After midnight on October 3, 2000, two New York State Troopers said the first of a thousand "I'm sorry's" I would be hearing for the rest of my life.
"There was an accident . . . a terrible accident. I'm sorry but Brian did not survive." Brian was the younger of my two sons. That night he became 19 forever.
"I'm sorry," the troopers said and their eyes watched my reaction. In my shocked state I wondered if I should offer them coffee. I just didn't know what to do. They told me it had been a head on collision and that my son had died instantly. Only 6 miles from his parents and 10 minutes from his own bed at 10:23 pm Brian died alone. I asked about the other car and was told the driver had suffered a fractured pelvis and broken arm and had been airlifted to the nearest medical center. The child and passenger had been treated and released. Before the troopers left I asked them to offer our apologies to them for the accident as I was, and remain, truly sorry that this accident took place. I apologized to the troopers themselves, "I'm so sorry for you to have to bring such bad news, it must be so hard on you."
In the hours and days that followed I heard "I'm so sorry" from the medical staff at the hospital, from family and friends, coworkers, neighbors, teachers and from other bereaved parents who reached out to us as a new part of their sad club. When you lose your parents you become an orphan, when you lose your husband, you become a widow. There is no word to describe a person who loses a child. The loss is unspeakable.
Four days after the accident an investigator sat with us and returned Brian's blood-soaked wallet and keys. We asked how the driver of the other car was and I again asked him to tell her how sorry we were. I cried for her, I prayed for her recovery.
Six months later I still think about her every day. I wonder where her apology is. Is she sorry that her Isuzu Trooper destroyed my son's Toyota Camry so completely that countless bones in his body were broken? Is she sorry that my son's face was shattered and every major organ in his body was ruptured? Is she sorry that my son's body lay trapped in his car for 2 1/2 hours while police took measurements? Is she sorry that even though neither vehicle was speeding and that no drugs or alcohol was involved that we have lost our child forever? Is she sorry that every day she is blessed with life while we weep with helplessness and sorrow?
I think about apologies and human decency. Perhaps the legal system prevents us from reaching out to each other in fear of insinuating guilt. But as human beings we need to say our apologies for what they are--the sorrow of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and recognizing that irreparable damage has taken place. I need to hear that from her.