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Hi! I’m not sure if I’ve met you before, but my name is Mary, Mary Stevens. I’m 19 years old and a sophomore in college. If you’re anything like me you don’t usually take advantage of the chance to look back at your life and actually see the outcome of your brilliant ideas. When things turn out good, you pat yourself on the back and marvel at what a great idea you had, and when thing get all screwed up, its always the result of someone interfering in your plan. Someone else who didn’t do their part caused your plan to fall through; you’re always the one who gets blamed for the mess. But, that’s exactly what I’m doing right now, reflecting on my life, my decisions, my bright ideas. Not because I choose to, you see, at this point in my life I have to, it’s required. I only wish I would have taken advantage of this chance before now. Reflection may sound nerdy, but it’s really not a bad idea.
I should probably tell you more about myself and then you can join me as I look back. I’m an only child and yes, I guess I’m a little spoiled, although I’d never admit that to anyone else! My dad has a regular blue-collar job and my mom works part-time as a secretary. We’re not rich by any means, but we do alright. We don’t take fancy, month long vacations, like some of my friends, but we go on trips every now and then for a week or so. I grew up in the suburbs in an average kind of neighborhood, nothing fancy.
We have two cars, a dog and window air conditioners in the summer. Like I said, very average, nothing rich and fancy, a regular family, “working to make ends meet”, as my mom says. It’s kind of weird seeing my family now, things are much clearer. Somehow all the selfishness and one-sidedness that affected my thoughts is gone. I don’t want to admit that I was a selfish person, because I don’t think I was, but things are definitely more obvious now, less ambiguous. I think I forgot to tell you the most important part of the story, I died yesterday in a car accident.
I really wish things didn’t turn out like this, but they did and there’s nothing at all I can do about it. All my plans for the future are done, gone, finished, kaput! One minute I was having a great time at a party and then I’m here with my grandmother. She died last year of pneumonia at the age of ninety-six. Nowhere in my plans for the future did I have dying at the age of nineteen and there’s no going back to fix my mistake. There’s no one to talk to about taking that part of your life over, like a test that you forgot to study for. It’s the ultimate screw up; doing something stupid that causes your own death. I have to admit, it was kind of cool to see my grandmother again. She gave me a big hug and told me that I should have been more careful. My other grandmother was there too, I hadn’t seen her since I was a baby! We gave each other hugs and kisses and everyone commented on how young I was. My first dog was even there, running around like she was a puppy again. It was so good to see her playing, like she did before she got sick. But then I realized what had happened.
My grandmothers both took my hands and we walked together and talked. I told them how much I missed them. My dad’s mother told me how proud she was of me and the reading I did at her funeral. My mom’s mother explained that I didn’t have to miss them; they were both with me everyday, watching me as I grew. It seems that they could see me, but were not able to talk to me or to interfere in my decisions at all. It’s kind of funny that when I was a teenager I didn’t want people interfering in my decisions, and now I wish someone could have interfered in the last decision I made before I died.
We went to see Saint Peter. I always thought that was a joke, but it’s true, Saint Peter does guard the gates to heaven. He commented on how young I was, like everyone else had, and explained to me what I had to do next. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it would prove to be the hardest part of all. I had to watch my friends and family. Saint Peter explained to me, “You must see how your death and the decisions you chose to make have affected the people who loved you and those who counted on you”. I don’t know about you, but when I made decisions, the only thing I really thought about was how it affected me. Would my friends go along with me? Would people think I was weird? Would I get caught, or would I get in trouble? Now in order to move on, I have to watch my family deal with my death.
They took me to a beautiful field where I sat by myself, looking down at the world. Suddenly I realized that it was the night of the party, Christmas Eve. My friends and I were all home from college on winter break. My mom had cooked a great dinner. We had ham, baked macaroni & cheese, green bean casserole, coleslaw and deviled eggs. For desert mom served homemade Christmas cookies and apple pie. We even had eggnog to drink. Everything was delicious, but I couldn’t wait for the party.
Jess, a good friend of mine, was having a party at her house. Her parents invited some people over and she was allowed to have some of her friends. We’ve known each other since high school and hadn’t seen each other since the summer. I was really looking forward to it! I gave mom a kiss bye at about eight-thirty and headed over to Jess’s. Dad told me to be careful driving and not to be out too late, the same thing he always said.
When I got to the party, there were already a bunch of people there and the music was great. The fireplace was glowing, the Christmas tree was decorated and everyone was having a ball. We laughed and talked and were telling all kinds of college stories. We always had a fantastic time when we got together. Jess’s parents were busy with their guests so we were able to sneak some drinks to celebrate with. I forget the name of what we were drinking but as the night went on we got less fussy and drank whatever we could get our hands on. Not too much, but enough that we were all feeling good.
We were having a great time and moved downstairs to the family room for the specific reason of avoiding Jess’s parents. She’d get in so much trouble if her parents knew that we were drinking. I hadn’t had that much fun and laughed that hard in a long time, but I knew it was getting late. I decided that I’d head home in another half-hour, after all, it was Christmas Eve. One more drink, then I’d wait a half-hour before leaving. I was sure that would be enough time, after all, I hadn’t really drank that much. At about one-thirty I said “Bye!” to Jess’s parents and left for home. I didn’t realize it, but I must have sounded different because her mom asked Jess if I was O.K. She said I was fine, just a little tired. Looking back, I was drunk and never should have gotten behind the wheel of a car.
I remember thinking on the way home, “I’m drunk and shouldn’t be driving”. I told myself to be careful and just go straight to bed, no one will ever know. Then things didn’t look familiar anymore, I think I took a wrong turn somewhere. I cursed a couple times and turned around. Just get home and go straight to bed. I didn’t think I had that much to drink.
There were so many lights and sirens and everything was so loud. A couple guys were trying to cut me out of my car. “Hey man, what the heck are you doing?” I thought. But I wasn’t awake, I was unconscious. I had lost control of my car and hit a pole. There was blood everywhere. When they got me out of the car they put a collar around my neck and rolled me on a hard board. They put straps around me so I couldn’t move and rushed me to the hospital. I wanted to tell them to take their time, “It’s too late, guys”, but I couldn’t.
At the hospital they called a Trauma Team to care for me. They put me in a special room that looked very high tech. A million things were happening at the same time and everyone kept commenting on how young I was. They drew blood from me and started three big IV’s. Someone was doing chest compressions and another person was breathing for me with a bag. After a couple minutes they stopped and looked up at a monitor. A gray haired doctor stepped back and shook his head. “Time of death, three-sixteen A.M.” Two of the nurses just looked at each other with tears in their eyes. “What a waste!” one of the doctors commented as he left the room, “…and on Christmas Eve.”
Next I saw two nurses cleaning up the room and heard a third nurse on the phone. “Mrs. Stevens, your daughter has been in a car accident and we need you to come to the hospital”. I was thankful that the nurse didn’t tell my mom that I was dead. Mom was crying and she woke dad up. They rushed to the hospital and were shown into the “Family Room”. My dad kept saying, “I want to see my daughter!” Mom was hysterical, she couldn’t stop crying, “Please, take me to my daughter”, “Where’s Mary, where’s my daughter, please, is she O.K.”
A doctor came to my parents and told them that I had been drinking and tried to drive home. He explained that they think I had either fallen asleep or had lost control of my car, but either way, I hit a pole. The police report said that I was wearing my seatbelt but there was heavy damage to the vehicle. I barely had a blood pressure when I got to the hospital and they did everything they could. “I’m sorry Mr. and Mrs. Stevens, we tried very hard to save her, but your daughter had massive injuries to her head and chest. She was pronounced dead at three-sixteen A.M.” My dad started crying now. I don’t think I had ever seen him cry like that before. My mom screamed “No! No! No!” she kept screaming and pleading “Oh God, No!” I couldn’t stand to watch them like this. I’ve never seen my mom cry like this! “Oh God, what have I done”, I thought. All I wanted to do was give my mom a hug. Hold her and tell her that it would be O.K. but she wouldn’t stop screaming. “Please mom, stop crying!” I would have done anything to rewind time. “Dad, please do something, help her!” I thought. But dad wasn’t in any shape to help anyone. They cried and cried and cried. I knew that my mom and dad’s life would never be the same. Christmas would never be the same. Nothing would ever be the same.
The hospital staff had called in a social worker and a priest to help my parents, but I knew better. They could call in a whole army of people and it wasn’t going to make a difference. I had caused my parents more pain than anyone could help them deal with. Nothing anyone said or did was going to make this any easier. The social worker’s name was Bob and the priest was Father Steve. Together they walked my parents down the hall so they could see me.
I would have given anything to stop them from walking into that room. I can’t imagine what it was like for them seeing me like this. I was full of cuts, bruises and dried blood, not to mention all the tubes and fresh blood caused by the doctors and nurses trying to save me. My mom and dad didn’t deserve this. They were so good to me, how could I hurt them like this! They cried and cried and they held my hands. My mom pleaded with God not to take me. She held me and rocked back and forth, begging “Oh, God please no!” It was awful, even one of the nurses started crying. I think my parents aged twenty years that night and it was all my fault. My mom sat there holding me for the longest time and then finally Bob told my dad to take my mom home and try to get her to rest. Everything in me wanted to ask Bob if he ever had a child die. Rest was going to be much easier said than done. Eventually, as hard as it was for them, my parents went home.
My mom called her dad when she got home, but he couldn’t understand what she was saying, she was crying so much. Dad took the phone and although he didn’t do much better than mom, he was able to tell my grandfather what happened. More tears and heartache created for another person who would never get over me being gone. I just wanted to tell everyone, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for this to happen. It was a really stupid decision to try to drive home! I promise I’ll never do anything like this again!”, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t talk to them and comfort them, I could never be with the most important people in my life again.
While dad was talking to my grandfather mom walked down the hall and opened the door to my room. I wish I would have straightened up a little better. Just the sight of all my things brought a new flood of tears and pain. My mom went in and sat on my bed. She picked up my pillow, buried her face in it and just sat there crying. Dad came in a found her. Nothing he could say or do would diminish the pain they both felt. My mom prayed that they’d wake up and this would all be a bad dream.
Christmas day came, but instead of being filled with joy and laughter, it was filled with tears, shock and more pain than I had ever seen. My mom and dad made phone calls to a few close friends and family, but mostly they sat together quietly looking over their collection of family pictures and the presents under the tree that I would never open.
Later that afternoon, Jess came over to bring me my Christmas gift. We would do this every year since we were kids. She would come over my house and we’d exchange gifts. Then after Christmas dinner, I’d go over to her house. She knew when my dad answered the door that something was very wrong. “Jess, come in”. My dad walked into the living room and Jess followed him. “What’s wrong? Why are you crying Mrs. Stevens? Where’s Mary? Is she O.K.?” My mom and dad were in tears again. “Jess, Mary was in a car accident last night. We think she was coming home from your house and fell asleep at the wheel. She lost control of her car and hit a pole. The injuries to her head and chest were severe and she died at the hospital earlier this morning.” Jess stood there staring at my parents, both of who were in tears. “Oh, my God, Mr. and Mrs. Stevens, I’m so sorry! This is awful!” Jess was sobbing horribly.
“Jess, there’s something we don’t understand,” my dad said. “The doctors at the hospital told us that Mary had been drinking. She definitely knew better than to drink and drive and she knew that she wasn’t old enough to legally drink alcohol. Do you know anything about this?” he asked. Jess sat there in tears, not knowing what to say. She was dealing with the shock of my death and now an overwhelming feeling of guilt filled her. The two emotions collided. How could she look at my parents and tell them the truth? How was she going to tell her own parents the truth? How was she going to live with the fact that she was partly responsible for the accident, for my death? If only she hadn’t let us drink some of the alcohol at her parents’ party, this never would have happened. “Jess???” my mom looked at her questioning. “Could you please call my mom and dad, and ask them to come over here, Mrs. Stevens?” Jess asked. “Oh God, Jess, Mary was drinking at your party, wasn’t she?? my mom screamed!
“No mom, stop it! Don’t blame Jess, it wasn’t her fault!” I thought. Jess’ parents came right over and my dad told them the news. “It sounds like Mary was drinking at your party last night” my dad said. “Jess, is this true, were you and your friends drinking alcohol last night? her dad asked. Jess didn’t know what to say. She thought about lying, but knew this was serious and lies would only make it worse. Jess tried to explain, “Dad, we did have a little, but it really wasn’t enough that anyone got drunk! We were just celebrating Christmas.”
A million thoughts were rushing through my parents heads. The flood of emotions was overwhelming. They were devastated by my death and now to learn that I had been drinking, and to make matters worse, I was trying to drive home when the accident happened. Now they have to deal with the fact that one of my best friends gave me the alcohol and allowed me to get behind the wheel of my car. “Jess, what in heaven’s name were you thinking, I asked you if Mary was O.K. when she left! Jess’ mother screamed at her. My parents were understandably upset by this news, but my mom’s anger at the situation was more than she could bear. “How could you not know that these kids were drinking at your house?” my mother yelled at Jess’ parents.
Jess’ mom was crying now too. “I’m so sorry, we didn’t know” she sobbed. I tried to tell my mom, “Don’t be mad at them mom, it wasn’t their fault. They were busy with their guests when I left.” But I knew that our friendship with Jess and her parents was finished. My mom and dad would never be able to look at them without seeing me. My mom and dad would always blame them for being the source of the alcohol that helped me to end my life. What a mess I had made! I desperately wanted to do something, anything to fix the horrible chaos I had created, but there was nothing I could do.
Jess’ parents kept apologizing to my mom and dad, but instead of making things better, it actually made things worse. “Please, just go” my mom asked. “I’m sorry, but we just need some time alone” dad told them. Jess and her parents didn’t know what to do or say to make things any better. There wasn’t really anything anyone could do to make this hurt less for my mom and dad.
My mother hadn’t eaten since the Christmas Eve dinner we shared. The last meal we would ever have together. Today was the twenty-sixth of December, the day my parents would have to plan my funeral. Every time I thought my mom and dad had run out of tears, something would remind them of me and the flood of emotion returned. My empty room, a stray bedroom slipper of mine or a homework assignment I had been working on. The simplest of things caused a flood of memories to resurface. “Here, honey you have to eat something.” My dad had brought mom some toast and a cup of coffee. “We have a lot of things to do today.” Mom was in tears again. “I can’t do this, I can’t! Oh God, please let me wake up! Let this all be a bad dream!” my mom sobbed into a dishtowel. She tried to eat some of the toast, but it didn’t stay down long.
They went to the funeral home and were met by a really nice woman whose job it was to help them with all the decisions. Needless to say, my mom cried through the entire meeting and my dad didn’t do much better. The lady helped them make most of the necessary decisions while they told her that they wanted to have me cremated. A memorial mass would be held on December thirtieth. Children are supposed to bury their parents, not the other way around. My parents couldn’t wait to go home, they just weren’t ready for the outside world yet. They cried the whole way home. I think this was one of the hardest days for my dad.
“I don’t understand what she was thinking, we told her so many times, just call us, we’ll come and get you. Just don’t drive after you’ve been drinking!” my dad was struggling, trying to understand my decision with tears rolling down his cheeks. “Maybe she didn’t think she had that much to drink, maybe she was afraid of getting in trouble, I don’t know what she was thinking! Why the hell was she drinking anyway?” my mom cried. “Why couldn’t she just have called us!” They were struggling with every thought of my short life, so many emotions to deal with, so many questions that would never be answered. The tears seemed unending.
They laid in bed, crying themselves to sleep for another night. They didn’t know it, but they were both thinking about the same thing, me as a little girl. My dad remembered the time when we went out for ice cream. I was about four years old and it was my very first ice cream cone. By the time I was done I had more ice cream on me than in me. Mom remembered walking me to the bus on my first day of school, all dressed in my uniform with my backpack and lunch bag.
As parents they couldn’t help wondering how they let me down, what could they have said that would have stopped me from drinking at such a young age. But when you’re nineteen, it doesn’t seem like such a young age. You’re so sure that you’re an adult and our society says that we’re adults! After all, we can vote, choose a career, we can fight in a war, and legally we have all the privileges of an adult when we turn eighteen! But then the scientists say that a human brain isn’t fully developed until we’re in our twenties. Until that time, we don’t have all the necessary tools to make well educated decisions and our reaction times are limited. What a jumble of mixed messages. Such an advanced society, yet we haven’t figured out how to prevent teenagers from drinking alcohol. Why can’t we get them to understand that it makes you think differently. You aren’t able to react the same as you would sober and that bad things happen to people when they’re drunk and they’re not able to protect themselves the way they normally would. Bad things, like dying in a car accident, I know.
Mom and dad had fallen asleep. Finally, they looked a little at peace. I looked down at them, I miss them so much. A tear fell onto my cheek. St. Peter approached me and I was afraid that my visit home was finished. “I don’t want to go yet” I told him. Saint Peter paused and looked at me. He put his arm around my shoulder and said, “It’s time for you to come with me Mary.” “No, please, please Saint Peter, can I ask you for just one favor?” I was almost in a panic, I was afraid that if I left, I’d never see them again! “Can I please talk to my parents just one more time, please, Saint Peter, you don’t understand, I have to talk to them!” I was frantic, I had to convince him! “You cannot go back Mary, you made your decisions, and your life on Earth is over” He was so calm. I looked once more at my parents. How I wish I could be with them again. I had to convince him. “Saint Peter, isn’t there any way that I could talk to them one more time. They were so good to me and they loved me so much. Just one last time, please!” Saint Peter looked at me, carefully considering what I had asked for. He looked down at my parents and back at me. Just when I was sure he was going to say no, he spoke. “Okay Mary, you may speak to your parents once more, but listen carefully. They will not be able to see you and they will not hear you. You will speak to them only in their dreams and only for a moment, but they will remember.” “Thank you, sir” was all I could think to say.
I sat watching my mom and dad sleep and Saint Peter left me alone for a while. I couldn’t help crying, I had so much I wanted to tell them, I didn’t even know where to begin. “Mom, I love you so much, I’m so sorry, please, please forgive me. Mom, its me, I’m here with you.” I felt like I was rambling, but I couldn’t help it. “Mom, it was a stupid accident, I know I never should have been drinking, and driving was just the dumbest thing I ever did. Don’t blame yourself and don’t blame Jess or her parents, it wasn’t their fault, it was my fault, Mom. I’m sorry. I wish I could come back and change things, but I can’t. Please take care of yourself, Mom, I love you! Please don’t cry, I’ll always be with you. Mom, I’m with Saint Peter and I saw grandma! I love you, I never meant to hurt you like this! I know you’ll think of me everyday and I’ll be watching you. I can see you and hear you, Mom talk to me. I love you!”
“Dad, I’m so sorry! I messed everything up, I’m sorry. It was my fault, not Jess’s or her parents, please forgive them. I did everything you told me not to do. I’m sorry, Dad. Please understand that I didn’t mean for any of this to happen. Please take care of mom. I’m with you everyday Dad, thank you for everything you did for me. I love you Daddy! I love you!”