Monday, May 10, 2010

A disturbing day

I saw a young man die this morning and can't quite put my finger on how I'm feeling right now.  I really thought I was fine until his brother stopped by to talk to me this afternoon.  I thought writing about it might help.

I was sitting at my computer this morning writing an email when I heard a loud crash.  I looked out my window and saw branches and leaves falling at the end of my driveway.  My heart fell to my stomach.  My son, Adam, had left about 15 minutes prior to the crash and was to return any minute.  I walked quickly down the driveway, afraid to run, afraid of what I'd see.  I saw just one vehicle and it wasn't one of ours.  Relief flooded me.  Another woman had seen the crash and had called 911.  The pickup truck had crashed into a tree and a young man was lying across the seat.  The driver's side door wouldn't open because it was up against our fence.  The passenger's side was locked.  I looked in a lunchbox in the back of the pickup truck and found a paycheck with a name.  I called his name through the window.  He lifted his head, moaned once, then put his head back down.  He never raised it again.  Two men arrived at the scene.  They were able to open the sliding doors in the back of the cab window and unlocked the door.  It gets a little blurry at this point but I remember Adam coming home and then another blond woman came who I thought might be a nurse but I figured out later wasn't.  She couldn't find a pulse.  Lots of cars kept stopping to ask if they could help.  Two women who were nurses jumped out of their car told Adam to get a bag out of their trunk and then a box of gloves.  The nurses and the blonde woman were arguing about why the blonde woman hadn't pulled him out of the truck.  She kept trying to explain herself and the one nurse finally told her it was ok.  Rescue vehicles started to arrive and took over.

Since this morning I've wondered why I didn't take action, not that I know what I could have done for him but I just stood around and didn't do much, just observed.  I don't think I handle emergency situations the way I should.

Adam and I left shortly after things were under control and headed to a Dr. appointment an hour away.  We had a nice time on our road trip and laughed a lot about various things.  I told him I felt guilty about laughing and having a good time when this guy was probably dead and his family's life was changed forever.  I can't say for sure the driver had been drinking but there were beer cans and spilled beer on the floorboard.  He was 21, just one year older than Adam.  He had been going very fast on the wrong side of the road.  Adam figured out later that he knew the kid but not well.  He worked with him once.  He never went up to the truck to see his face and didn't recognize the name at first.

James wasn't home when this all happened so I described it to him.  He asked me how I was feeling.  I said fine.  He hugged me and we went about our day.  I was getting ready to put a new mailbox in to replace the one that got smashed, when a pickup truck drove down our lane.  I had a feeling it was family of the young guy.  It was his brother.  I felt nervous but didn't know why.  He asked me if I was here this morning and did I see his brother.  He started to cry a few times and apologized.  He wanted to know if his brother showed any sign of life.  I told him what I saw, that he lifted his head once, made a noise and laid his head back down.  He said, "that's all I wanted to know".  This brother was one of the first rescue squad drivers on the accident scene.  He had no idea it was his brother he was going to find.  He's the one who pulled his body from the truck.  He asked me if he could buy the tree his brother hit.  He then proceeded to tell me how he had hit the same tree 9 years ago and almost lost his life.  He said he'd pay to have it removed so no one else would hit it.  This tree doesn't stick out near the road, nor is it on a bend that causes any risk.  It's just a very bad coincidence that he and his brother both hit it.  He took some of the bark from the tree and put it in his truck.  I told him I'd let him know later about the tree.  We shook hands, said, "nice to meet you, sorry", and all the kind words strangers say under such strange circumstances. 

I even feel strange about replacing our mailbox and having people see me doing it.  Things will return to normal here but not at the homes of a 21 year old young man's family.

[3 or 4 hours later]
I still haven't gotten that mailbox up because people keep pulling into our driveway to spend time at the tree where the boy died.  As I type this the sister of the boy is gathering small pieces of glass and such.  I was tamping the dirt down around the mailbox post when she pulled up and introduced herself as the sister.  I told them to take their time and I walked away.  All afternoon cars have been driving by very slowly or stopping.  I wonder what it is that draws family and friends to an accident site.  What kind of answers are they looking for or can they find some kind of peace from being where he died?  I'm going to wait till tomorrow to attach the box to the post.  I feel out of place in my own yard.


  1. Karen, You did a great deal for the young man and his family. You were there. You called his name. He wasn't alone. You talked to his family.

    From my experience, with a similar accident in MA, there may be many people visit the scene for days or weeks. Many things left there. People don't know what else to do. They want to say good bye. If there is ANY THING I can do to help you let me know. I will call you in the morning.

  2. Mary Pannabecker SteinerMay 11, 2010 at 9:02 AM

    Karen, what a tough day for you. But you're right, writing about it will help you process your feelings. From what little I know about this, it sounds like you were in shock. That's understandable. I doubt there is anything more you could have done. You're doing your part now by allowing his family and friends to grieve at the site of his death. I love you, Mary

  3. Karen, I think I would have reacted the way you did. I might have actually run the other way. You were very brave. Thinking of you, XO LO

  4. Oh boy, that's a tough one. We're so sorry for you.
    I would NOT want to look into the cab of that truck, don't know what I would've done. You did fine.
    Hug that Adam and tell him to drive carefully.
    Love from Providence Farm.

  5. I'm so glad you wrote about your feelings about the accident at the entrance to your farm. You are really helping that family cope with their huge loss by giving them time and space to grieve there. You also did all you could have done for that young man at the time, too. (How very odd for that unobtrusive tree to be hit by two young men in the same family.)

  6. It happens all too frequently. I had a close friend who died just like that when I was 21. Sounds like you have helped the family already, and what can you do but go about your life?

    If it was me, I would get that tree cut down. His family will see it every time they drive down that road and think of the accident if you don't. If his brother asked for it, you kind of have to do it, right? Maybe you could give it to the family for firewood or something. Might be cathartic for them to chop, split and burn it.

  7. Thanks everyone for the kind words and comments.

  8. Karen,
    I'm so sorry. For you and for the family. I agree with other comments, that you did a great deal for this man and his family. You were immediately present, and you were so sensitive to the family's needs as they came throughout the day, giving them time and space to just be with their loved one in the only way they knew how. My thoughts are with you...