My brother, Brett, was killed by a drunk driver. It’s one of those things you can’t imagine and don’t see coming. My son’s teacher lent me the book The Ultimate Gift. It brought words to ideas I had for years. I hope this letter or The Ultimate Gift will show there are many perspectives in life.
Dear Mr. K,
Thank you for lending me the book The Ultimate Gift.
This month is tough because the 18th is my brother’s birthday. Brett was killed by a drunk driver on July 17, 2009, in a violent accident. He was 37 years old, married to his college sweetheart and had an adorable 7 year old son. Brett was incredibly kind, patient and lived the Twelve Gifts the book refers to daily. They say a sibling is your first best friend. I pieced together information people told me to help me understand Brett’s last hours.
On the day of the accident, Brett was on his way to pick up his son from Vacation Bible School. A drunk driver came speeding (estimated 90 mph) in a truck down the wrong side of the rural road. He was fleeing from the police over a domestic dispute. Brett came around a curve and they hit head-on. The other driver was not wearing his seat belt and died instantly. Brett was severely injured.
Following is my own list of Gifts I believe were revealed that day. They do not reduce my sorrow but they are a part of a much bigger story.
Gift of Compassion
A compassionate man saw the accident happen, immediately stopped and ran over to hold Brett’s hand. He kept him awake and told him everything was going to be alright. Brett was worried about his wife and son because he was disoriented and thought they might have been in the accident, too. This man assured him they were not in the accident and were fine. Even during this confusing, traumatic event, the only thing Brett thought about was his family. I thank God for this man because although he was a complete stranger, he talked to Brett like a good friend and did his best to comfort him.
Gift of Heroism
Brett’s car caught on fire while he was trapped inside. A heroic man ran to the car with a fire extinguisher and put the fire out before it reached Brett. He saved my brother from another horrific situation until the First Responders could arrive. And he put himself in harm’s way to save Brett. I have no idea who he is and don’t have the words to thank him enough even if I did.
Gift of Determination
The Fire Fighters worked for 45 minutes to get Brett out of the car. The Life Flight crew transported him, making moment to moment judgment calls. Finally, there were incredibly determined doctors and nurses in the hospital. I’ve been told they cheered every time they got his heart to beat but resumed their mission of saving him when it stopped. Tragically, he died three hours after the accident occurred. Brett was in great physical shape prior to this and I know he fought hard. He loved life.
Gift of Forgiveness
How do I feel about the drunk driver who killed my brother? I don’t hate him. It’s hard to hate a ghost. The driver’s name was Alan Reid. He was 26 years old and had serious problems with his family and the law. The truck/car skid marks indicate he intentionally hit my brother as a method of suicide. This man is undeniably guilty but I don’t believe he thought about what he was about to take or what he was going to lose. My heart is permanently broken. This is not the Gift of Forgiveness but it’s what I have to offer.
Gift of Closure
As children, Brett and I were each other’s best playmates. As we grew into adults, I’m honored that he asked me to go with him to pick out an engagement ring for his bride-to-be, Amy, and I cherish that he is the Godfather to my son, John. Genetics has also given us an unexpected gift in the many ways John physically resembles Brett-even the way he walks. That makes me smile all the time. Obviously, I will never consider any part of losing Brett a gift. But the people that gave of themselves and cared for him during this tragedy helped me from losing my faith in humanity.
The last time I saw Brett alive was when he and his family visited us at our home in NC 2+/- weeks before the accident. The very last thing I said to him was “I love you”, I hugged him and blew them all kisses as they drove away.
I received one of the greatest gifts at that moment.
This year is the 10th anniversary of Brett’s death. There are so many things I left out of the first blog post. I couldn’t decide if they were appropriate. Regardless, here are a few…
Someone in my family told me this violent accident was particularly hard on the Fire Fighters. Many of them were among the hundreds who attended the funeral. One Fire Fighter was a friend of Brett’s who happened to be on duty. What little I saw at the hospital is enough for me to understand their trauma. I wonder if the drunk driver would understand that I have flashbacks of my precious brother in the hospital underneath the white sheet and of the mangled car. Even with all of that knowledge, in some ways, reality didn’t truly sink in until I visited his grave and saw his name engraved on the granite headstone.
The Gift of Light
Everyone has a different role in a tragedy. Brett was a junior in high school when he met my husband, Greg (college boyfriend then). They knew each other for 20 years so Greg lost a brother that day, also. He is deeply wounded but found one way to help us both. At the time of the accident, Greg was traveling internationally often for work. At each destination, he found a Cathedral (or other place of worship) and lit a candle in Brett’s memory:
- Cologne and Frankfurt, Germany
- Manchester, England
- Mexico City, Mexico
- Lima, Peru
- Prague and Hradec Kralove, Czech Republic
- Kyoto, Japan
- Amsterdam, The Netherlands
- Seoul, South Korea
- Milan and Rome, Italy
- Melbourne, Australia
- Marseille, France
The thought of Brett being remembered in such distant places and picturing each light glowing for him gave me comfort. Since it gave me comfort, it gave Greg comfort.
Back to the 10th Anniversary follow-up. As I was, frankly, sobbing about July 2019, I decided to turn to my FaceBook friends for a lift. One response on my wall caused me to think deeper. I realized that since the accident I thought of Brett in my head as “my brother who was killed”. He’s not defined by how he died. He’s defined by the man he was: he found humor in everything, he was wicked smart and most importantly, he had enough kindness in his heart for everyone he met.