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September Mourning (Laura's story)

As I turned the corner on my way back to the classroom my eye caught a familiar face. I looked at her and she back at me with the same, “Don’t I know you?” look. With just a few questions, we figured out that Laura’s husband and my wife had worked together years ago. I was relieved to have discovered the connection.

I casually asked, “What brings you here?”, thinking that would make good conversation. She hesitated, looked away for a moment, and then back at me. “I’m the guest speaker. I’m here to share my story,” she said softly. My mind raced, trying to process the impact of what she had just said, considering where we were.

Photo credit: Michael J. Moeller via Flickr cc
You see, this particular Saturday morning I was attending a Car-Teens class with my son. This involuntary learning session was the result of his decision to see how fast his Mustang could travel down the highway. And the sole purpose of this class was to convince him and all the other teen offenders, by whatever means necessary, that driving unsafely has horrific consequences.

“Something tells me that you being here to share your story is probably not a good thing,” I said.

“No, it’s not.” she replied.

As we took our seat for the second half of the class, my heart raced as I thought about what Laura was about to share. When the highway patrol officer had presented the grim statistics and graphic videos in the first half, it was tough to handle, but I was able to stay somewhat emotionally disconnected. Now it was about to get personal.

Laura placed a white display board on the table at the front of the room. On it were taped about a dozen pictures. In the center, black letters spelled out the name of Laura’s oldest son, Joey.

Like any proud mother, Laura told us about her love for her family and the joy that her two boys brought her. Then, without missing a beat, she then took us to a September morning, four years ago. She recounted how the day began routinely. She was headed to work. Brian, the youngest, was headed out with friends. Joey and Ron, her husband, were going to pick up a new lawn tractor.

This was not a normal day, though. She realized that when she received the fateful call at work from her sister. My heart sank and my throat began to tighten as she described the feeling of helplessness she experienced when the officer told her that Ron was on a helicopter headed to the hospital and that her seventeen year old son, Joey was gone.

With remarkable strength and courage, Laura talked to the class about the devastating effect that horrible accident has had on her and her family. Tearful months. Depressing holidays. Shattered dreams.

Somehow, Laura was able to maintain her composure throughout the whole presentation. We were not doing as well. Sniffles and sobs could be heard around the classroom as she finished up. Not a person in the room was emotionally unaffected by her story.

I looked over at my son, the same age as Laura’s Joey when he died. My heart ached at the thought of losing him. For me, this class had become about more than just safe driving. It had become about preserving those things that we hold dear. I’d bet all the other parents in the room would agree.

Surely it affected the teens as well. They got to witness first-hand the raw pain of a mother who had lost a child to a tragic auto accident. If just for a moment, they were able to feel the life-long agony that one poor decision can bring.

Soberly, we made our way out of the room and into the hallway. I approached Laura and gave her a big hug. “Thank you,” I said. “Thanks for sharing your story.”

Sometimes it’s hard to speak about the rough spots of our lives. The stories of hurt, disappointment, struggle and loss. But often hidden in those painful stories are lessons on finding faith, having hope and on discovering what’s really important.

It’s quite likely that the impact of Laura’s heartbreaking story will change the driving behavior of those teens who attended that class. And that change might just save their life.

Everyone has a story, even you. What impact do you think your story could have on others if you were to share it?

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