Saturday, June 19, 2021

Funeral Director Sees Reality of Driving While Impaired

Courtesy of Sally Kate Walker
Funeral Director
Waller Funeral Home

Below is a portion of a “Victim’s Impact Letter” I submitted on behalf of a family we served. Siblings John Wheat (age 30) and Sarah Wheat (age 23) were killed by a driver who made a series of poor, life-altering decisions. With the family’s permission, I am sharing parts of the letter. It is not pleasant to read nor does it end with a surprising, heartwarming revelation. But it is the reality of driving while impaired.

The holiday season is approaching and a reminder is needed:
-Do not drink and drive.
-Do not sip and drive.
-Do not huff and drive (or huff at all …).
-Do not drive while on pills or after engaging in any form of a substance that impairs you.
-Download Uber today. Call a friend. Don’t Drink. Stay home if you indulge. But, whatever you do, do not make the mistake of driving while impaired.

Sally Kate Walker

As a funeral director, I witness the raw emotion of a family during their “first viewings” daily. Often, there is relief when a family first sees their loved one. A mother that has been in a nursing home for months dressed again in the outfit she wore to her 50th wedding anniversary is a healing sight. Seeing a father who battled a long illness and hasn’t been seen out of a hospital gown in weeks dressed again with dignity in his suit and tie can bring comfort.

These moments can be extraordinarily therapeutic and can soften the immediate pain a family feels. I am particularly grateful that I can be a part of these moments and feel a true sense of pride when they look back over their shoulder and say “thank you … she looks perfect.” It is the most fulfilling and humbling part of my job as a funeral director.

The family of John and Sarah Wheat had no relief. There was no comfort or healing moments walking into a room with two caskets. Instead, they were forced to make a decision of whose casket to approach first. I will never forget wondering how they would decide whether to walk to their son or daughter first? Their brother or sister? But they did. I watched a broken family touch their son’s hand, adjust their sister’s hair and attempt to hold one another up.

John and Sarah Wheat
John and Sarah Wheat (pictured) died from injuries incurred in a fatal auto collision on Saturday, October 27, in Oxford

I watched and I wondered how they were still standing. Their sobs were deep and soulful. Whoever is reading this … please take a moment to try to visualize this scene. The eyes that looked to their parents with wonder and amazement as a child … forever closed. The hands that gripped the handles of a bicycle on the first ride without training wheels … forever stilled. The legs that sat cross-legged in the living room floor while opening gifts on Christmas morning … now lifeless. “I love you mom” or “What should I do, dad?” forever silenced. John would never feel faint as he witnessed the birth of his first child and Sarah would never clutch her father’s arm as he walked her down the aisle in her wedding dress.

I often wonder how Mr. and Mrs. Wheat found the strength to comfort their surviving children during their tremendous grief. How have they survived a loss so great? How did they find the strength to comfort one another during their own pain? I remember the words from Mr. Wheat that broke my heart: “With everything grief takes, there is not much left for a marriage.” I wondered how there was enough energy left to simply get out of bed or brush their teeth. I’ll never know their strength.

The driver’s conviction and sentencing were a result of a “deal” where the family had to choose which child’s death was prosecuted. I spoke with Fran Wheat about this decision years ago. She explained why they ultimately chose John’s death to prosecute. I could hear the guilt as her voice cracked while she explained that because Sarah died on impact, John suffered more. Take a moment and try to imagine making the decision to let your daughter’s death go unpunished due to a legal variable based on the amount one child suffered over another?

I am a mother of three boys and I drive my children to and from school near the road where John and Sarah were killed by a driver high from huffing and taking pills. I have three car seats that are capable of holding my entire world. Until recently when the highway department constructed a lane barrier to prevent cars from crossing the median, I cautiously watched cars from the other lane remembering the impact one driver can make. Sure, accidents happen. Bad decisions are made. But, other times, deliberate and intentional decisions are made to purposely get high from a can of spray air while already buzzed from pills. The same can be said for alcohol.

Before you make a decision to drive (under the influence) please consider the Wheat family. Please consider that a family buried half of their children and both a sister and brother. Please consider that while people visit Oxford to attend football games, the Wheat family visits gravesites. Please consider that it could have been your family. Or my precious family.

Please consider that it could happen again if poor choices are made.