I wanted to do a lot of different things in my life. I had multiple goals. None of those goals included starting a nonprofit organization. Then a drunk driver completely blew up the world as it had existed for me, my husband and our kids. Chris was killed and the rest of us were thrown the grip of grief and a frightening new reality.
The first week or so after Chris’ death was a blur of trying to survive and not hide in a dark corner. The pastor of our church and the social ministries coordinator guided me through the process of planning the funeral and selecting a burial site because Chris and I had never purchased a cemetery plot. My friend Gina was there for me at all hours of the day and night when I kept saying “I can’t do it.” An old high school friend made sure I had appropriate clothes for the kids to wear to the wake and funeral. My Girl Scout co-leader set up an on-line meal calendar so families at our church and kids’ school could show their support. People were very kind in that way.
But other people must get back to their daily lives, and our daily life was shredded.
By Thanksgiving, about 9 months after Chris’ death, there were a few big things on my mind in addition to the daily demands of trying to survive:
- I wish I could talk to somebody who really understood this.
- I can’t believe how many people already to take advantage of grief-stricken people.
- What would Chris do in this situation?
There is a well-known organization that does a lot of good nationally to raise awareness about drunk driving and has done so for many years. Unfortunately, my experience with them was that they asked me to donate money – in my husband’s memory – to their organization. They asked for a substantial amount, not a $10 contribution. And I gave it, because when you’re in the throes of intense grief you’re not thinking clearly. There was nothing practical they could help me with at that time. Just an invitation to a drunk driving victims vigil.
I remember sitting in my living room and discussing with my kids what the most important things were about their Dad – and it came down to the fact that he would help anybody at any time, the best he possibly could. And that was where the Christopher DeCrescito Memorial Foundation originated. The goals were to provide assistance to families of DUI victims and to raise awareness about DUI prevention.
To date, we have helped about 50 families in New York and other states. Any money we raise is always directed to families. I personally bear the brunt of the fundraising event costs, though I do get sponsors when we can. My ability to get out there and promote the foundation is severely limited by my disability. But my children consistently rise to the occasion, helping in the planning and execution of all our events.
I receive feedback from people periodically that because of CDMF events, or promotions, or information, they made sure they do not drive while under the influence, or they stopped someone else from doing so. Knowing CDMF makes even a small difference makes all the effort worthwhile.
I have met with multiple people we have helped. Many others I correspond with by email or text, or by telephone. Victims’ family members know that they can call me at any hour day or night. On at least 15 occasions I have taken telephone calls from distraught individuals between 1 AM and 4 AM. Some people don’t have much family support in dealing with their loss. Others have a lot of support but find that it is easier to speak with somebody else who has been through it … who has experienced first-hand that distinct trauma of losing a loved one to a drunk or drugged driver.
It really is unique type of trauma. I have often warned family members up other victims that they should not be surprised if they encounter people who want to somehow make excuses for the DUI driver. It is something that boggles the mind at first. Try to picture it. You are trying to cope with the wreckage of a loved one or loved ones having been killed by a driver under the influence. And then somebody, in the context of consoling you, says,
“I’m sure it was an accident.”
“You know the other driver didn’t mean to …”
“Sometimes people don’t realize when they have just one too many.”
“It’s so easy for people to accidentally drink too much.”
“You know he didn’t mean to hurt somebody…”
It seems ludicrous that people would say these or similar things to a grieving family member. But people said it to me. And I know from the feedback I received that many other people in this situation have heard the same things. Why the heck would anybody do that? I thought about that extensively and the best answer I can come up with is that people can see themselves being the DUI driver.
The conclusion I came to is that, be it consciously or subconsciously, people think about the times they have driven when they may have had too much beer or wine, that extra mixed drink when they should have said no. Perhaps a medication they were taking had a warning label that they should not operate heavy machinery. It becomes a realization that they themselves could have killed somebody because of their own behavior. The frightening nature of that eye-opening realization can lead people to make excuses for a DUI driver.
I find I am also able to help prepare the family of DUI victims for the legal nightmare they are likely to face if somebody can be prosecuted for the death of their loved one. I will detail my personal experience with that in another post, at a later date. Suffice to say, it is a nightmare for the family of the victim. Unbelievable nightmare. Because of my own complicated background, I had a fairly good grasp of the legal process, so when I went through it, I was able to understand the procedural quagmire. The Assistant District Attorney assigned to my case was also excellent. Not everybody is that lucky. When I am dealing with helping a family, I can offer them insight and support into what they can expect and might encounter.
I am including on my blog this week an annotated Code of Ethics that I created over several months as part of a master’s degree level course in professional ethics that I took at Georgetown University. If you read it you will see that it includes very personal examples of each Tenet of the Code that anchors everything with CDMF and explains more about why I put so much time, energy, emotion and money into it.