The Lessons of Life

6 years ago

Weight can do more than just burden our bodies with extra pounds.  It can also affect the way we live our lives, sometimes long after the weight has disappeared.

I’ve known for months that this would be something I’d decide I could do, or admit that I simply couldn’t.  It wasn’t until the night before the sentencing at the County Courthouse that I made my decision: I was going to attend.

Last April my husband’s mother whom I loved dearly, was diagnosed with an inoperable aneurysm. She died in early July.   While attending her viewing, I tried to comprehend the words of my sister-in-law as she ran up to the casket where I stood as she said, “Ellen, you need to come outside – your mother has been hit by a car.”

I prepared myself for the worst, and when I opened the door of the funeral home and saw her lying there, I realized that nothing could have prepared me for that image.  Witnesses said that a car came around the corner speeding up to 50 miles an hour, drove onto the grass where was standing.  She was struck, and the car drove off.

I remember kneeling next to her, talking to her, not knowing whether she was dying in front of me.  When the ambulance took her away, I turned to my husband and said, “You have to go back inside and be with your family.  I’ll go to the hospital.”  He took me by the arm and said, “Ellen, my mother is gone.  Your mother is still alive.  I’m going with you.”  There was surgery, countless stitches; the threat of infection or amputation; and we still had my mother-in-law’s funeral to attend.

My mother’s leg has healed on the outside and miraculously, she suffered no other injuries other than a concussion and gash to the forehead. But since July, she’s had no bone growth in her leg.  She cannot bear weight on it, she cannot leave her home without assistance, she can no longer drive.  Medical bills are arriving.

I was voluntarily putting myself in a position of extreme discomfort this week while that court date loomed in the back of my mind.  No, I was not required to attend.  It was my choice.  However, my mother could not attend and I felt a strong responsibility to be there on her behalf.     Still, this was a challenge I literally agonized about and forced myself to do. I knew I’d be seeing the young man who was involved in the hit-and-run along with his family in court.  They’d previously asked to meet with our family – to apologize; they’d sent a card to my mother, asked their attorney about her over and over again, and I realized that this accident had deeply affected not just one family, but two.

My mother has never showed a hint of anger towards anyone over this accident.  Yes she said, he was going too fast.  Yes, he most certainly should have stopped, ‘but under different circumstances it could have been any one of my kids behind that wheel, making a foolish mistake at that age.’  I tried very hard to remember her words as I made my way up the courthouse steps.

Thankfully, I wasn’t alone.  My husband was able to meet me at the courthouse and my nephew came as well.   We entered the courtroom and slipped into the pew at the back of the room. 

People were coming and going as cases ended while new ones began.  The victim’s advocate saw us arrive and came back to sit next to us.  She asked  if one of us wanted to speak during the sentencing.  I could not bring myself to do it without bursting into tears.  I will probably always regret that I wasn’t able to get it together enough to do this one thing.   My husband had a few words with the prosecutor and agreed to speak on the family’s behalf, for which I was so grateful. 

We continued to wait for over an hour before a young man and two women sat down next to us.  It wasn’t until the case was called before I realized I was sitting in the same pew as the man involved in the accident along with members of his family. 

Two hours and several cases later, it was time.  The prosecutor, defense attorney and defendant stood before the judge.  When the judge asked if there were any witnesses, my husband was called to be sworn in and stood at his place in front of the bench.  He recounted what happened while I watched the replay in my head for the hundredth time.  When the defendant’s turn came to speak before the court I heard phrases like ….didn’t know anyone was hurt……thought I’d just hit a sign……so sorry for what I did.  When the judge gave his sentence and it was over, my chance came to speak to the defendant and his family on my mother’s behalf. 

For months we have ached over the events surrounding this accident, but my heart softened as a very young man and his grandmother stood in front of me that day.  He looked me straight in the eyes and I saw the shame and guilt he felt over fleeing the accident.  Suddenly I saw them not as enemies but as people – just like us.  The first few moments were awkward, but the emotion we all felt was so overwhelming, so genuine, the words came quickly.  We spoke; we cried; we even hugged.

And after months of worry, it was over.

My mother may have physical limitations for the rest of her life but she is taking it in stride. As I watch her heal both physically and emotionally I realize that she has every right to say, ‘I’ve lost so much; where do I go from here?’ but she chooses not to look at life that way. She made the decision to forgive. She continues to live one moment at a time, and challenges her own comfort zone each and every day.  She is truly a remarkable woman.

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