A Choice That Changed Our Family Forever
by Carolyn Swinson

The evening of February 12th 1993 was much like any Friday night: my husband, daughter and I were out shopping for a few last minute things for the trip we were supposed to take to Florida the following week. We had dinner out then went home and took the dog for his nightly walk.

The three of us were in the basement watching television when at about 10:15 p.m. the doorbell rang. My husband went to answer it. We thought it was late for someone to be visiting but decided that it was probably our oldest son Rob. Rob had just been to Whistler snowboarding and we hadn't seen him since he got back. He had recently moved into a house with some friends, leaving many of his belongings in his room at home. We thought that he was on his way out with his girlfriend and was just stopping to pick something up.

As my daughter and I sat there, we became concerned as to why things were so quiet upstairs and we decided that we had better find out what was happening.

When I got to the top of the stairs and saw that the person in the doorway wasn't Rob, but a police officer, I knew exactly why he was there before I was told that Rob would never be coming home again.

The police officer told us that Rob had been killed in a car crash about an hour before and that he was to take us to the hospital. That was the longest ride I had ever taken in my whole life. In the back of the police car I was hoping and praying that someone had made a mistake or that someone else was driving his car. When we were taken in to the emergency room and shown to a gurney with a young man laying there, a young man who was very broken, a young man who just two hours ago had been a bright 27 year old who was so full of life but who was now lying dead.

Rob was a bright 27 year-old, the oldest of our three children. He was an avid cyclist, part owner in a bicycle store and just a terrific young man who went out one Friday night to buy his girlfriend a Valentine's gift but never came home again.

It was truly a parent's worst nightmare. It is impossible to describe the pain and the anguish that we felt that night.

Later that evening another police officer informed us that the woman who had caused the crash was 32 years old but she had only had her driver's license for 10 days. She was also driving with a blood alcohol level of 2.01, two and a half times the legal limit. She thought she was capable of driving and it cost my son his life.

It was hard to believe that my family had been victimized for the second time by someone who had been drinking and then chose to drive.

Almost twelve years to the day before Rob was killed, my father had been killed in England, also by someone who had had too much to drink and then chose to drive.

On the first anniversary of Rob's death we were in a courtroom facing the person who had killed him. We had never been in a courtroom before and we were extremely grateful that the Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) volunteers were with us for support and to help us understand the process.

After a pre trial and then a trial the person who killed Rob was acquitted. I think this was the moment, as we walked out of the courthouse that day, that I made a commitment to do whatever I could to prevent other needless deaths and injuries caused by people who make the wrong choices.

I have volunteered for MADD and it has been an enormous help in the healing process and given me somewhere to put my anger to good use. I have told the story of my family to thousands of people at schools and meetings in the hopes it will prevent them from drinking and driving.

I became a Victim Service Volunteer for MADD in 1995. I have had the privilege of providing support to many other families and helping them through one of the most difficult times in their lives.

I think it helps them to know that I have walked in their shoes and can truly say I know how it feels to lose someone close to my heart.

Each year MADD holds a Victims Weekend when many victims from across Canada come together for a weekend of sharing. The highlight of the weekend is a Candlelight Vigil and since the day that Rob was killed I have only missed one. I think about Rob and my Dad every day and how much I miss them. On that one night we light a candle in their memory and along with the hundreds of families we pay tribute to all the loved ones that we will never see again.

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