December 31, 2017 – December 10, 2019
New Canaan, CT
In December 2019, on my way to work, I accidentally and fatally struck my almost two year old son Lukey with my car. I had just taken my older two children Jamie and Alex to the bus stop at the end of the driveway and my husband was already at work. My car was facing the end of the driveway, ready to tackle the day. As I plopped my bags in the passenger seat and started the car, Lukey was being watched by a babysitter while she read my then-4-year old daughter Casey a book at the kitchen table. Curious and independent, out the back door snuck Lukey to check out his favorite “car cars” and follow “Mama” off to work. As I drove up the driveway, I felt the car bonk something and thought “it must just be one of the kids scooters.” Then I glanced in the rearview mirror and my life changed forever. I immediately slammed on the brakes, put the car in park and ran to my son who was face down on the concrete. I scooped him up, ran to the back door, opened it with my right hand, and brought him to the kitchen island. Blood was everywhere. My wails filled the house. I dialed 911 and then handed the phone to the babysitter while I began to administer CPR; as I held his head, the blood was matting his shaggy brown hair and I could tell in his eyes he was leaving us. First responders arrived, but he left this world within minutes: I know as I was holding him. I also know many of these details because I – yes, crazily – watched the footage on my kitchen Nest camera. Despite news reports that indicate otherwise, Lukey died on our kitchen counter from a brain hemorrhage.
Two weeks later, my in-laws generously gave my husband, Conner, and me a little alone time to begin to process our profound loss. Conner and I were driving backroads in Vermont on our way to a wellness resort when he wanted to check if he remembered his pillow – the memory foam one he brings EVERYWHERE he goes for an overnight stay. As I sat in the passenger seat anxious to just get to our destination, he opened the back of the car, and I immediately heard a loud sound. I got out of the car to find Conner, holding his precious pillow, looking over a strewn pile of mail containing all of the sympathy cards we had received, covered in red wine and broken bottle pieces. I had brought them to read while we were away. I took a deep breath and lost it. Lost it like a wife who was SO wronged by her husband’s actions, that I couldn’t feel anything but anger. Something I had unfortunately felt before towards him, for trivial things like leaving the spatula on the counter after making pancakes for the kids. But never had I felt the blame and anger SO deeply as that day on the side of the dirt road. “That pile contains ALL that I have left of our DEAD SON”, I screamed at Conner. With no one around for miles to hear me, I wailed, “HOW COULD YOU?!” Conner stared at me and was silent while he watched tears stream down my face. He was mad. “How can you be so angry at me for this?” he said. “And how can you blame me, Kate? It was an accident, I simply opened the back of the car.“ His face showed a mix of anger, sadness and regret, that, when combined, seemed almost loving. He then calmly, and quietly spoke: “When I learned that Lukey died and how it happened, my first and ONLY feelings were sadness for us and empathy for you. I never, never ONCE, blamed you.”
And just like that, after 40 years on this earth, I saw grace shown to me, even when I couldn’t show it to myself.
The ONLY THING that has helped me through these past two years is a journey to show grace for myself which, in turn, has helped me show grace to others. I did not grow up with much grace; someone was always to blame as every reaction is caused by an action. My parents blame the babysitter for the loss of their grandson; I can’t even begin to wonder who would be blamed by them if there hadn’t been a babysitter and I still was behind the wheel when Lukey walked out. The grace they cannot show to her is grace they can’t show to me, or to themselves.
Even members of my community, most of whom were gracious and kind after Lukey died, somehow HAD to place blame. One mother wrote on the local Facebook page, “I read it sounds like a hurried person who hit the child.” Another mother wrote “…prayers to the driver – what a burden of guilt to carry.” Even these fellow mothers, albeit total strangers, could not hold their commentary back. On a social media group with over 6,000 members of the local community (myself included), they couldn’t bite their tongues, let alone show grace; instead, they had to place blame.
As the driver of the car that caused the accident that caused my son’s death, I am one person who could easily be the most triumphant at the blame game. My hand still has trauma shakes from opening the back door to bring his dying body inside. How have I, instead, found the most grace? Therapy. God. My gracious husband and friends. I do know that my family’s tragedy has given me the greatest way to honor my sweet, little Lukey – grace for myself. Something I didn’t even know I needed. What a wise little boy he was.
The day after Lukey died, my husband and his parents arranged for the sale of my car, a 2017 Jeep Wrangler. For many, many months thereafter, I would pull up behind a Wrangler and squint to examine the underbelly of the car, wondering how Lukey experienced the accident with my car. Did the car just knock him over? He couldn’t have fit under the car, could he have? As though knowing the precise details of how his body encountered the car could help me make sense of it. In the end, the truth is singular: the car I had coveted since I got my drivers license, the car that made me feel like a “cool mom” once I moved to the suburbs and needed my own car, turned out to lack the safety features — front and rear cameras / sensors — that lead directly to my son’s death.
Tracking of frontovers and legislation requiring safety features is the only solution to preventing frontovers and backovers. My family is grateful for all of the work Kids and Cars is doing to progress such requirements and prevention of tragedies that change lives forever. Children do not have to die because a driver could not see them. The solutions exist to stop frontovers and should be in all cars because ALL children deserve to be safe.