What Could Have Been
Today is August 6th - it would have been Erin's 22nd birthday. I've just returned from the cemetery where I spent about an hour trimming the grass around her headstone - replacing the weathered flowers in the vases - talking to my daughter. That is not exactly how most people start the day, on their child's birthday. It's not how it's supposed to be. Not exactly the path we thought our lives would take. As I sit in the damp grass telling Erin how much I love and miss her, I can't seem to get the sound of the ER doctor's voice out of my head. "Your daughter died . . ." his voice trails off as I try to comprehend what he is saying, through the fog of panic that is quickly overtaking my body. The sight of Erin lying dead on a gurney, her head wrapped in a towel, her body is ice cold. Her skin is bruised and already taking on the grayish color of the dead. She looked peaceful, as if she were asleep.
My thoughts turn back to another time that we were in the hospital with Erin. It was 10:45 pm on August 6, 1979 - the evening she was born. We were so proud of the life we had created! Little did we know at that time, just how much joy that 6 lb., 5 1 /2 oz. little bundle would give us. And ultimately, how much SHE would teach us. Erin was our first-born. She was one of the three "lights of our lives". She taught us the TRUE meaning of life and love, and the meaning of parenthood. She was the one that had to "pave the way" for her younger sister and brother. We all learned from her. We all have many wonderful memories - memories that help us get through each day - each holiday.
Erin was on the Varsity Gymnastics Team at Sandburg HS for four years, two as Captain. She helped lead the team to 3rd Place in 1995, and 4th Place in 1997 - only two weeks before her death. She was a Senior leader and on the Honor Roll. She planned to go to Augustana College to be a speech pathologist. Erin worked at Tumbling-On-USA in Orland Park, teaching young children what she loved most, the art of gymnastics and registered to a full-fledged coach to help her students. After college she hoped to marry and have children.
On March 2, 1997, all Erin's hopes and dreams for the future ended on a rural road in Mokena, IL. She was one of three passengers in a car driven by a man who had smoked marijuana and was drunk. Since Erin had not used marijuana and she was not drunk (as stated in her autopsy report), we will never understand why she chose to get into his car that night. Erin's death affected us all in different ways. You never know just how difficult each day can be - each milestone in our lives - each holiday. Our daughter, Kate, is now older than Erin ever got to be. She is doing things Erin never had the chance to experience. Our son, Greg, is approaching Erin's age, and will soon enough, surpass it, too. It is difficult to watch them grow and NOT wonder what our lives would be like today, if Erin had lived.
Erin was never, ever late and was ALWAYS home for her curfew. Then she'd sit up into the "wee" hours of the morning and we would just "talk". I miss that. More than anything, I miss how Erin would say, "love you" as she left the house or ended a phone call. Actually, our last words to each other on March 1, 1997,were "have fun - love you!"
When a person CHOOSES to drive after drinking, he or she is choosing the fate of another human being. The driver of the car that killed OUR daughter, Erin Elizabeth Olmsted, did exactly that. He killed her. And in doing so, killed a part of everyone that loved her.