Nothing can prepare a parent for the shock and despair that grips you like a vice, when you answer the doorbell to find two police officers on your porch. It makes no difference what time of the day it happens. That sickly feeling of terror wells up inside you and leaves you barely able to speak or move, lest your legs give way underneath you. This was the beginning of the car crash story.
In my case it was 1.30am on the 9th December 2017. I opened the door to be told my son Zachary had a very serious accident not five minutes’ drive from our house. Miraculously he and his four passengers were alive for now and had been taken to various Melbourne hospitals, some in critical conditions. He was 21 at the time, the others were teenagers.
The officers intimated that speed and alcohol were involved. As it turned out, Zac was two times over the legal blood alcohol limit and had marijuana in his system. He ran a red light and his car flew airborne through a brick wall surrounding a retirement village on the other side of the intersection.
The car crumpled like a sardine can and immediately burst into flames. Luckily a Good Samaritan was driving by right at that moment, happened to have a fire extinguisher in their car and put out the flames. That person saved five young people from being incinerated that night. One day I hope to meet him and thank him for saving those lives. What a hero!
Three weeks from today marks the third anniversary of that fateful car crash story. All survived but the trauma will never leave them or their families. I am filled with grief for what my son did and what he put them through.
Zac is seventeen months into a 4 year and 9 month prison sentence. He still has more than a year to serve of his non parole period. He broke the law, made a nearly catastrophic decision and deserves to be punished. Spending a big chunk of his twenties in jail is the consequence of his actions.
As his parent I’m also doing his time, even though I didn’t do the crime. My life is in a perpetual stall and time weighs heavily on me, sometimes crippling me with anxiety. This is made worse by COVID because I haven’t seen him for 256 days. At least he is alive and so are four other young people. Thank goodness I still have my only child.
So many grief stricken parents are not as fortunate. I was blessed to be introduced to one such mother last week. Her name is Melissa McGuinness and we spoke at length on the phone, before she invited me to sit in on a Zoom presentation she was giving to eighty Year 10 students in Sydney. Normally she would do this in person, however with border closures due to COVID, that wasn’t possible.
Eight years ago her son Jordan’s decision to drive drunk and drugged (as my son did) ended catastrophically when he hit a broken down car at speed, pulled over on the highway. It was propelled 30 metres forward and burst into flames, incinerating four passengers. The driver managed to escape through a window but suffered severe burns and a 15 month old baby was left an orphan as a result of the crash. Jordan was killed instantly in his car after smashing his head on the steering wheel.
During Melissa’s presentation I have no shame in saying I sobbed uncontrollably and was thankful she suggested I turn off my camera and mute the microphone. I was a mess hearing her story and seeing the reaction of the kids listening to it. For the rest of the day I was emotionally distraught and overcome with grief.
It has taken a few days to understand why Melissa’s story hit me so hard. Many things about our stories are eerily similar, however the one glaring difference is that her son and four others are dead, and my son and four others are alive. WHY?
I don’t think I’ll ever have the answer to that question. I do know for certain that our paths were meant to cross. What Melissa is trying to achieve with her not-for-profit foundation YouChoose Youth Road Safety is exactly the same reason Zac and I wrote a book together titled WTF? Why The Fallen - due to be published early next year.
Our mission is to garner a social movement to prevent teens and young adults from ending up in prison, killing other innocent people or ending up dead themselves. When Zac gets out of prison I see him talking to school kids and troubled teens in an effort to keep them from ending up where he did. Or worse still where Jordan did. From causing the heart wrenching grief to parents and loved ones that Melissa and I endure, as do those of our son’s victims.
I have told Zac about Melissa, Jordan and the good that her foundation You Choose is doing for the community. Zac’s words were,
“Mum when I get out of here, I’m going to make sure that I survived this car crash for a reason and Jordan didn’t die in vain!”
For more information on You Choose Youth Road Safety visit www.youchooseyrs.org.au