Thursday, August 30, 2007


Whenever a tragedy strikes your family, you feel compelled to warn others to prevent it from happening to them, and to give advice about what’s ‘really important’. The only problem with this is that it’s really hard to do without sounding like one of those ultra-cheesy ‘inspirational’ email forwards, or like a ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ reject.

Here’s my attempt, and I’m just going to try to tell the truth, k?

They say that human beings are the only creatures on the planet that know they’re going to die. In a way, this is true, but the real truth is that we all secretly believe we’re going to live forever.

People my age complain about old people, safe in the knowledge that we’re never going to get old… and accidents? They happen to other people. Teenagers? Forget about it, they’re indestructible.

Unfortunately, the truth is that every time you get out of bed, it’s literally a coin-toss as to whether you’ll still be alive at the end of the day. You could slip in the shower, set the house on fire cooking breakfast, electrocute yourself on a faulty appliance or crash the car on the way to work.

I’m not saying this to be dramatic, nor am I being fatalistic. If we thought of every single danger we face during the day, we’d never get anything done. We’d exist and forget to actually live.

If you’ll allow me to get philosophical for a moment; We’re incredibly fragile beings, but the only way we can function as a species is to be willfully ignorant of that fragility.

Think about that for a second. We have bodies that have evolved to survive a fall or collision at top speed of less than 15mph… yet we’re happy to put ourselves into a situation where we’re traveling at over 60mph surrounded by a few tons of steel. Not only that, we’ll zone out, listen to music, or talk on a phone while we’re doing it.

We put ourselves in a situation where a momentary lapse in concentration can literally kill us…but we treat it like we’re doing nothing more dangerous than strolling through a meadow.

But why am I saying all this? We have to drive, we have to do all these dangerous things…so there’s nothing we can do, right? So why worry?

Well my point here is that life is short.

We take so much for granted and assume we’ll always have more time. We don’t consider that those things we take for granted can be gone in an instant.

A tragedy puts things into perspective, and when you see life like that, the first thing you want to do is share that perspective with others. Unfortunately, you tend to get ignored. We hear about these tragedies every day, but those are things that happen to other people, not me! I’m indestructible! No one in my family will ever get in an accident, or be diagnosed with some horrible disease! That sort of thing just doesn’t happen to me!

Yep, and that’s exactly what I thought until my Step-son died in a car crash just a few weeks after the doctors found a cancerous tumor in my Mum’s bowel. But what do you care? I am other people.

Well, let me try to give you a little of this perspective:

Last week, Sunny and I had a stupid little argument. Nothing major, just one of the normal day to day arguments that couples have. No raised voices, just lots of crossed arms and pointed silences. She left for work and instead of giving her a hug, kiss and an “I love you.” like I usually do…I just kept watching TV and said “Yeah, bye.”

Today, I wonder how I’d feel if someone had come to the door a couple hours later to tell me that my wife had died in a car accident on the way to work.

Would that stupid little argument, an argument I can’t even remember the cause of, be worth not getting to tell my wife that I loved her one last time? Would proving that I was ‘right’ over some insignificant little detail be worth me wasting those last few hours with her?

We always assume there’ll be more time. We assume we’ll have time to tell the people we love that we love them. We can sit there, today, with our arms folded, pissed because our husband or wife didn’t do the dishes or mow the grass like we asked them, because we can always make up tomorrow, right?

Well sometimes, that tomorrow just doesn’t come.

My advice to everyone who reads this is simple:

Treat every goodbye like it’s your last. Never be afraid to tell someone you love how you feel and don’t sweat the small stuff. No-one lies on their death-bed wishing they’d had one more argument, proved one more pissy, insignificant point or done that overtime instead of spending time with their family.

I know that this is hard and pretty much impossible to do in daily life. I know you can’t let your kids get away with murder or ignore every annoyance that comes your way… but ask yourself a question, do you really want the last conversation you have with your kids be about how they stained the carpet with Kool-aid?

Just how important would that stain be if you got a call a few hours later to come identify your child’s body?

It’s amazing how quickly those ‘important’ things become insignificant when you realize you’re never going to see someone you love again.

If you take nothing else away from this post, take this:

Think of the last time you had a blazing row with a friend or family member. Now imagine having to bury them…

How important was the thing you were arguing about, really?

To close today, I want to give one very important piece of advice:

Wear your f**king seatbelt.

I’ve heard every argument against seatbelts. They’re uncomfortable, you’re a good enough driver to not need it etc, etc.

Well, let me ask you a question: What’s worse, being a little bit uncomfortable while driving? (something I don’t even agree with, I don’t even notice my seatbelt)…or being dead?

Secondly, you can be the best driver in the world, but it doesn’t mean the guy who hits you is going to be. Some day you might be faced with a choice…do you hit that car that just pulled out in front of you head on, swerve into oncoming traffic or swerve into a wall? Put it this way, as you bounce around your car like a pinball, or fly through the windshield at 60mph, I’m sure your last though is certainly not going to be “Well, at least the ride up to this point was as comfortable as possible.”

If you’re not concerned for yourself, if you think you have the right to take that risk if you want to…think of the people you’re going to leave behind. Bravado and excuses are not going to comfort your parents, kids or your widow when they have to bury you.

I’m sure Sunny won’t mind me sharing a few details, especially if it saves another mother from going through what she’s going through, but Clay wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.

We think he swerved to avoid a deer.

What we know is that his car came off the road, fell into a ditch and got caught in a barbed wire fence before flipping end over end. Clay was found over 150 yards away from where his car came to rest. If he’d worn his seatbelt, there’s a chance I’d be have been speaking to him today, instead of speaking at his funeral.

Clay was an excellent driver, but something happened on the road that he didn’t have time to react to. As bad as his accident was, chances are he wouldn’t have survived anyway, but wearing his seatbelt would have at least given him more of a chance to survive.

If I could give you a 0% chance of seeing your family again, or a 2% chance…which would you take?

Let me put this as simply as possible:

If you wear a seatbelt, you are twenty-two­ times more likely to survive an accident than without.

In other words, wearing a seatbelt in your car makes you 22 times more likely to see your family and friends again. A seatbelt is the difference between your family visiting you at the hospital, or visiting you at the funeral home.

Car accidents are the leading cause of accidental death in the USA, with over 74% of those deaths being in the 17-24 year old age group. Last year alone over 50,000 families buried a family member due to an accident on the road.

It doesn’t just happen to other people. Buckle up, if not for yourself, then for the people who will have to bury you if you don’t.


Saffyre said...

All very interesting points.....and I feel sure they will be swimming around in my hed now while I try and digest the truth I am faced with...

The Girl said...

Those Chicken Soup stories do hit home sometimes even if they are corny.

But your family tragedy made me end a fight I had ongoing with my sister because life is just too short to be mad because somebody's schedule doesn't allow them to go to a Christmas party.

Sorry about your mom too. My mother is currently fighting her losing battle with diabetes so yes, those diseases happen to everyday people like you and me.

~The Girl

manda said...

Try to get Alex to do that. He'll wear his seatbelt sometimes when he's with me, but I told him I wouldn't move my car anymore until he put it on.

And I can only imagine what it's like to be in a fight with someone. I think I've got that down with Alex, that even if we are arguing, if one of us has to leave, we will hug and kiss and tell loves.

My mom's best friend died in a car accident. They said she didn't have her seatbelt on, but she's not that kind of person. Anyway, her daughter was driving the car, and they were arguing... Then someone hit them head on... and she died. Now, her daughter has to live with the fact that the last things she was saying to her mom, probably weren't how much she loved her.

So yeah... I completely agree with everything you said in this blog.

MC Etcher said...

I grew up on military bases, where it was mandatory my whole life to buckle up - the MPs would ticket you.

So now I buckle up even if I'm just driving the 100 feet to the mailbox. Habit.