A Guest Blog by Melissa Mannion
I am so honored to post this beautiful letter by one of our Accidental Impacts participants. I know it will touch our readers as much as it touched me. If you’d like to convey a message to Melissa about this blog, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will make sure she receives the message. -Maryann
I have started this letter a hundred times “Dear Heather,” but that is as far as I ever could get. What is the best way to begin a letter to a woman whose life you accidentally ended? It’s been a year and I still have no idea what the answer is. Maybe it’s not a matter of what, but when. And maybe that’s okay.
It started out as homework from my therapist. She asked me, ”What would you say to Heather right now if you could talk to her?” Instant tears. I was overwhelmed with so much grief and sadness. It took me down a path I’m still wandering on today. What would I say to Heather if I had 5 minutes or even 5 hours to sit with her? What would I want her to know?
I’d want her to know that I know her name is Heather. I’d want her to know that I care very much about her and who she was. I’d want her to know that the day of our accident has changed me fundamentally forever. I’d want her to know that I think about her everyday and I will continue to for the rest of my life.
Heather was only 6 years older than me in January, 2021 when our paths crossed and I, a complete stranger, ended her life. It feels so unjust. Nobody deserves to die alone on a road. Nobody. But that is what happened to Heather because of our meeting on that dark, winter morning 13 months ago. I think I will always have nagging questions about what happened that day. Why didn’t I leave for work 10 minutes earlier or 5 minutes later? Why did I stop at a yellow light that I clearly could have made it through? Especially when on any other morning I likely would have gone through it without a second thought. Stopping at that light put me directly where Heather would be just a few moments later. I also wonder about what Heather was doing that morning. Had she run across that freeway on-ramp so many times in the past that she didn’t see it as dangerous, feeling a sense of invincibility as so many do? I know I’ve run across many roads many times and suffered no consequences. So many questions that I will never have the answer to, at least not on this side of eternity.
As a Christian, this has also been a struggle of faith. Some people think that it’s wrong that I question God about that day. They give me the customary answers, “God is in control” and “God has a reason.” I believe God is in control. But, also, I feel like I will never understand this, and why it had to happen this way. I will never understand what could come out of this horrible situation that would possibly be worth a world without Heather in it. But I want to ask those people who shame my doubt in Him, “What is the hardest thing you’ve ever been through?” I believe often those who can’t understand this may have not been through deep, life changing suffering. My relationship with God, much like any other relationship we experience, has been put to the hardest test. I’ve been angry and confused. I held a grudge, not just on my behalf but more so on Heather’s, that God allowed this to happen. But also I have faith. What began as a long period of me giving God the “silent treatment” has given way to a lot of ongoing painful conversations with Him. And, I truly believe that if God allowed this to happen to me and to Heather, His shoulders are broad enough to carry my ongoing questions, my doubt, my anger, and my grief. I’ve come to believe He even welcomes it.
Maybe one day I’ll get further than the greeting “Dear Heather,”. Maybe one day I will know the right way for the letter to begin. A way that doesn’t seem ridiculously formal. A way that expresses the full depth of my emotion and sorrow. But for now, “Dear Heather,” is where I’m at on this journey. The opening sentence seems a permanent barrier to the floodgate of thoughts and feelings I could and desire to share. Maybe it is something I will be able to complete–or properly begin–maybe not. Instead, maybe I will have to wait until I also leave this life to give Heather the most sincere hug, and with the most authentic tears tell her how very sorry I am that this happened to her. And then, as the Bible promises, we can then both turn to God, He will wipe away our tears, and give us both understanding. This is my faith.
Has anyone else written a letter to the victim in their accident? I’d appreciate hearing about it. Maybe it’ll help me pass the untraversable door of “Dear Heather,”.