64: Making It Count

64: Making It Count

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Making It Count

All who have accomplished great things have had a great aim, have fixed their gaze on a goal which was high, one which sometimes seemed impossible.

~Orison Swett Marden

I was set on the bumpy path to empowerment by the worst thing that ever happened to me. I was determined to make the death of my son count for something.

Bereaved parents who have lost a child are well acquainted with devastation, helplessness and pure anger at whatever took the life of the child they cherished. They often find themselves physically and emotionally unable to do much of anything for a time — sometimes months, sometimes years, and sometimes forever. When my Andy was hit and killed by a drunk driver on the street in front of my house, I began that long, horrible journey through a very real valley of the shadow of death. Of course, I was sad — sadder than I had ever been. My heart was an empty place where Andy had lived. I was also restless, and I knew I needed to do something. My role in Andy’s life had been ripped away from me, but I still needed to be his mother.

“Go to MADD, Luanne,” my brother told me after the funeral. “They can help. I’ve seen them in action.” As a career Atlanta cop, he knew what he was talking about. However, when I investigated, I found that our county didn’t have a MADD chapter. It was not because we didn’t have a drunk-driving problem — we did — but because no one had started one. That’s where a woman named Mary came in.

Our children attended the same schools, we had many of the same friends, we even attended the same church, yet we had never met. She came to Andy’s wake as part of a prayer group that included my sister-in-law, and I knew she had also lost a son to a drunk driver. I listened when she whispered, “Do what you want to do, not what everybody tells you to do.” Mary’s son, Tony, was hit by a drunk driver when he was just one minute from home. We began to spend time together, comparing our unspeakable tragedies, talking about our sons and lending support to one another. I was inspired by Mary’s compassion and courage and by a unique idea she suggested.

“I don’t know if you’re interested, but I’ve been approached to start a Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter here. I don’t want to do it myself, but if you’d like, we could look into doing it together.” I told her I would think about it, but I was already drawn to the idea. I was attracted to fighting what had hurt me so badly, to giving my anger an outlet, one that might help stop DWI from hurting others.

I also knew it wasn’t going to be easy. When I asked them, most of the people I knew thought my grief had made me crazy. “You’ve just lost your son. You need to heal, not take on something this big.” “You are already busy with your husband and a family that needs you…” And, finally, “You’re just doing this for attention.”

“Maybe they’re right,” I pondered. I wasn’t altogether sure I could even accomplish anything. Could I do this? Even with Mary’s help, could I put together a MADD chapter? Did I even have the energy to try? Someone had destroyed that sense of security and confidence I once had. He did it by making the terrible choice to get behind the wheel of his van after he had been drinking. Then he drove down my street and killed my son. Now it was time for me to take Mary’s advice and do what I wanted to do, no matter what people told me I should do.

I knew I couldn’t bring Andy back, but I truly wanted to do this work to represent him and his life on this earth. I wanted it in spite of all the sound advice from people who loved me and had my best interests at heart. Something told me I could do it. I thought I was strong enough and able enough, so I did.

In the months that followed, I became a woman I didn’t know I could be. Mary and I assembled a group of dedicated women, and some men, who worked tirelessly to accomplish our mission. We established a strong relationship with our District Attorney and his staff. We offered our services to victims of Driving While Intoxicated, and we took our place as part of a dynamic team of professionals who fought drunk driving every day.

We decorated Christmas trees with red MADD ribbons to create awareness, and we spoke at events for high school students and community organizations. We established an annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Luncheon to honor our local police, with keynote speakers that included Rudy Giuliani. We went to court with new victims who were just beginning to navigate the maze that is the justice system. We held judges, lawyers and lawmakers accountable, and we even worked to change weak DWI laws in New York. Honored nationally by MADD, we didn’t rest on our laurels, but continued to work to achieve our goals, hoping that we were making a difference in memory of Andy and Tony and all the other loved ones who had been killed in DWI crashes.

One day, I realized we had not only empowered ourselves, but all MADD volunteers. We had committed to contacting a city official who was pushing for a shuttle to take revelers from one bar to another on busy nights. I inquired of him as to whether or not he intended for the shuttle to take them all the way home. “Of course not,” he replied, “that’s impossible. But it will boost the revenues of our city’s restaurants and taverns, and that’s important.”

“MADD is all for a shuttle that takes drinkers all the way home,” I said. “But if you are going to simply drop them off at their cars after drinking all night, you are putting the entire community in danger. If you pose this idea to the city council, MADD will oppose the plan vehemently,” I warned, fearful that he would tell me, and MADD, to mind our own business.

Instead, the city council abandoned the idea. MADD had established a presence, and Mary and I and our team had found our power, accomplishing what we wanted to do, not what everyone else told us to do.

~Luanne Tovey Zuccari

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