

A Disturbing Letter

"Your mother took another person's life when she was young."

That's how a letter our daughter received a couple months ago began. She opened the letter on a pleasant evening as she was sifting through slips of paper her friends had placed in the "prayer jar" she had made as part of a week-long youth program at church. It arrived in the form of a greeting card we suspected might be a thank you note or an invitation to a party. Her expression quickly changed as she read the card. Glancing over her shoulder, words like "murderer" grabbed my wife's attention.

The fact is my wife was in a car accident twenty-five years ago this past August, almost exactly five years before she and I met. She was seventeen years old at the time, driving along a bend in a road in Southern Pines, NC, when a fellow high school student of hers approached from the other direction. His car was in her lane coming straight at her, fast. She hit her breaks. He didn't. Their cars locked, spun together like a top, and released. My wife ended up with many broken bones and needed multiple surgeries. The young man in the other car did not survive.

Maybe he was distracted by the radio, or an animal in the road, or simply wasn't paying attention. Perhaps there was a medical reason why his car veered off course and he didn't attempt to regain control . Maybe he had a seizure and was unaware of his surroundings. We will never know.

My heart always goes out first to the parents when I hear of such accidents. I can not imagine the pain of losing a child. Just last week, a sixteen-year-old bandmate of our daughter died when her car spun out of control and struck a tree. Words do not exist to express the sympathy one feels at these times. "I'm so sorry for your loss" is woefully inadequate when attempting to console the family at the funeral home. From someone like me, who has never experienced a loss of that magnitude, it is the best that can be mustered.

I would never presume to tell the loved one or close friend of a person who has died how to mourn, how to cope with the loss, how to fill the vaccuum that has been left behind. But there does come a time when the reality of the situation must be faced and life must go on. When, exactly? That's different for everyone. It might take days, weeks, months, or years, but it must come evenutally so the life of the person mourning does not stall and remain mired in suffering.

Unfortunately, some people cling to their grief and hold it closely to them like a security blanket. To let go of the pain and move on with life is incomprehensible. They see their loved ones' deaths as wrongs that have been committed and they seek to lay blame on the most convenient targets. To their way of thinking their loved ones didn't die, they were killed, and facts-of-the-case-be-damned someone must be held accountable. Whomever wrote that letter to our daughter is one of those people.

It would have been bad enough for this person to have mailed the letter to my wife and directly called her a murderer. But to target our daughter -- telling her to "Look your mother in the eyes and you will see the eyes of a murderer" -- is an indication that this person is not content with simply assigning blame. After twenty-five years of allowing resentment to fester, this person has found it necessary and appropriate to lash out at a fifteen-year-old girl in the hopes of driving a wedge between her and her mother. Needless to say, it didn't work.

We might never find out who wrote the letter, or why he or she chose to place such vitriolic language in a religious-themed greeting card with rainbows and flowers covering the front of it. That it was sent anonymously and with no return address tells me this person knows sending it was too shameful an act for which to take credit. It's easy to feel anger toward this person, but as more time passes I can't help feeling pity is the more appropriate response.

I doubt the young man who died in that accident all those years ago would have wanted him or her to waste a quarter of a century nurturing bitterness and hatred in his name. There surely must be more fitting ways to pay tribute to the memory a loved one.

© 2012 Mark Feggeler


  1. Wow! I'm glad your daughter has a strong spirit and obviously has a strong family. It's a great lesson on how people handle grief.

    Holding a grudge/twisting grief, making it something monstrous/blaming the blameless---no good will ever come, and no healing will ever take place.

  2. There you go, making me cry again. That was well-said! I'm proud of the way you all handled this situation.