Ten years is a long time and yet ten years is nothing more than the blink of an eye. 2014 is the tenth anniversary of my parents’ deaths; family members and I have been working on truck issues for 9 of those years to honor dad who died 5 months after mom. After that much time you’d think I’d be able to tell the story easily, without emotion, just the facts. That I’d be able to get my point across without having to wear waterproof mascara. Sometimes I can. Sometimes I am surprised to feel that familiar catch in my throat.
It happened to me at the truck company meeting two weeks ago today. Half way through that day it became evident that not everyone sitting around the table knew our story so we were asked to give the brief version. I wasn’t worried about telling it, I’ve told it a hundred times in all sorts of situations. But I found I could only get the first sentence out….”My dad was driving to the airport early in the morning on December 23, 2004 when he slowed for a prior accident ahead…and was hit from behind by a semi whose driver said he fell asleep.”
And then my throat closed down and I had to take a moment. The moment seemed long as everyone waited quietly for me to continue. And I couldn’t. The head of safety at the truck company who knows our story finished it for me. I sat silent wondering what in the world had happened.
And I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It’s been ten years. I’ve been telling people who have lost loved ones to semi crashes, families in earlier stages of grief, that it gets better. That it will never be OK, but it won’t always be as bad as it is in the first years. I’ve been promising them that it would get easier. Because it does, really, it isn’t always a dark cloud hanging over, it doesn’t always invade every minute of every day. After awhile grief just catches you by surprise, like it did me that Wednesday in a conference room far from home.
I think what happened to me that day is that I stopped being angry. Here I was working toward a shared goal of safe roads with a huge truck company. They pride themselves on their safety programs and they’ve gone beyond any rules and regulations, taken up safety rules on their own, made their goal zero preventable fatalities. So I wasn’t angry when I was in those meetings. I wasn’t indigent, I wasn’t outraged. And when angry and outrage is taken away all I have left is sad.
I think sad will stick around forever. Sad is a very big place, it stretches ahead as far as I can see, as wide as the Great Lakes, as high as the furthest star. And while it doesn’t surround me every minute, doesn’t cloud every thought, doesn’t prejudice every experience, it is always just around the corner.
Sad waits to surprise me.
I don’t want those other families to know this. I want them to have hope for an easier day. There are families I care deeply about that are only four years into this journey. They feel like they’re on an unrelenting treadmill, a treadmill set on a very high incline. Every day is a struggle and they don’t know how they can go on feeling the way they do. I want them to know it will get better.
But there will always be sad.
I know that most of you will tell me how strong you think I am, and how what we’re doing is saving lives, and thank me for the work. And I appreciate that, every bit of it. I know that what we do is important. But it’s also important, I think, to recognize sadness when it comes. And to let it just be.
I guess what I have to share with families right now is that sad is OK. Sad is here, will always be here, there’s no fighting it. But that the rest of us riding along on the same journey are here too. And you don’t have to be in the sad place by yourself unless that’s what’s right for you. We’re here if you need us. Sad is around, but so are all of us. If you need a hug, real or virtual just let us know. I know some of you are facing your anniversary this week. We’re with you. Hang in there. It gets better.
It gets better, I promise it does, even though today I’m feeling a little sad.