This Saturday will be eight months since my 21-year old son was killed in a motor vehicle accident. As we near Thanksgiving, I have had to dig deep to find what I’m thankful for. As I read the Facebook posts about what others are thankful for, they seem unimportant and trivial. And in some ways, they are — at least to me in this stage of my life — but I am also glad that those people can look at the world and be thankful for the sun or the rain or waking up in the morning — it means perhaps that they’ve not had to deal with a tragedy recently. I have come to figure out what I’m thankful for this year, and I’ll share that with you later, but first, a little more about Stefan and what happened.
Stefan had a magnetic personality and a terrific smile. He was studying nursing at Valencia Community College in Orlando, and he loved writing and playing music. He was a natural with the guitar as a pre-teen and moved effortlessly to playing keyboards and synthesizer.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to spend much time together as he also worked full-time while going to school, and I was living in Georgia. But 2010 was going to be different. My daughter and I were planning a trip down the first week in April, and he was coming up here in May, and just in general, I was going to visit him more often. Even with the distance, we had a very close relationship and talked every few days — about almost everything.
But in an instant — on a Saturday night — that changed, and the lives of all of us who knew Stefan suddenly changed. It was a mistake — an error in judgment on his part — and our lives were turned upside down. You see, he and some friends had gone to the beach that day — just for a day and evening of fun. Stefan had been hanging out at one of the bars on the pier and when he was ready to go home, he’d called another friend to come pick him up because the others weren’t quite ready to go yet.
But for reasons no one quite knows or understands, Stefan hitched a ride from Cocoa Beach to some unknown point in Cocoa, and he decided to walk along a busy 4-lane road heading back towards Orlando, while his friend was on her way to pick him up. He was on the phone with her at the time of the accident, and knowing Stefan, he probably was just trying to save her some driving time and distance. What we’ve concluded is that he was walking against traffic on this 4-lane road and just so happened that while he was walking through a part of the road with an entrance and exit ramp, a car was entering the highway from the entrance ramp and merging into the highway. She did not see him in time to avoid him.
And in that split second, everything changed. There are no do-overs, no rewinds, no take backs. Just wham…it’s changed, all because of too much to drink, not thinking things through, not being careful, whatever the reason. I hope anybody reading this will think about the possible outcomes of a decision before it’s too late — it could be a decision that affects people you love or it could be a decision that affects someone else and the people who love that person.
Having lived through the last eight months, I do have to really think about what I am truly thankful for because, after all, I’ve lost a child and that has got to be the most devastating thing that can happen to someone. But I do have some things to be thankful for. I am thankful that my daughter, my family, and I have made it through this — probably as stronger, more sympathetic people than before. We didn’t give up, which, believe me, I thought about in those first few weeks. And while there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Stefan multiple times and miss him desperately, I am thankful for the fantastic relationship we had. I am thankful for Stefan’s many friends, who have become an extended family. I am also thankful that my daughter and I also have a great relationship and that she understands the consequences of poor choices because in life, we can’t always change the outcome.