Accidental Impacts is growing

Accidental Impacts is growing! We are now a nonprofit foundation, which will enable us to reach more people and offer more services. Our board and volunteers aim to expand the website, develop new resources for those who have caused accidental death or injury (CADIs), and raise awareness about the needs and experiences of those who unintentionally kill or injure.

To our knowledge, Accidental Impacts is the first organization focused on the needs of those we call CADIs. Thousands of people visit this website every month for information, links, and resources. In addition to CADIs, Accidental Impacts is a helpful to therapists, clergy, social workers, and others who work with CADIs.

We have big plans, but we cannot succeed without your help. Won’t you please consider donating to Accidental Impacts? Your tax free contribution will allow us to extend our reach. Thank you in advance for helping us out.

We wish you a year of peace, compassion, and personal growth.


Maryann J. Gray

The Reverend David Peters

Kimberly Rice

The Reverend Chris Yaw

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Guest Post: One CADI’s reflections

Note:A CADI who found this site shared with me their experience and some hard-won lessons. It’s such an important and well-written message that I asked to post it here. The author graciously agreed but asked to remain anonymous.

Accidentally taking the life of another person is incomprehensible and seemingly without purpose.  Those of us who find ourselves in such a sad situation will forever be affected by the overwhelming feelings of sorrow, shame and self-imposed guilt.  Regardless of the circumstances of those who inadvertently kill, each of us will undoubtedly suffer.  I believe this is part of the human condition—enduring pain on behalf of another who is no longer with us.

Fifteen years ago, I caused the death of an 8-year-old child.  I was a young police officer responding to an emergency call and ran a red light.  In doing so, my vehicle collided with another.  The child was ejected from the vehicle and later died.  I have a vivid recollection of the child lying on the roadway at my feet–his mother accused me of killing her son.  This is, by far, the worst day of my life.

Over the years I have struggled to reconcile my own feelings of shame and sadness.  I often feel underserving of all the good life has to offer.  I am saddened when I see kids enjoying their lives and wonder if my victim was enjoying what I see in other kids his age.   I wonder if he saw me staring at him as he was lying on the roadway.  I wonder if he was in pain or if he was simply confused over what had just occurred.  I wish, more than anything, it didn’t happen.

It took me a decade and a half to even begin to understand what happened.  At the time of the collision, I was young and knew little about life.  The only thing I knew is what I wanted—to be a cop and help other people.  I wanted so badly to be the good guy and one who people are relieved to see.  I did the opposite on that day.  I am so very sorry for what I did, and I often feel as though I am a bad person.

The way each of us handles a tragic situation is unique.  Excluding self-harm, there is no right or wrong answer here—just what feels right.  I handled my experience by internalizing it and devoting myself to the profession I so badly wanted to be a part of.  I used my job as a distraction and in doing so I excelled.

I have since struggled with my own perceived hypocrisy of continuing forward in a career based on public service knowing the harm I have caused.  Nonetheless, I checked all the boxes in the achievement column and came out ahead.  Insofar as some have argued I should have been fired, I will be forever thankful that my career afforded me an outlet and distracted me from what happened.  I don’t know where I’d be today had I done something different.

I did, however, make a mistake.  It has finally occurred to me my experience cannot be minimized or disguised by a career. A career is temporary and, in the long run, is a means to an end.  Careers don’t sustain families, nor do they guarantee happiness.  At best, careers fulfill some sense of professional purpose and financial needs that are at the end of the day superficial and non-relevant in relation to what’s most important in life.

For those of you who have accidentally killed another person or are close to someone who has, I offer the following insight:

A vicious paradox introduces itself to those of us who have unintentionally left a fingerprint on someone else’s death.  This paradox—one that debates the merits of your actions with the tragic outcome–manifests itself in endless and brutal thought about purpose, good versus evil and self-condemnation.  This is, quite literally, a maddening experience that we as otherwise good people are not equipped to handle alone.

Inherently good people suffer when bad things happen.  They suffer even more when they are the cause.  And if the outcome of their actions results in injury or death to another, they could find themselves on the brink of self-destruction.  To feign your contentedness about your experience will only enhance it and further your agony.

It is essential we invest in the relationships we have with other people.  Whether you have a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, dog—whatever—invest in those relationships.  Tell the people you love and care for how you feel.  Let them know how painful your experience is and don’t hold back.  It is in these relationships you will feel accepted and valued.

If you wait until the last minute—when the thoughts, nightmares, and loneliness are at their peak—it will become increasingly difficult to confide in others.  It is impossible for other people to understand the gravitas of your experience unless you have conditioned them to it over time.  This requires frequent and ongoing conversation about who you believe yourself to be, and how your experience has affected you and your outlook on life.

Life throws curve balls at us all the time.  We get sick, injured and suffer emotional and physical harm.  There is one thing we can count on in the midst of life’s unfortunate events—the relationships we have with family and friends.  These relationships are what matter most and assign purpose to tragedy.  From terminal illnesses to life changing experiences, when we know other people are truly attuned to our needs we can persevere and live our best lives.

For those who have a loved one who accidentally killed, remember to be kind to them and listen.  Be their friend and encourage them to talk about their feelings.  Your loved one may not completely understand what happened to them, but they will be thankful for your genuine concern and desire to help them process their feelings and ultimately feel better.

For those who have accidentally killed–I am very sorry.  I understand your pain and suffering and hope you can find a way to move forward and heal.  Whatever you do, don’t forget to involve other people in your journey.  It is in the wisdom and company of those closest to you that you will find relief.  Without them, your self-imposed punishment will lead you to a dark and lonely place–for both you and them.

Admittedly, it has taken me years to even consider these things.  It’s been too hard for me to confide in those closest to me, but I realize now I should have.  My hope is that my story provides you with some degree of comfort and reassurance of what is most important in the midst of immense tragedy.

I am thankful for this community-Accidental Impacts-as a resource for those of us who will forever be wounded by accidentally causing the death of another.  I am privileged to have had the opportunity to contribute to this discussion.


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Once a Secret, Now a TED Talk

Last May I had the opportunity to give a talk called “It Hurts to Hurt Someone” at the TEDXUCLA conference. This was a big deal for me. I worked on the talk for several months, writing multiple drafts. Then I had to memorize it, since TED does not use teleprompters. I delivered the talk in UCLA’s famous Royce Hall before an audience of about 1,500 people, with lights and cameras following me. I was so nervous that I truly don’t remember most of it! It was quite a switch from the time when I kept my experience as a CADI a closely held secret.

Over 40 years ago, when I was living in Ohio, an 8-year-old child darted in front of my car on a rural highway. I hit him and he died before he reached the hospital. His family, and his community, was devastated. So was I. PTSD and guilt took over my life.

Two years later, I moved to California. I wanted a fresh start, and I resolved not to talk about what happened back in Ohio. The accident became my dark secret.

But I thought about the child who died all the time. I had intrusive images and flashbacks, I remembered the painful days and weeks immediately following the accident, and I thought about his family’s grief and how unfair it was that his life was cut short. I was terrified that I might hurt or kill someone else.

Keeping a secret was a way to protect myself from judgement. It was also a way to punish myself by refusing comfort and telling myself that I did not deserve support. The gap between what was going on inside my head and how I presented myself to the rest of the world made for years of loneliness. I didn’t allow myself to be seen or known, so I didn’t feel fully loved or authentic. Once I started opening up, I felt more connected to myself and others.

There are aspects of being so open about my experience that I don’t like very much. I feel exposed, and sometimes I do get angry and even hateful emails. More often, I’m uncomfortable that people I don’t know well and, sometimes, don’t trust can find out so much about me. Do they judge me or pity me? Maybe I shouldn’t care, but I do.

The opposite of secrecy is not openness. It’s discretion, making one’s own decision about when to share and when to keep our thoughts or feelings to oneself. I believe intuition is a good guide to this. Some people and places just don’t feel safe, and that feeling deserves respect. Keeping a secret is not inherently bad or harmful. It’s the distance the secret places between us and others that can become problematic.

If you’re keeping a secret, I invite you to reflect on why you’re doing so and how it’s affecting you. If your secret keeps you feeling disconnected and alone, you might want to start by confiding in a psychotherapist, who is trained to be nonjudgmental and can also help you plan what to say, to whom, where, and when.

You can also write to me privately here. It might take up to a few weeks, but I do write back.

Thanks for reading, and for checking out the TED talk!

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Helpful But Terrifying: Some Reflections on this Site

It’s been too long since I’ve posted to this blog — I will try to do better starting now. You may have noticed that the site has a new look, along with some new content. It’s still a work in progress (it’s always a work in progress, but especially right now) so let me know if you have suggestions for additional information or resources.

A friend recently described this site as “helpful but terrifying.” Many of the personal stories and comments are heart-wrenching, and the despair that so many CADIs experience comes through. But we tend to reach out to tell our story when we are lost and struggling. The majority of CADIs learn to cope with and eventually resolve PTSD and moral injury. Many choose to honor their victims through service, advocacy, creative expression, deepening spirituality, and/or living with greater compassion, care, and kindness. In this way, they transform trauma to growth.

So if you are suffering, know that this is a journey. You can and will feel better.

There is no way to rush this process, but psychotherapy or counseling can be very helpful. Some CADIs believe that they should be strong enough to cope without therapy. But asking for help and sharing one’s feelings can take more strength than holding it all inside. It also can be a kindness to family and friends, who worry about the CADI, aren’t sure what to say or do, and may themselves feel traumatized by the situation. Other CADIs believe that they do not deserve solace or support. I think this reflects a misunderstanding about therapy. The goal isn’t to eliminate or remove guilt or sadness, but rather to help us channel the energy attached to these feelings in a constructive manner. Therapy can also help us think more clearly about our values and how we want to respond to the accident.

For many years, I clung to my guilt, shame and fear about my accident. Even though I thought many times every day about the child who ran in front of my car, I hardly ever talked about him. The result was a lonely and constrained life. Opening up about my experience was helpful but terrifying. I felt relief, anxiety, and a new sense of hope.

I still think every day about the child that I hit and killed, and I wouldn’t want it otherwise. He deserves to be remembered. I try to honor him by treating others with kindness and by living with integrity and purpose. I regularly fall short, of course, but his memory helps keep me focused on what matters.


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Working With a Lawyer After a Car Accident (A Guest Post by Jared Staver)

Introductory Note: I am grateful to lawyer Jared Staver for contributing this blog post, which offers very useful information for anyone considering the need for legal representation.        — Maryann

Being involved in a car accident can be one of the most traumatic events in a person’s life. Furthermore, causing an accident can burden you with a painful guilt that’s hard to ignore. Most car accidents are avoidable; thousands of accidents happen every day as a result of some form of driver negligence. However, true accidents do happen.

My job as a car accident lawyer is to defend people who have been injured through no fault of their own. If you are determined to be at fault for causing a car accident, there might be a complex process ahead. Working with legal representation is a critical component to ensure that your best interests are protected, and your accident is managed appropriately.

Insurance Company Issues

Working with insurance companies on an accident case can be a mess. It’s a common misconception for drivers to be overly confident and assume their insurance company will defend them following an accident. Insurance contracts contain an implied agreement that the company will work for you in good faith, but this doesn’t mean they will truly defend you. In general, insurance companies always aim to pay as little as possible and have a far more narrow focus than an injury lawyer.

It’s important to keep up with your claim as the insurance companies argue the fine print. Having legal representation is never a bad thing when handling the aftermath of a car accident. Lawyers are accustomed to dealing with the red tape of insurance companies and can take much of that stress off of your shoulders.

If it is determined that you caused an accident and the other party is seeking compensation, your insurance company either needs to satisfy their demands or risk lawsuit. Insurance companies may deny coverage in cases of intentional driving errors, like DWI or texting and driving, but valid accidents should be covered.

How to Pick a Lawyer After an Accident

Selecting the right lawyer is a key step in determining how your situation will play out. Your attorney will be deciding on the actions you take throughout the process and will be your voice, so picking the right law firm to work with might be the most important step in recovering from an accident.

There are five factors I advise you to look at when determining what firm to work with.

  1. Experience – Each case will bring its own unique set of circumstances. It’s important to pick a lawyer with the appropriate type of experiences.
  2. Reputation – Check our law firm reviews and client testimonials online to ensure that you are picking a lawyer with a respectable reputation
  3. Legal Fees – Legal services are not cheap, take the time to research and discuss costs before committing to a law firm.
  4. Time/Resources – Lawyers typically have multiple clients at a time so finding a lawyer who has sufficient time and capability to take your case is essential.
  5. Jurisdiction – You should pick an attorney who practices in your area and is suited to handle the local court system.

I’m sure there are dozens of law firms in your area who would love to take your case. It’s important to find a firm that makes you feel comfortable and confident, and a firm that will fight for you.

Many firms will offer a free initial consultation as a way for potential clients to learn about the lawyer. The initial consultation will also serve as an opportunity to examine your accident, talk about potential next steps, and discuss legal fees. Having a trusted lawyer at your side should make the legal system more bearable.

The Legal Process

A personal injury case starts with what is known as the discovery phase. Discovery is often the largest amount of time spent on a case. Lawyers will start to gather evidence and fact check all relevant information associated with the case. This includes looking into medical records, verifying police reports, and even formal deposition interviews of people who were involved in the accident. Discovery is the part of the process where both sides of an accident get the opportunity to set up their case.

Next come motions, which are written arguments to the court that summarize a lawyer’s discovery in an effort to get a judge to rule in their favor. Settlement negotiations usually take place throughout the entire process. Often, before much discovery is completed, the plaintiff’s attorney will get a general idea of the case value and send a demand letter before investing a lot of money into discovery. Mediation is often held before motions to the court are made.

If a case cannot be settled, a courtroom trial will be set. Most car accident cases are settled before a trial is necessary, but it’s not uncommon to see personal injury cases go to court.

How a Lawyer Can Help You

Hiring a lawyer is in no way an admission of guilt. If you cause a car accident, the other parties involved will likely seek compensation for the damages. Recruiting a lawyer to your defense will ensure that you will not be taken advantage of as the process goes on.

Dealing with an insurance company on your own is a daunting task. An experienced lawyer will take the burden off of you and allow you to get back to your own life.

Having legal representation is essential following a serious accident and should not be put off. It’s a good idea to contact multiple lawyers in your area and examine your options. There is tons of information on car accidents across the Internet, but it’s a good idea to seek out consultation specific to your own circumstances.

Recovering from a car accident can be extremely difficult emotionally. Having a lawyer by your side will ensure that you can focus on your own well-being and get back to your pre-accident self without being taken advantage of during the recovery.

 Jared Staver is a personal injury lawyer based out of Chicago, Illinois at Staver Law Group, P.C. Jared focuses primarily on car accident injury cases and has nearly twenty years of experience within the Illinois legal industry.

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Self-Forgiveness: Accidental Impacts Guest Post

By Chris Yaw

Once the great psychiatrist Karl Menninger found himself answering questions from a reporter. ‘What’s the leading cause of mental distress?” he was asked, “I mean, what’s to blame, in most cases, for a person to be institutionalized?”

“That’s easy,” replied the Harvard-educated doctor, “I see it all the time, it’s a person’s inability to forgive themselves.”

More than chemical imbalances and inborn behavioral tendencies, Menninger noted something we all understand is as dangerous as it is debilitating: the poor job we do at forgiving ourselves.

This knowledge is the first step we need to begin our job of improving on it – and finding practical ways to counter-balance our tendencies of self-forgiveness, bringing ourselves ‘back to center.’ My wife and I like to use this term, and we define it as that place where life is experienced as a gift, joy, and pleasure. It is that place that resonates with our deepest selves, as people who were born out of love, live our best when we give and receive love, and where the future beyond our earthly lives will take us.

When we go through any trauma, but specifically that of being accidentally responsible for the death of another (as I have experienced), we find the feeling of unforgiveness rearing inside of us. It is often fueled by our passive acceptance of three very common yet harmful beliefs, which therapists call the three p’s: personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence.

Personalization is the idea that the trauma we experienced was somehow our fault, to an outsized and untruthful degree. It’s something we do all the time. Ever hear someone say their favorite football team lost because they had failed to wear their lucky t-shirt? This is a version of that. Of course, our trauma more than likely involved something we said or did, but the personalization of that trauma means that we take on a much larger degree of responsibility than realistically exists.

I remember hearing about a woman whose husband perished in the 9-11 tragedy in New York City. He was a maintenance worker who became a World Trade Center victim because he went to work an hour later that day. This poor woman blamed herself for an entire year for setting his alarm clock an hour later. It took her 12 months to realize that she had not set the alarm clock, in fact, she never set the alarm clock, but he had in order to spend more time with his family that morning. The idea that she was to blame for a tragedy she had actually no hand in, is quite common and natural.

A good way to subvert personalization is to ask trusted friends for their accounts of the narrative, what did they observe? What’s their version? Our work is to be open to their telling of the story and more importantly to accept it as truth – understanding that our own view of trauma is naturally jaded and skewed by this tendency.

A second untruth we battle is the idea that our trauma is pervasive – that every aspect of our life has now become negatively tinged. Pervasiveness says because we suffered trauma, nothing else will be untouched – we will perform poorly at work or school, become a less dependable friend, neighbor or parent, or become less competitive as an athlete. The truth is that our trauma does not to have to affect every other part of our lives. We can limit the pervasiveness of our trauma.

I have a friend who was divorced. He felt like a failure. After his wife left he began to believe that because he was a failure at marriage, he was bad at everything – his business, being a father, and in nearly every other aspect of his life. It took him a while to come back to center and realize that just because he had failed at one thing at one time, it did not make him a total failure. It is very human to define ourselves by our failures and to think that when we fail we are failures instead of telling ourselves the truth: that we are humans who make mistakes.

Again, the perspective of a close friend, spouse, or therapist can help bring us back to center, reminding us that trauma can be contained to an appropriate sphere of influence, and that we do well to uphold our gifts and blessings in other areas of our lives.

A third harmful untruth we experience at trauma is believing in the permanence of the event. This is the notion that we will never, ever get over our trauma. We have all experienced times when the days were very dark and seemed endless, but we also know that those low times were not permanent.

In high school I had a friend who drove drunk. He got into a wreck and his passenger, his best friend, was killed. At the funeral he confided in me that his life was ruined. He was 17 years old. 30 years later, after building a successful business, getting married, and putting his 4 children through college, those words of a 17-year-old are hard to believe. Of course, not everyone fares that well, but it’s not uncommon for most of us do better than we initially believed.

We do well to understand that trauma is like a physical wound, it will get better. However, to press the analogy, it also means the scars never go away. While there’s truth to the old adage ‘time heals all,’ complete healing is another matter.

This reminds us that the work of self-acceptance and forgiveness is never complete. We are human, prone to failure and scarred by it. However, we humans are also equipped to do much good – in a general accounting of our race, we find we’ve done more good than ill. So we do well to accept ourselves for the fragile and frail people we are, recognizing the dangers of personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence regarding trauma, trusting that there are bluer skies ahead.

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Australian Public Television

I have been contacted by a producer for the Australian public television broadcaster, SBS. She works on a weekly current affairs discussion program called Insight. They are planning a show about what it is like to unintentionally cause someone’s death and would very much like to hear from Australians (only) who are CADIs. You can contact Thank you!!

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Improving Road Safety: A Movement

Many years after my accident, I was shocked to learn that the road where I was driving at the time, U.S. Route 27 in Butler County, Ohio, was considered one of the most dangerous highways in America. It had even been nicknamed the Highway to Heaven. I had always considered the accident a very personal encounter between two unlucky souls – the child who ran into the road and me behind the wheel – but had given little thought to the road safety conditions that contributed to the accident. Although bad luck certainly played a part, so did external factors such as a narrow road with no shoulders, heavy traffic, and a relatively high speed limit. Worst of all, in that rural environment, all the mailboxes were located on one side of the street, which forced residents to cross the highway in order to retrieve their mail.

Only after the residents of Butler County along with local elected officials advocated fiercely for road safety improvements did the State of Ohio allocate funds to mitigate the worst problems. Today, the road is wider, with better signage and a lower speed limit. The mailboxes now sit in front of their houses so no one has to cross this busy highway. Butler County residents still consider Route 27 to be dangerous, but it is better than it used to be.

My experience is just one example of the ways in which individual behavior combines with environmental conditions to increase or decrease risk and road safety. In addition to the choices that individuals make, collisions and crashes are affected by policies/laws and how they’re enforced, urban planning and design, engineering,  education, social norms, and more.

Despite many years and many millions of dollars devoted to improving road safety, traffic fatalities are on the rise. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 37,500 people died in traffic accidents in the US in 2016, which was the highest number of fatalities since 2007. Distracted driving (e.g., texting, telephone conversations) surely contributes to this unfortunate trend. Too many people still neglect to fasten their seatbelts and/or drive after drinking. And the improved economy correlates with an increase in the miles that Americans drive each year, which leads to more crashes.

Recently, I have been learning about an international movement of sorts to improve road safety, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists. The organizations spearheading this movement are giving careful consideration to the external conditions that help to prevent traffic deaths. For example, the Vision Zero network seeks to “eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all.” Vision Zero advocates for steps that help to prevent accidents, such as reduced speed limits, better road design, improved pedestrian cross-walks, and education and awareness-building to promote safe driving.

Some of the people in the front lines of this kind of advocacy have lost loved ones in traffic crashes. CADIs, too, have much to contribute to this issue. If you’re interested, here are a few links:

Vision Zero

National Complete Streets Coalition

Where the Sidewalk Starts

Road to Zero

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New Yorker Article on Accidental Killing

Several months ago the writer Alice Gregory posted on this site her interest in talking with CADIs. Many of you responded by generously sharing your stories and insights. Her article on the experience of accidental killing and the lack of resources to support CADI’s (my acronym for those who have “caused accidental death or injury”) has been published in this week’s New Yorker magazine:

I think the article shows great compassion and insight, and I hope it will make a difference by raising awareness and motivating some psychotherapists, trauma specialists, or others to focus on this neglected group.  It is already helping individuals (and their friends and family members) struggling with the experience of accidental killing. For instance, the article has dramatically increased traffic to this website. If you see more comments than usual showing up on the site, that is why.

The vast majority of comments I’ve received about this article, and other published work on CADIs, have been appreciative and supportive. A number of people have written to me about urban planning, public policy, engineering, and other programs and interventions intended to prevent car vs. pedestrian, car. vs. bicycle or car vs. car collisions. I will be looking into these programs more and will post about some of the more promising efforts. If you know about this, please write to me and share your experience or recommendations.  I’m also interested in efforts to prevent other kinds of accidents, including workplace accidents, gun accidents, boating accidents, and the like.

Of course I strongly believe that CADI’s are deserving of compassion and support.  With that comes an acceptance of responsibility and accountability.  As awareness and understanding increase in our society, I believe that people will be more willing to invest in whatever steps are needed to reduce the number of accidents — better roads, bike lanes, improved lighting, new technologies, and so forth.  This will make our world safer and, over time, the number of CADIs will decline.

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Channeling Guilt Into Growth: Reflections on the Anniversary of an Accident

This June marks the 40th anniversary of the accident that has so affected my life – an 8 year old boy darted in front of my car and was killed. Not a single day has gone by since then when I have not thought about that child. For the first year or two, in the grip of acute and post-traumatic stress, memories of the accident dominated my consciousness. In the middle of a meeting at the office or an evening out with friends, an image of the child would flash into my mind, pulling me away from the here and now and stoking my grief and guilt. Later, the memories became a harsh way of punishing myself. Whenever I felt celebratory or proud, some inner voice would say, “Remember what you did. You don’t deserve happiness. And it can happen again, so keep your guard up.”

I still think of the child every day, and occasionally the memories can still jolt me. For the most part, however, my thoughts and feelings about the accident and my role in it are far gentler than they used to be. I choose to honor this child, his family, and my own suffering by striving to live with purpose, appreciation and awareness. I regularly fail at this of course but I keep at it.

I hope and believe that better support for CADIs will lead to a more compassionate society  – and that is helpful to all of us, whatever our life circumstances – victim, CADI, bystander, etc.

As our communities begin to understand how common accidents are and how many people are suffering because they accidentally killed or injured someone, we might see declines in risky behaviors such as distracted or drunk driving. As more people understand the pain that CADIs experience and extend support, we can create a more caring society. And, with such support, as CADIs learn to transform guilt and post-traumatic stress to post-traumatic growth, we will be able to give more of ourselves to others.

I still mourn for the child who died on the road that horrible day. I grieve for the pain that his family – and mine – endured. But I am committed to the effort of channeling this grief in productive directions, by offering support for others, by writing, and most of all by trying to show kindness toward others. To me, it’s the only response that makes any sense at all in the face of senseless tragedy.


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