Ah, summertime... vacations. I remember my parents would take the family on a vacation every summer. Each of those excursions included a long road trip. I remember as a child thinking the time in the car was endless. My sister and I would cry, “Are we there yet?” several times a day on those journeys.
I remember similar excursions with my children, including the same universal question from the backseat. On one trip to the North Carolina coast, our youngest would utter that question and our reply was “4, maybe 5 hours.” Following that trip it became our family joke – everything would take “4, maybe 5 hours.” Our daughter, Alisa, would love to tease her little brother with that reply, much to his chagrin.
Maybe two summers after Alisa was killed, Joe and I felt we needed to ‘get away’ for a while. I just knew Hawaii would provide some calm, a temporary salve on my broken heart. Hawaii was as close to heaven in my book as one could be – perfect weather, spectacular scenery, and laid back people.
You can guess what I am going to say now. I did not escape my pain; it simply went with me. I honestly had anticipated a respite from my sorrow. I was shocked to learn that I couldn’t enjoy my time away like I had hoped. The anguish was just so raw and, of course, why would I think I could keep it back home while I took a vacation from it. I cried out, “When will I get there?!”
In time, as life moved forward, I learned that I did, too. I am not ‘over’ my daughter’s death, but I have moved forward into a new life, with this loss part of my reality. Am I happy again? Yes. Do I miss her? Yes, every moment of my existence.
As summertime brings opportunities of relaxation, of family gatherings, and time for vacations, those of you in the early years of your grief may wonder, “Are we there yet?” I want you to know there can be light at the end of the tunnel. Your ‘there’ will be different than what you knew, but you will know when you arrive. Your new ‘there’ will bring light and smiles once again – it will just be a different ‘there’.
I like to say I am not over Alisa’s death, but I am moving forward every day in my new life, and I take her with me in my heart.
At MADD, we like to say we are not just mothers. We are fathers, sisters, brothers and friends.
As we move into June, we celebrate Father’s Day. My thoughts go back to the time immediately after Alisa was killed. Following her death, friends frequently asked Joe, my husband, how I was coping. Seldom, however, did anyone ask me how Joe, Alisa’s dad, was doing. Our society seems to have such a belief in the strength of maternal love, frequently ignoring the intensity of paternal love.
I happen to be writing this on Memorial Day, which is especially significant to my family because my first husband, my children’s natural father, was killed on active duty when they were very young. He was a wonderful daddy – always loving and active in their lives. I loved co-parenting with him. I thought there could be no greater partnership. When he died our world fell apart. Not only did he make the ultimate sacrifice protecting our country, my children also made that sacrifice.
Jennifer & Alisa with their daddy, Doug Withers
A few years later, Joe Sikes walked into our hearts, nobly and humbly taking on that role of daddy. What a gift he is. He just openly and quietly loves my children as he does his own, without hesitation nor fanfare. I love co-parenting with him, too! They are not ‘my’ children, they are 100% ‘our’ children. He is just like that. Anyone who knows this family knows how heartbroken Joe was when Alisa was killed by a drunk driver. Today Joe and I walk hand-in-hand in our commitment to end this violent crime and support others who walk with us on this journey.
Alisa with her daddy, Joe Sikes
I think of all the bereaved fathers at MADD who grieve the needless death of their precious children. Their hearts are shattered, yet their resolve is strong—the resolve to diligently work until there are no more deaths or injuries caused by drunk driving. They are a powerful force in MADD. They are “Mothers” too – Mothers Against Drunk Driving. This Father’s Day, I wish to honor all the fathers who are “Mothers” in this mighty organization and tell you how deeply I appreciate each of you.
MADD National President
Little Landon lives without his mommy, DeAnna Tucker. She was killed by a drunk driver in 2011 while buckling him in his car seat. She had just spent the last few minutes of her life looking at her wedding gown in a bridal shop.
This year, just like the last two, Landon will not be able to hand his mommy a sweet bouquet of flowers or a priceless card with his drawing on it for Mother’s Day. Instead, he may lay flowers by her grave.
He came to the capitol building in Jackson, Mississippi on April 23rd with his grandparents, Chief Alan and Barbara Weatherford, to witness Governor Phil Bryant sign into law a bill that requires any convicted drunk driver with a BAC of .08 or greater who obtains driving privileges during a license suspension to use an interlock. It was an emotional day for Alan and Barbara as they watched their brave grandson be embraced by Speaker Philip Gunn, who was instrumental in getting the bill passed. Speaker Gunn’s own mother, father and sister were also killed by a drunk driver in 1988 and, as he said to me, “leaving me entirely alone.”
Speaker Gunn, seeing the picture of Landon’s mother on a button he was wearing, leaned down and asked him all about her. He then escorted Landon and Chief Weatherford to the House Chamber, even sitting Landon in the Speaker’s Chair. Landon had his baseball with him and is very proud of being a pitcher. He happens to be left-handed. Speaker Gunn shared with Landon that his son is also a left-handed pitcher, playing for the Memphis Tigers. Their instant deep bond was palpable. They now have an unspoken connection that will last their lifetimes. Notice in the official photo Speaker Gunn’s hands on Landon’s shoulders at the bill signing.
This Mother’s Day, let’s remember and cherish the thousands of children who have been left motherless because of substance-impaired drivers. Let’s recommit our determination to doing everything we can to eliminate this scourge from our roadways so that Landon’s children will know a nation without drunk driving.
If I had one wish – just one wish – I would wish Alisa wasn’t killed by a 17-year old drunk driver when she was just 15 – that I could still hug her and kiss her and tell her I love her.
If I had more than one wish, I would wish I knew before she was killed what I know now. I wish I knew then that research shows talking with our children frequently and respectfully about our expectations to never drink alcohol before 21, nor get in the car with someone who had been drinking, was more effective than I believed. I wish I knew then that high school students who receive a message from their parents that underage drinking is completely unacceptable are more than 80 percent less likely to drink than teens who receive other messages.
I wish I could have the opportunity to watch Alisa roll her eyes at me, as only teens can do so well, and say, “I know, Mom,” when I would bring it up again. I would love that, because I would quietly know that the message was getting in. Alisa wasn’t drinking, but she got in the car with someone who was. Maybe, just maybe, if I had talked with her more frequently about it she would be alive today.
And – I wish that every parent who reads this downloads our Power of Parent handbook. It is such a great guide to help parents have the life-saving discussions with our children. I want you to be able to continue to hug your children and kiss your children and tell them you love them.
Being traumatized by the devastating effects of drunk driving is so overwhelming that I often say there are no human words to describe the intensity of the suffering. Those of us who have experienced such anguish know just how fragile we are during those first months and years, and because our friends and family members frequently don’t know what to say or how to support us, we can find ourselves isolated.
Thankfully, there are special individuals who do not shy away from our pain, and instead embrace us for as long as we need. In my case, that person was Pat Herbert.
Pat is a dear friend who was always there for me during my most painful hours. She just lost her battle with cancer last week. She would not only reach down into my dark hole to help me out, but she climbed into that hole with me when I needed her. I never had to ask, she was just there. She never told me to move on – and I know she had to want to – I cried for so long – but she was patient. I wore out my sofa, soaking it in tears. She was there. She is one of the main reasons I am vertical and no longer horizontal on that couch.
She walked beside me and my family through the court process. We were angry together. But she also smiled with me, shared beautiful memories with me, laughed belly laughs with me, cried with me, played with me, acted crazy with me—I just sit here and smile at all the memories. My precious friend, Pat Herbert, helped carry my heart into peace.
Many of you belong to this special group of compassionate individuals that Pat represents for me. I consider you to be true angels here on earth. So to each of you who help others across these treacherous rocks, I extend my profound gratitude. You don’t know just how deeply your kindness is appreciated. In memory of my Patricia, I want to tell each of you how much you are loved.