I drove an hour
and a half each way to give a pre-prom speech to the juniors and seniors at
Coyle & Cassidy High School in Taunton, Massachusetts yesterday. The idea
was that, as the mother of a boy, brain-injured by a drunk driver, I might be
able to impart some wisdom to these teens, share some lesson gleaned from our
I listened to Tom
Ashbrook’s radio show On Point as I
drove. His guest was Paige Williams whose article in O Magazine, titled “We Thought the
Sun Would Always Shine on our Lives”, detailed a horrific accident in which
5 of her sorority sisters perished over 25 years ago. With her to discuss “grief
out of season”, as the host called the loss of the girls, was a therapist and
grief specialist from Healing Circles, Inc.
As horrific as
the story was (five sorority sisters killed on a charity walk when a hay-baler
plowed into them on Highway 6 in Mississippi,) what struck me most were the
listeners who responded, each calling in to share their own unique tragedies,
suffered at young ages.
One call in particular
jarred. A middle-aged woman recalled an 11-year-old classmate who died of
leukemia more than 50 years prior. She didn’t even know the girl that well, but
her death somehow shaped the caller’s formative years and stayed with her on
some level through her entire life.
“If even one
person remembers you for something you did with them or for them then that was
what the meaning of life would be about,” she said.
I turned off the
radio at that point, my heart full. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts. I
focused on the kids I would be speaking to in just a matter of minutes. I have
given this talk many times over many years. I relive for the audience how I
learned about the crash. I describe the days in the ICU, the months of physical
therapy, the years of depression. I try to paint a picture of Trista: her
intellect, her wit, her sense of humor, her smile, her grace. My mission, my
goal, is to discourage them from drinking and driving. To see that perhaps they
can have fun without intoxication.
But as I pulled
into the parking lot, the caller’s words still echoing in my brain, I wondered
if I might not have another opportunity here. I wondered if the juniors and
seniors at Coyle & Cassidy High School might just have an opportunity not
to simply avoid tragedy but to find the meaning of life. If I could truly paint
for them a vivid enough picture of Trista, might they not remember her enough
to not drink, to not drive this prom season? And wouldn’t that be the same as “doing
something for her?” And if just one of these students did something for Trista,
wouldn’t they then come to know the meaning of life?