“That was the coroner’s office…”
I held my breath waiting for my uncle to finish his sentence. The extended pause was an obvious indication that something was wrong. But how more ‘wrong’ could it be?
“Your dad’s autopsy showed no signs of a heart attack. The cause of the accident is being labeled ‘driver error.’”
What?! No. That information had to be incorrect. My dad is, or rather was, the best driver I knew. He was my driver’s ed teacher—he didn’t make driving mistakes.
The preliminary accident report indicated that “the driver” was most likely momentarily distracted. The investigator theorized that my dad may have been changing the radio station or reaching for something.
No way. My dad never listened to the radio while driving—except baseball games. True, this was baseball season, but there would have been no reason for him to be changing the station. Besides, it was always Mom’s responsibility to manage the radio dial.
And Dad would never be reaching for anything while driving, either. He was a two-hands-on-the-steering-wheel driver. He practiced what he had taught thousands of students in driver’s ed.
Yet…the accident was deemed his fault. According to the investigator’s report, Dad hit the berm on the opposite side of the road and over-adjusted, resulting in a head-on collision with a motor home. Because the accident had occurred 1500 miles away, none of us had actually seen the site. Therefore, we had to rely solely on information we received from the Canadian police. What we were being told, however, made absolutely no sense.
The first driving lesson Dad gave to every one of his students, and especially to each of his daughters, was this; if you end up on the shoulder on the opposite side of the road, DO NOT turn back into oncoming traffic—stop and stay put. He explained that the natural reaction of any driver coming toward us would be to swerve left—away from us. Therefore, if we tried to get back to the correct side of the road, we would actually be steering directly into oncoming vehicles.
So I could not believe the investigator’s conclusion that Dad had overcorrected the steering. Maybe that’s what most drivers would do, but not my dad.
The only viable explanation was that something had hindered Dad physically…most probably a heart attack. That made sense. In that scenario, Dad likely would not have been able to control the vehicle, and the berm may have thrown the car back into oncoming traffic.
Except…the coroner said there was no evidence of a heart attack. No evidence of any physical impediment whatsoever.
“Are you okay? She’s pale…I think she’s in shock.” I knew my aunt was talking, but I couldn’t immediately respond. I sat transfixed as the reality of the situation slowly escaped my lips.
“It was his fault. My dad killed my mom.”
My sisters vehemently tried to defend Dad—understandably not willing to face the truth.
“No he didn’t. It was an accident.”
“He didn’t do anything on purpose. It just happened.”
Through numb pain, I tried to make them grasp the horrendous truth.
“Did you hear what the coroner said? No excuses. Dad killed Mom. He killed them both. He screwed up.”
From the moment our family learned about the accident, we were all convinced that the autopsy would reveal a heart attack. In fact, that was our somber mantra: “Mom and Dad were in a head-on collision while on vacation. Dad probably had a heart attack. The accident was his fault. They both died.”
But it was a lie. The truth was, Dad was to blame for our parents being killed. How could I live with that knowledge? How could I forgive him for taking them both away from me?
For years I harbored grievous anger and shameful resentment toward Dad. I loved him so much it ached, and missed him more than known words could adequately describe. But I was angry. What had he done wrong? Why hadn’t he been paying more attention to the road? Why? Why? Why?
Every day I picked up the last picture I have of my parents and asked the questions I knew could never be answered. “What happened, Dad? Why did you turn back into traffic? What went wrong?”
Daily, the ensuing silence suffocated me.
Today, I received the answer.
My grace is sufficient for you.
2 Corinthians 12:9
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