081: The Choices You Make Affect More Than You
Content warning: The following story references an incidence of drunk driving, and associated loss, and the grief thereafter, which may be triggering to some survivors.
"The Choices You Make Affect More Than You," Amanda Myers
There is one specific day in my life where absolutely everything changed. I don’t mean in a poetic sense where I had an epiphany, or in a reflective looking back, what I know now way. But in a truly life shattering way that caused a schism between my old self and who I am now that runs incredibly deep.
On July 10, 2008, I had gone to bed somewhat early after a day of running errands. A phone call on our apartment phone rang in the distance, and my husband came into the bedroom, and told me my dad was on the phone. It didn’t alarm me immediately- this was far from normal, but I was sleepy. After I said hello to my father, he told me my sister was dead. After a stunned moment of disbelief, he told me she had been killed in a car accident. That she was hit by a drunk driver, head-on, about two miles from my parent’s home, and was killed instantly. I told him I was coming home as soon as I could, and hung up the phone. And then I started screaming.
I had read the word “keening” before as a way to explain a profound grieving cry, and I realized in that moment that I understood what keening really meant. It was heartbreak leaving my body through my voice.
We left almost immediately, and drove for 15 hours to get back to my parents. Once the sun arose above the horizon, somewhere on the far side of Nebraska, I had to start making phone calls. I called friends. I called family connections. I called neighbors. And I listened as I broke their hearts, one by one. As they started crying and didn’t know what to say. I listened to their shock. And I hurt.
My sister was 18 years old when she died; it was just over two weeks before her 19th birthday. She had been out for dinner with her fiancee, and was killed on a Friday night by someone I vaguely knew from high school, who was incredibly drunk by 9 p.m. It was the other woman’s birthday, and she did not have a designated driver. She was leaving one bar and heading to another when she crossed the center lines, and hit my sister. The other woman died shortly after the accident and left behind a young son.
Emily was my only sibling, and was truly one of my best friends. We were very close throughout my time in high school and college, and I was lucky that we spent most weekends together my junior and senior years of college. Even though I had spent the last year in Denver, Colorado, quite a distance from home, we still talked regularly and saw each other as much as we could. I cannot fully describe the pain and grief the loss of my sister caused in my life. It changed everything. I no longer had my best friend. I was an only child. I was heartbroken. And it was someone else’s fault. Someone made the choice to drink and drive, and it didn’t only kill that person, but also killed my innocent sister who was trying to get home.
Emily’s death was also the first death I really experienced. I was too young to remember the loss of my grandfather or my infant cousin. I had no experience with death, and this was life altering change. Most of the first year after Emily died is foggy; I don’t have many memories. I know I felt disconnected, aloof, and overwhelmingly alone. I considered my own death, however, I never took any action toward it. I thought about how nice it would be if I was killed in an accident myself. I was so broken.
To cope with her death, I did find several things that worked for me. I wrote in a journal, and in the journal I not only wrote about my feelings and thoughts each day, but I also wrote down as many memories as I could think of about Emily. All the details about what she liked, adventures we had, music we sang to in the car, and what made us laugh together. Having that journal is a huge comfort to me now, as time marches on and I sometimes forget the details about certain events or things she liked. I go back and read about memories I have forgotten, and it makes my heart happy instead of sad.
My other major source for coping with Emily’s death was learning how to knit. I read a book about loss where a woman learned to knit after the death of her child (Comfort: A journey through grief by Ann Hood), and I signed up for a knitting class. I truly think that knitting saved my life. It was calming, and it gave me something to do that didn’t require a lot of energy or intense thought. I could just knit. In the book, it said that with knitting, “every stitch is a way to say I love you.” I would meditate on that as I knit, and would find some sanctuary in the repetitive motion as I created something from yarn.
It has been a little more than eight years since my sister was killed by a drunk driver. I am still passionate about driving sober. A choice to drink and drive doesn’t just impact you. It can potentially impact hundreds of others in profound ways that can never be repaired.
So I have two main messages:
1) Take an Uber. Call a cab. Get a friend to drive. Drink at home. I don’t care, just don’t drink and drive.
2) If you’re grieving, find what gives you some small semblance of peace. Write, read, knit, sing, write music, travel, get a tattoo, join a group, cry.
Take each day knowing that some days will better, and some will be impossibly hard. Eventually the hard days are fewer and further in between, although they never go away completely. Find a way to say ‘I love you.’
About the art:
Emily was my best friend in high school. Losing her was also a very huge shift for me, one that really affected the way I would live the rest of my life. She was literally the coolest person I have ever met, and had such a big heart for bettering the lives of others.
I met Amanda my senior year of high school, but we didn't become close until after losing Emily. We both found our own ways to cope, and eventually found a new normal together, years later. Amanda is now my closest friend, confidant, dance partner, inspiration, and most of all, my Skister - a title that had been held between Amanda and Emily growing up.
I've become a part of Amanda's family, but I always think about how things would be if Emily were still with us. I think about how much fun Emily would have with her nephew. I think about how much closer Amanda and Emily would have gotten over the years. I think about how I would fit into that picture.
With this piece, I wanted to be able to give Amanda a slice of that life by creating an image of Amanda, her son, and Emily were walking down a street together. I looked through old and new photos to make sure I created an accurate enough image that would make Amanda so happy she might cry (which she did).
Although 'what ifs' can become a painful part of losing a loved one, sometimes imagining them as a part of your current life years later can be a rewarding experience. Thinking about how proud they would be of you, or how much they would love you regardless of where your life has gone, can be one of the most comforting things.
I like to think that Emily would be extremely proud of me, and I know with certainty, that she would be so proud of Amanda, thankful for her friendship and advice, supportive of the challenges she faces, and how much of a fun, loving aunt she would be to Amanda's son.
I miss Emily every day, and I'm so thankful for Amanda. This project was really soothing to me in sort of a therapeutic way, and I'm so happy Amanda chose me to do this piece.