Learning to live again is killing me ~ Garth Brooks
Bright lights, tall trees, family, and laughter -- Such words are often associated with celebrating the holidays. As a child, I could only dream of the next time I would see a Christmas tree or gather with loved ones to open presents, bake treats, and stay up all night.
When I was six years old, the motorcycle my brother was riding on was hit by a drunk driver. He left home on a cool November night, and never returned. Instead, 5 days later, on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 1982, our parents made the decision to take Hector off life support. The Holidays would never be the same again, and Thanksgiving became just another day. Our mother could not handle setting a table with an empty chair, or breaking down every time we began to talk about what we were thankful for. Year after year, we also stopped celebrating Christmas. Our traditions were lost. I remember thinking, but too afraid to say the words out loud, what about the rest of your children?
When I went away to college, 12 years later, I looked forward to coming home and baking pecan pies with my parents for Thanksgiving. Yet the memory of gathering around the dinner table, remembering my brother, is still distant. In fact, it was a topic we continued to avoid.
Thirty three years ago, our family lost its joy at the hands of a drunk driver. We did not know how to live while a piece of our heart was missing. Three decades later, we still haven’t learned to celebrate his short life. But we have chosen to honor our son, father, brother, uncle, and friend by living and by doing things that seem normal to everyone else that we couldn’t do before.
Writing about my brother Hector is my therapy and doing so helps me on my continued journey of healing and adjusting to my new normal of him not being here. It is just another way of keeping his memory alive by sharing his story that I hope helps others.
-Olga M. Hickman, Ph.D
This is a short story about the life and untimely death of a son and a sailor named Paul Anthony Brittingham …
Paul was born on July 30th 1987. He was our first born son. Paul grew up in a very loving Christian home with a younger brother named Heath. He was a very outgoing and loving child that made friends very easily. That loving child grew into a man in what seemed to be an instant--to know him was to love him.
He joined the Navy in January 2008 and graduated boot camp in March. After graduation he was stationed at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Pensacola Florida. He was studying to be an Air Frame Mechanic. We were overjoyed with his career decision and that he was so close to home. He became his class leader and was a very proud Navy Man! He exuded pride and confidence. But that was to be short lived.
On Friday September 19, 2008, the Sailors were given liberty, and Paul’s fiancé went to the base to pick him up for a weekend with her and our family. They made a stop at Wal-Mart and bought a movie and were headed to the beach that night. They were 1.5 miles from Wal-Mart when they were struck by a drunk driver. Paul was killed instantly, and his fiancé sustained several injuries. The driver of the other vehicle died on the way to the hospital. He was found to be 3.5 times the legal limit.
That day many lives were forever changed. We lost a son, and though his fiancé has recovered from the physical wounds, she still struggles with the emotional trauma. That day we all had to begin a new journey, a journey without Paul. His hugs, his infectious smile and his presence were ripped from our world.
The journey we are on now includes sharing Paul’s story as often as we can with others. We speak for schools, law enforcement, company safety meetings, military stand downs and at churches. We speak anywhere we can to bring awareness to all that the decision to drink and drive has real consequences, life changing consequences. And we speak to tell them that this is preventable!
Paul received full Military Honors and was revered by several of his shipmates and instructors. Paul’s memory will forever be with us …until the day that we join him in heaven.
Terry and Alisa Brittingham