My uncle’s car was sitting in our driveway when I came home from a night out, and I got a sick feeling in my stomach. I walked up the driveway, and my uncle asked me to get in the car; my dad was with him. There had been a car crash, they said. As we drove away, I asked what happened, and learned my sister Meggan was in it.
As we drove, it was very quiet. I could tell by how they were acting that something bad had happened. When we arrived at the hospital, my uncle took us to where my mom and aunt were sitting. My mom was crying, and I lost it as soon as I saw her. As we were waiting for Meggan’s first surgery, they wheeled her past us, and I couldn’t believe what I saw in front of me. She looked like a monster. Nearly every bone in her face had been broken. My poor, helpless sister just lay there, unresponsive. I remember screaming as they wheeled her away.
What we learned later was that while my sister had been at her friend Kate’s house, Kate’s brother had friends over in the basement. While the party was going on, one of the boys, a 15-year-old who attended the same school, came up to where the girls were and asked if they wanted to go for a ride in his friend’s Camaro. Innocently, they agreed. The driver and the girl who owned the car sat in the front while Meg, Kate, and Emily sat in the back. They drove around just a couple of blocks, but on the way back they hit a patch of wet leaves while driving too fast. The car left the road, bounced off a fire hydrant, and hit a tree broadside, splitting the car in half. Kate and Emily died instantly. Meggan was seen at the accident walking around prior to collapsing. The driver and front passenger survived with minor injuries.
My sister had a large amount of swelling on her brain and needed multiple surgeries to relieve the pressure. The outpouring of support we received from family and friends was incredible. However, our community was torn by what had happened. That first week after the crash our hope for Meggan’s recovery remained strong, but the swelling was not going down. I remember the moment we were told that Meggan was not going to recover. After several attempts to relieve pressure on her brain, she was declared brain-dead.
A higher authority had decided that her life was not hers to decide. She could no longer survive without the machines that kept her alive. And so the hardest decision my parents have ever faced was made: her life support was turned off, and she was gone. November 17, 1991, is the day she died. It’s the day my family became part of a community of families that have lost someone who was far too young to die.
Meggan’s wake was attended by over 1,000 people. We stood at the front of our church from 3:00 to 10:00 p.m.
The compassion that we saw from our friends and family was amazing. I tried to distract myself to avoid dealing with the grief that was building inside me by working on photo collages for the wake and a tape of Meg’s favorite music. The heartbreak of watching my parents bury their youngest child was devastating to me.
Everyone in my family dealt with the grief in a different way. I internalized mine more, and I think this was because I was living with my parents at home. I don’t think anyone should ever have to watch their parents bury their child. I saw them at their weakest point in life as they continued to live and love their family and friends. However, it took some time for the living and loving to happen. My brother Jim returned to Harvard to finish his master’s degree and has since been ordained a Jesuit priest. My brother Scott went back to Northern Illinois University and is now the associate principal at the high school we all attended. My mom had a very hard time after Meggan died, but she had just had her child murdered in a way that could have been prevented. My dad redirected his angst by participating in a committee that was formed to create tougher laws for parents who let their kids have underage drinking parties.
And now to the part of how this all happened. The boy driving the car came to our house a couple of weeks after Meggan died to apologize for what he had done. He admitted he had been drinking, and said he had not told the girls he had been drinking. He reassured us that the girls had nothing to do with the party. The meeting was very awkward; I had never met him until that day. Here sat the killer of my sister, wanting our forgiveness so he could ease his conscience. He wanted forgiveness, and my dad attempted to give it to him. He went on living his life after our encounter, but our lives were frozen by that tragedy on November 9th. In the end, he was charged with three counts of reckless homicide, given five years’ probation, and was supposed to do 2,000 hours of community service. He never completed the community service hours because he said it was too difficult so it was dismissed. He also couldn’t get his license for five years since he was a minor at the time of the accident and never even had his license. He was upset about the verdict even though he avoided any kind of incarceration. Three innocent children were killed as a result of his partying and his choice to drive a car recklessly even though he was not legally old enough to drive.
I grew up in the Chicago area, but five years ago we moved to Wisconsin, where my husband grew up. Many people I’ve come in contact with look at drinking and driving as if it is no big deal. Yet, I have also met some amazing people whose lives have been impacted by drinking and driving. I learned that many others who live here share my concern with drinking and driving. People need to think before they get into a car and drive while intoxicated.
We will never stop talking about Meggan. We have brought her to life for our children. She loved butterflies, so whenever my kids see a butterfly they will say there is Auntie Meggan. She wasn’t alive to be my maid of honor when I got married. She never got the chance to go to Notre Dame College as she had dreamed of doing. I don’t have her to call when I am having a bad day and just need my sister. We are fond of the phrase “carpe diem” because we want to seize every day since that is how Meggan lived her life. I believe she continues to live her life through my speaking and the sharing of her story.
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