Not Her Fault

“Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.” ~Coco Chanel

How one deals with the loss of life varies from person to person. There is the personality of the person experiencing the loss and that person’s relationship to the deceased. We’ve all lost someone we loved or knew at sometime, and we’ve all dealt with death in our own perspectives. Just imagine if you were held accountable or felt responsible for that loss of life.

My mother killed a man. No, she did not aim to kill him. It was an accident. No fault of her own. And she has had to live her life with that haunting her.

This in fact happened when I was about six or seven years old. My mother remembers everything vividly except the date. I think God that she can’t recall the exact date because if she did it would be a day of trepidation every year. She has enough difficulty reliving it as often as she does.

When this happened my mother had just dropped my father off to hunt with his boss. This was a night hunting exhibition. A cat had crawled underneath her car, and she was afraid it might get caught in her motor, so she refused to leave until my father had freed the cat. Shortly after dropping him off she heard and felt an unbelievable thump. She knew she had hit something but never saw anything. She pulled into the nearest residence. She was so upset she couldn’t compose herself to get out of the car. She just started blowing her horn. The man of the house came out and she told him she thought she might have hit someone. He took her inside. My mother was hysterical and had started going into shock. The man’s wife used smelling salts to bring her around and they called the local authorities. They tended to my mother while waiting for the area law enforcement.

They found a dead man in the middle of the road. He was dressed in all dark clothes which made him blend into the night. He had been drunk and apparently weaving about his way in the road. This was a man known in that particular area to get drunk and roam the roads by foot at night. The neighbors had often driven around him as he reeled to and fro and side to side. Note that my mother did not live in that area.

The officer came and he told my mother that the accident was just that, an accident. He told her it was absolutely unavoidable. He told her that there would not be any charges filed against her, and he tried his best to calm her down. They sent information by CB radio to my father’s boss that my mother had been in an accident and was shaken badly and that he was needed at the scene. Of course, my father assumed that she’d been physically hurt. Anyway, My father took my mother back home.

I recall my mother sitting us around the kitchen table the next day and while sobbing she relayed to us that she had killed a man. Being of the young tender age that I was I assumed my mother shot him or something until she explained how it happened. I still remember the fear enveloping my body and immobilizing me to the chair. When I become so afraid that I can’t move, my teeth chatter and my body visibly trembles. There have only been a few times in life that I have ever felt that way, and this was one of them. I waited and waited all day for the police to come cart her off to jail and take all of us to the nearest orphanage.

That Monday, my mother allowed us to stay home from school. Maybe she thought it was in our best interest not to have to deal with the talk that invariably goes around in small southern towns. Well, that day a police car pulled into our drive way. I ran up and hid behind one of the sofas sitting on the porch. Barely breathing as not to make a sound, I did not budge until I heard the sputtering gravel of the car pulling out of our driveway. I ran inside screaming for my mother, fully expecting not to find her. I didn’t understand why she was not hauled off, but was so comforted that she home.

Immediately after news of the accident and death surfaced, the phone calls started. I’m referring to the ones that anonymously yelled or whispered “murderer” or “killer” and other horrible things. They continued for weeks, all hours of the day and night. I went back to school to find my very best friend who was a boy to taunt me that my mother was a murderer. Of course, in those days, they didn’t have school counselors to help you get through difficulties like that. It seemed like forever, but in reality, I don’t know how long, for things to calm down.

I just recently asked my mother why the police came to our house that day. She told me that it was the same officer who answered the call on the night of the accident. And he came because he was worried about her. He tried to convince her to see a doctor for her nerves. I guess he was concerned she’d have a mental breakdown.

Anyway, the family of the man did try to press charges. However, the D.A., said that under the circumstances there was absolutely no case. It was an accident, in actuality caused by the victim.

So, our lives went on. At least, they appeared to have. What I never knew (because she never talks about it) was that a part of my mother ceased to live after that. She told me that now, about forty years later, she continues to have nightmares. She said that sometimes when she hears of a bad wreck or some other event, those horrible memories resurface. When that happens, the nightmares come back. Sometimes for days. Sometimes weeks. She still holds guilt for something she could not have prevented. Even in accidents, the “victim” is not always the only victim.

32 thoughts on “Not Her Fault

  1. Wow. What a story. Your poor mother. Something like that would be hard to let go. Thank heavens it wasn’t her fault. People make mistakes. This one wasn’t her mistake and yet she’s tormented.

    I wish her peace.

  2. What a terrible burden to shoulder for so long … post-traumatic stress before we knew of such a thing and could help those suffering from it. Like Patti, I wish her peace, somehow.

  3. I have always worried about doing something like your mother did…accidently hitting someone with a car. For some reason I relate to this story. I think I would feel exactly as your mother has. It would forever change me and a part of me would die too. I guess it is because I value human life so much. The thought of robbing someone of theirs, accident or not, is mind blowing for me. Even though accidents happen, it does not mean they will not haunt us the rest of our lives. I feel deep compassion for what your mother has had to live with all these years.

  4. I was just thinking about this the other day. I had pretty much the same feelings and reactions as you. That was why we had the phone taken out because she got tired of all those horrible phone calls.

  5. The amount of pain your mother–and you–suffered must have been unbelievable. This story teaches me, all of us, that we should not condemn someone just based on the story we heard.

  6. It’s too bad that someone elses mistake has turned into guilt for your Mom and that some in the community jumped to judgment by calling and harassing her and your family, this only added to the guilt felt by her.

    I feel for her and wish I had an answer to give she needs to find a way to let this go but we all know she never will, I suppose good people will always feel guilt when things like this happen while bad folks go on like nothing happened.

    I’m proud to know she is a good person.

  7. Wow. I can understand how your mother says a part of her ceased to live after that and that she still has nightmares. I can imagine that this had an affect on your entire family.

    Wow.

    Thank you for sharing. I hope that somehow this help you a little. Getting it out and off your chest. I am giving you a virtual hug!

  8. How absolutely terrible. Last year a wonderful friend to my organization suffered an incredible loss where her husband was hit by a car and killed instantly. The driver was a young man who was not driving carelessly–her husband had stepped out in the road at an unexpected time, thinking he could get across. Almost as much as I’ve thought of her loss and of course his loss of life, I’ve thought about that young man and the burden on him. I just can’t imagine going through that. No matter how much you know it wasn’t your fault, the guilt of knowing that you somehow played a role…unbearable.

  9. Definately a life changing event and one your Mom has had to live with which could only be one of the most difficult things to do.

  10. This is a recurring nightmare of mine. Hitting a person with my car. I can’t imagine the pain your mother has had to deal with. I’m so sorry for her.

  11. Oh, your poor mama … this was so not her fault yet how to let go of the feelings that tell you it is. I am glad that you talked to her about it and were able to see some of the things that happened, like the policeman coming by, in their positive and true light and remove the bad perspectives. As horrible as some of the people seemed to have been, he is a light and a hero in this tale. I hope your mom will see that all the negative can’t outweigh one good … and she can then take his advice and believe the truth … that it is and never was, her fault.

  12. I just want to run and hug your mom. How horrible for her to deal with this all her life. I’m so glad she has such wonderful daughters like you and Peg to love on her.

    XOXO

  13. What a horrible unfortunate circumstance!! My heart goes out to your mother and to tiny Suzicate and Peg.

    It’s too bad your mother never sought help in dealing with this. What an awful thing to have torment her, when it was in no way her fault.

    ♥Spot

  14. What a terrible thing to have happened to your Mom. I think even knowing it wasn’t your fault wouldnt’ help that much. You always wonder what if… What if I had left just 5 minutes earlier, what if I had drive 5 mph slower, what if he had worn a white cap? I’m sorry she had to go through this all these years.

  15. How awful! I worked as a cop for 15 years and I used to see kids tearing around 25 mph over the speed limit, completely unaware that little kids played in those same streets. It used to scare the crap out of me, because I just KNEW that one of them would one day kill one of those children and would have to live with that forever.

    A friend of mine killed a child in a car accident. He was a teenager and was probably not practiced enough behind the wheel to avoid the accident…a more experienced driver might have. I know that he was never the same after that. I met him years later and there was always a part of him that held a darkness that the other twenty-somethings in our group of friends didn’t possess.

    Your mother has suffered enough, reliving this accident over and over. I am sure it will always haunt her, but I hope that she has come to some degree of peace with this.

    Very powerfully written post. Maybe it will have a far-reaching impact. If just one reader remembers this post and slows down or is hyper-vigilant driving, this could prevent another death. Your mom’s legacy can be life and not death.

  16. I can’t even imagine what a hard thing that must’ve been for your mother to go through. I hope that she did eventually go to a therapist or some sort of doctor in order to be able to talk about it. If not, maybe she could go now, maybe it would help keep the ghost of the accident away.
    The thing I find incredible is that she didn’t break down and withdraw from the rest of her life. It sounds like such a hard thing to go through that I can imagine that happening to someone. But your mother continued her life – even if a piece of her was missing, the rest of her was there and continued to live.

  17. Whoa! That is intense. I’m so sorry for your Mama. Several years ago, on Thanksgiving morning, I was driving on the freeway, and traffic was light. Jude was (thank God) asleep in his little seat in the back. Suddenly, a homeless man stepped out in the middle of the freeway, and the car in front of me hit him. Totally an accident. Well, actually, the man may have been committing suicide. But either way, this poor guy in front of me hit him. I swerved around and pulled over and called 911. But I was shaken for days because it so easily could have been me. Horrifying.

  18. Wow, this is such a fascinating story. And so difficult and tragic for your mother! This is one of my fears – to accidentally do something terrible, and to wrongly get sent to prison for it. Thankfully the local law enforcement saw the situation for what it was: unavoidable. Your mom is a strong woman.

  19. My heart goes out to your mother, your family, and to everyone involved in this, even if it was years ago. What a tragedy! I cannot even imagine how your mother must feel. Thank you for sharing such a personal story.

  20. wow, it’s been 40 years and the panic and fear associated with this terrible accident is still very evident in your story. Oh my goodness. hugs.

  21. “Even in accidents, the “victim” is not always the only victim.”

    You said it, SC.

    I know someone at work who accidentally killed someone in a car accident, and he said that he can tell himself over and over again that it was not his fault, but it doesn’t matter. He even stopped driving.

    I truly think that anyone would feel this way because it totally alters your life forever.

    Thank you for sharing this story, my friend.

    Love to your mom.

    {{{ Mom }}}

    X

    • Thanks to each of you for your kind sentiments for my mom. I will pass them on. I know she will appreciate them. I think that her talking about it the other day as I was checking my info to write this was cathartic for her.

  22. I think on the man who lost his life and what jumps right out at me is that his alcoholism wasn’t a “victimless” affliction. Just look how far the ripples spread…

  23. I’m so sorry. I have a similar story that happened to my aunt as she was on the way to pick me up from the airport. It’s too long to recount here, but these kinds of things leave scars. I’m sorry.

  24. my wholehearted sympathies are for your mother. she must have been through hell. poor lady.

    i sincerely hope that i nothing like that ever happen with me.

  25. What a nerve-shredding experience for your mother — I’m so sorry she still carries this guilt around. That police officer sounds like a kind person. Don’t know if people would make the time now in our busy, faster-paced world to check in as he did.

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