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Using My Voice for Change Has Given My Grief Purpose

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

By Erin Hermann

When I heard the news of the House passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to include driving performance monitoring systems, my thoughts turned to the moment when life spiraled out of control. My 23-year-old son was one of those horrible statistics, killed at the hands of a drug-impaired driver. The “Advanced Impaired Driving Technology” section of this bill mandates an advanced vehicle technology standard that has the potential to eliminate the number one killer on today’s American roads.

It’s amazing to see what love can accomplish : victims, families, and a national community uniting, joining forces to collectively end impaired driving.

Four years ago, my son Kyle was driving on a rural two-lane roadway to pick up dinner for himself and his girlfriend. A 29-year-old woman picked up her prescription of medical marijuana, laced it with PCP, and began swerving around cars at over 115 mph, driving in the wrong lane as she crashed head-on into our son. Kyle initially survived the crash  and, as one first responder on the scene later told us, was the most likely to survive. But he became trapped in the car as it was engulfed in flames for over 20 minutes. Our dreams are often haunted by how he must have suffered in that violent, blazing crash.

The reality of our lives has been entirely changed by loss: loss of our dear and loving child, loss of what our family once was, and loss of what could have been. Losing a child punctured a deep hole in my heart, soul, and being. Part of my parenthood has been ripped away. I cannot go back, and I will not get over it. I can only move forward with the tremendous grief, finding ways to walk alongside it, building a life around the edges of what will always be a void in our family.

Grief has become part of my new story.

I am not the same person I once was. But grief doesn’t exist without love: we grieve because we love. Death didn’t end my relationship with or love for my son; it’s just different now. We continue to speak his name, tell his stories, and talk about his idiosyncrasies so that his legacy will live on.

We’ve worked at integrating and remembering Kyle with more love and joy than extreme pain and sorrow. It doesn’t mean that we don’t feel intense grief and pain at certain moments or with unexpected reminders of the loss on certain dates throughout the year. But we are learning that grief cannot keep us from living a full life or from loving others.

We cannot change the death of our son, but we have the power to change what happens next. Volunteering to create change has allowed us to be with others who have also experienced the same violent crimes, helping us feel less alone and less victimized. In the midst of our own grief, we strive to make changes in the laws and policies (or lack thereof) that contributed to Kyle’s death.

Kyle had no choice or voice and became powerless. But we have a choice and a voice and are empowered to do what we can to prevent other families from experiencing the same kind of hell we live with every single day. Our pain and grief will not be in vain. This doesn’t give our life purpose — it gives our grief purpose. Activism and volunteering have given us a platform to unite with other families, join forces collectively to serve our community, and help to make changes that will end impaired driving.


Erin Hermann is a mother of two adult children, a wife, a bereaved mom, a literacy educator, and a MADD volunteer.