Heart Led Health by Coach Donna

Sunday / October 16 / 2011

I remember everything except the actual crash

As I was sharing a craft beer and ahi tuna with a new friend last week, I found myself relating the story of the accident.

This October 24th will mark 25 years since that fateful afternoon. I remember it like it was yesterday. Every last detail.

Everything except the actual crash.

Up until about a year ago, I called the accident, my accident. I was the driver, afterall, so I held myself responsible by taking ownership of what happened that day.

It’s hard for the heart to follow what the mind knows to be truth.

Now that I’ve been able to process the thoughts, memories, and fears of my 16-year-old self with the mind and experiences of a 40-something-year old woman, I’ve shifted to calling it, the accident.

How freeing just one small word can be.

The leaves are changing, the cooler temps have arrived, and I can’t help but remember that autumn day with vividness. Moving back home has been challenging… living in the place where it all happened. I’d be lying if I said it’s not a struggle.

I still wrestle with the “what ifs”and the many, many “whys?” I suppose I always will. As much as I’ve been able to let go of many things that have held my heart captive, an ache remains that I fear can never be fully mended.

I remember with precision looking at her. Our eyes locked as I cried out her name in a plea of desperation. But it was as if we were in completely different cars. Different worlds.

Hers, one of electrified excitement, laughter, and fearlessness. Mine, fear-stricken helplessness.

The thrill of adventure yanked control from my grasp without apology, obscuring the terror written across my heart.

Her foot on mine had pushed the accelerator all the way to the floor. Desperate to regain control, I pulled the steering wheel counterclockwise in an attempt to avoid the tree. She, too, saw the tree and wanted to help. Not being directly behind the wheel clearly disoriented her as she inadvertently wrenched the wheel clockwise, undoing my fix.

There were no screams. There was nothing dark or sinister about it. There was no fear but my own. No one saw it coming but me – and her. But it was too late.

Later, two separate investigators would estimate we hit the tree somewhere between 100-125 miles per hour.

And just like that, life was changed forever.

Two of my most precious friends. Gone from this life. With nothing to bring them back but the memories in our hearts.

None of the five of us riding in the car that day would ever be the same. Nor would our families, our friends, our community.

We will forever be connected to Dan, to Tina, to one another. There’s a unique connection we all share. A bond that cannot be broken no matter the years or heavens that come between us.

Life is fragile. Embrace each day with fullness.

[You can read “I remember everything except the actual crash — Part II” here…]



31 responses to “I remember everything except the actual crash”

  1. Dawn says:

    It’s hard to believe it’s 25 years ago, it seems like just yesterday and oh how I can relate to “It’s hard for the heart to follow what the mind knows to be truth. Thank you for sharing these deepest secrets and for being the amazing woman you are. And most of all thank you for reminding us how fragile life is and the need to live each day to the fullest.

    Love you,

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      It is hard to believe it’s been 25 years. We’ve now lived most of our lives on the other side of that tragic day. Each day is a blessing as is each one we have the opportunity to share those days with. I’m glad you’re one of those ones. I love you, too.

      Love, Donna

  2. Jeanne says:

    Thank you for sharing my dear roomie. I think of you every year, and remember the day you shared your story with me. You are an amazing woman, and i love ya much!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I, too, remember YOU every year on the 24th… I love celebrating you and your birthday. You are precious and give me reason to smile. I love you, too.

      Love, Donna

  3. Brenda says:

    Thank you for sharing…..wow, 25 years. I still recall all the emotion and numbness that surrounded those dark days. I relay this story often to my high school students and get emotional every time I share it. Life is fragile….there are no guarantees….but as I reflect on my “new” life as a believer in Christ Jesus, I have peace knowing that all things work for good to those whose faith is in Him and have been called according to His purpose. I don’t understand it all and I have a lot of questions for God when I get to heaven but for now I will rest in His truth and word. Would love to get together soon and chat Donna…it has been way too long! I’m teaching in LG. Love ya!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I think they are emotions none of us will ever forget, Brenda. A poignancy that was thrust upon us, forcing us to grow and mature quickly. One of the ‘good’s that came from it all was the unity and strength of camaraderie that was built amidst our small community. I’m blessed to know you, Brenda. Would love to get together and catch up on life.

      Love, Donna

  4. Julie says:

    I love you Donna! That was such a life-changing, scary time for all of us. You are a strong, beautiful person… I am so glad you are still here in this world with us!! However far apart we are from each other, you will always be one of my best friends!!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I love you, too, Jules! So many of us are blessed to have such strong friendships from our younger years in our small hometown. No matter the distance, you will always be one of my best friends.

      Love, Donna

  5. Michelle says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. I never really knew what happened that day – just remember hearing the different scenarios of what people thought had gone on and the sadness. You are a brave woman for sharing such a personal story and a caring one for remembering Tina and Dan and reminding us all how fragile life is and that we should all enjoy it to the fullest.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Your words and sentiment mean so much, Michelle. Thank you for sharing them.

      It’s too easy to get caught up in the busy-go-now-rush of everyday life. It’s important to press “pause” and remember why we’re here (…or even just THAT we’re here). There’s no guarantee of tomorrow so don’t leave love unspoken.

      Love, Donna

  6. Debbie says:

    Love you so much, Sissy. My life would not be the same without you in it and I am so grateful to have you. I remember that day very well- even though I was only 9 when it happened. <3 <3 <3

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      awww… I love you immeasurably, too, baby Sissy. Often our lives are formed in large part by the tragedies we endure, and I’m thankful to have been surrounded by so many loving friends (still am!) I count you amongst my “friends” because even though we’re related, you’re one of my best and most cherished friends.

      I am grateful for you.
      Love, Donna

  7. Rick says:

    I can’t imagine how much this incident has played a role in your life over all these years.
    Thank you for sharing what happened with us. Thank you for allowing us to get a little closer to you.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Indeed it impacted not only my life at age 16, Rick, but life all along the way. I’m blessed to be surrounded by the strength and encouragement of friends, faith, and family.

      Love, Donna

  8. aly says:

    Donna, what a powerful story. My cousin was in a similar situation almost 8 years ago, he was more culpable than you but the sadness remains. Thank you for your honesty. Your words often feel very poignant to my life. My heart goes out to you.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I appreciate your thoughts and comments, Aly. No matter the culpability, tragedy strikes to the core. It’s what we then do with it that matters. I pray your cousin has sought the help and support he needs to process and deal with everything.

      Thank you so much for reading, and for sharing.
      Love, Donna

  9. Beth Tooker says:

    Donna, no one in our community will ever forget that day. Your strength, insight and love for others is inspiring. Thank you for sharing your raw emotion and helping us to remember to pause…

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you so much for your love and thoughts, Beth, and for sharing them here. They mean so much… truly.

      I, like you, am grateful for life and the opportunity to live it to its fullest.

      Love, Donna

  10. Tracy Johnson says:

    Any one of us could have been driving that car. I know that probably doesn’t give much solace, but I know that it is true.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you, Tracy. What gives solace is the unbreakable strength of friendship bonds that so many of us have from HLCS. I’m glad you are one. Love to you from across the oceans.

      Love, Donna

  11. Jessica Bailey says:

    My dearest and most beautiful Donna … I AM SO PROUD OF YOU.


    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thanks, Pickle. An open, authentic, emotional, very personal post – for certain. I wept as I wrote it, as I often do when I think about that day. Thanks for your love and support.

      Love, D’Nana

  12. Skip Smaldone says:

    As I’ve relived that day with you many times over the past almost twenty years, your courage as a sixteen year old girl amazes me. While I would never be “thankful” for something so tragic, I am grateful for the person who emerged from such tragedy. You are amazing Donna! I Love You…

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Thank you, my Sweet. You have been my rock upon which you’ve allowed me to weep, laugh, remember, grow, and strand tall. Thank you for being my forever support and biggest encourager. I can’t imagine life without being able to share every moment… current, future – and past – with you.

      I love you, too!
      Love, Donna

  13. Sara Mannix says:

    Donna, thank you for sharing your journey. My heart aches at the raw words you share. Thank you for reminding us how fragile life is and to appreciate every moment and every person in our lives. This is a story that needs to be shared with young people too, I hope that when Julia is of age to drive and be driven by friends that you will be sharing this experience with her class.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      I appreciate your thoughts, Sara. You’re right, this is a message that needs to be shared with young people of (or approaching) driving age. Several comments above yours is one from Brenda. Brenda and I went to high school together so as you can imagine, she too, was personally touched by this tragedy. She is now a high school teacher and as you can see in her remarks, she DOES share this story with her students.

      Thank you for reading – and for your love and encouragement.
      Love, Donna

  14. Pasquale says:

    Donna, after reading the account of this INCREDIBLY transformative, split-second, life-altering “event”…..I could only sit, in stunned silence…..and was “silenced”, further still, by the content in so MANY of the replies, that were of such genuine and complete LOVE offered to you (and to those who remembered) but ALSO to the memory, AND to the healing. I had no idea an occurrence of such magnitude befell you (and those friends) at such an age. I frame that perspective in this particular way, simply to be able to present a ‘contrast’….that in ALL my privileged interactions with YOU (the incomparably beautiful soul YOU are) you have never given indication (nor “complaint”) of such a profound event. Additionally, I love the fact that you chose to share what I considered a key-part, …..your “choosing” to write about the “coming home process”; therefore, in both the literal and figurative sense it appears, that for 101 reasons, it has INDEED been a profound “home-coming” for you (and Skip)

    Following the good work and redemptive lessons Brenda has begun, I’d like to forward the motion that our own ‘Donna S.’ SHOULD be invited to our high schools, be introduced to the stage, and begin presenting to the students, for what could likely become one of their most USEFUL “classes” –YES….this story DOES need to be shared, with “new” drivers especially, but can also serve has a great reminder to drivers of ANY age!

    God Bless Donna Smaldone, and all her amazing friends,

    With regard, affection, and gratitude,

    • Sara Mannix says:

      Pasquale – as they say in Facebook “LOVE”… love this comment and post just like all the ones above it and I couldn’t agree more.

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      “Amazing” friends is for certain. As is “incredibly transformative”. I am thankful beyond measure for the love, support, and encouragement that surround me from such beautiful, loving people – you being one of them, Pasquale. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and affection.

      Love, Donna

  15. Dave Covey says:

    Dearest Donna….

    Yours has been the face of pure courage, light and unbridled positive energy to me [and countless others] as long as I’ve known you, and especially after THE accident. I can only imagine the pain you’ve been hiding and the tsunami of conflict you’ve been battling all of these years, even after hearing you outwardly rationalize many, many times. How incredibly honorable it was of you to assume full responsibility for your accident [as you’ve headlined it until now.] What a model you are for people of all ages, as many of them struggle to find the truth in this confused world of blame transfer! YOU are the truth! You revealed the last painful details of THE accident with great class and discretion. Your inner strength is amazing! If there is a silver lining here, your example is the most major part of it. If you don’t yet feel that perhaps the greatest burden of your life has just been lightened, then fight like hell until you get there. You certainly know how; and, you’ve got an army of loving friends supporting you every step of the way. Eradicate the guilt! Never forget that Denise Shattuck pulled you from that burning car because she loved you. It’s all right there. Never question your worthiness again. I am so, so proud of you and have been inspired by you in so many ways. Tell your story! Help people with with their hidden conflicts….. and, their driving!! Welcome HOME!

    You are a wonderful human being, Donna Marie—Brave, Bright and Beautiful… AND always searching for a better way! I am greatly blessed to have you in my life.

    Much Love to you and Skip….

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      You make my heart smile, David. Thank you. Thank you for your kind thoughts and affirming words of affection and encouragement. I appreciate the door you opened a lifetime ago and have always kept open to listen, hear, love, and share. I love you.

      I, too, am greatly blessed to have YOU in my life.
      Love, Donna

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