How A Ski Accident Changed Our Lives

bam!Five years ago today a ski accident changed our lives. At the time, these changes were painful. Five years later, I realize they taught us lessons we needed to learn.

brave ski mom logoThe accident involved our oldest son, who was then 11, but we were all affected. As everything seemed to be falling apart, our younger son suffered in silence, his questions, doubts and fears going largely unspoken and thus unanswered. My husband and I suffered from guilt, anger, remorse and finally, acceptance.

Each of us had our worlds rocked. Our assumptions about people, society and truth were shaken. And yet, five years on, we’re still skiing, we’re still a happy family and, as cheesy as this sounds, we’re wiser, too.

What Happened

It was a Sunday, and we did something we never do. We let our boys ride up to race training with another family. My husband and I needed to go to a meeting at our church, so we didn’t arrive at the mountain until lunchtime. When our oldest son failed to come in with the rest of the ski team, we began to worry. Soon, we heard there had been an accident at an intersection on the mountain where an intermediate trail crosses the access to the bunny slope.

Sure enough, our boy was involved. He was dazed, shaken and scared. Two other skiers, an adult and a younger boy were also on the snow. The younger boy had a broken arm and leg. After the injured boy was stabilized, our son was directed to ski patrol for questioning. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this is when the lessons began.

Remorse. The first lesson we learned was never to express remorse, sorrow or offer an apology. Although we had spent our young son’s life teaching him to be sympathetic, empathetic and to apologize for hurting someone or when someone else is hurting, in a legal context, an apology is a big mistake.

sorry imageSince my husband and I didn’t witness the accident, we let our son make his own statement. Being only 11, our son’s statement was filled with emotion, apologies and subjective details. We read it and we were proud of him. He expressed sorrow and he apologized for what he thought was his role in the accident.

What we didn’t realize is that this statement, subjective as it was, would be turned over to law enforcement. We also didn’t realize that our son could have remained silent. In letting him express his remorse, we unwittingly let him express guilt. Since no one else apologized and the ski patrol couldn’t assign blame in what was clearly an accident, our son took the fall.

I still feel guilty about my naiveté. I wish I had been a stronger advocate for my child.

personal responsibility

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Responsibility. This lesson goes hand-in-hand with remorse. As a parent, you try to teach your children the importance of personal responsibility. You forget your lunch, you don’t eat. You forget to feed the dog, you lose some of your allowance and you still have to feed the dog. And so on.

Well, in the context of an accident, taking any responsibility is a huge mistake. By writing down what he thought, and assumed, was his role in the accident, our son’s statement provided a damning context for what had occurred.

We have no idea what was said by the other parties to the accident. They may not have made statements. Being responsible people, we assumed that when one is asked to make a statement, one makes a statement. It turns out, that this is wrong. Sometimes, it’s better to just keep your mouth closed and your pen still.

justice scaleInnocence. If you had to state one of the basic tenets of the American legal system, what would you say?

Before this accident, I would have said “People are innocent until proven guilty.”

After our son’s accident, I realize that our society assumes guilt and expects innocence to be proven. Learning this lesson stripped us of our innocence, but also taught us tolerance.

Because our son apologized and voluntarily accepted responsibility for his role in the accident, he was assumed guilty. By May, we were looking at either going to trial or accepting a plea which would have our son doing community service. And yet, the investigators from both ski patrol and the sheriff’s department said he was innocent, that the collision was an accident, pure and simple.

This experience, the experience of being caught in a nonsensical legal web with no way out, was hell on earth. Prior to the accident, I used to question how defense attorneys could defend their clients. Now I know. Some of their clients are caught in the web, just like we were. During this time, our attorney was our rock and, often, the foundation of our sanity.

cross imageFaith. About three years after the accident, our younger son, who was eight when all of this took place, confided in me.

“I don’t believe in God,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because after my brother’s accident I prayed every day that it would be all right. I prayed for him and nothing happened.”

“Yes it did,” I responded. “Do you remember how it ended?”

Lasting Wounds

When the end came, it came fast and unexpectedly. It involved an ethical mistake on the part of the prosecutor. He was removed from the case. His supervisor picked up the file and within 36 hours everything was dismissed. Within 72 hours, we were eating ice cream with the other boy and his family. He was whole and healthy. He was playing baseball and running track for his elementary school team. He’d even gotten in a few days of spring skiing.

While the younger boy’s healing was physical, our sons, both of them, had emotional wounds that took a long time to salve. Our older son went to counseling for PTSD, he broke out into stress-related shingles and his behavior changed. He had a lot of anger, that I believe was borne of fear.

Five Years On

Today, as a young driver, I actually think the experience serves our son well, for he knows how quickly life can change and how a simple accident can become a crime. He wants nothing to do with accidents or the legal system.

As for his younger brother, his needs were neglected. Not only did he feel God was ignoring him, but his parents did ignore him. We didn’t mean to, but we were on the ragged edge of emotional disaster and just barely hanging on.

Recently, he came to me again. “Before my brother’s accident, I thought everyone in the world liked me. I thought everyone was nice. Now I know that’s not true,” he said.

My heart broke. I hugged him and assured him that although bad and confusing things happen, the world is still good.

world image

It IS Good

I believe that. I really do. We were lucky. Our son was involved in something terrible, yet in the end it wasn’t that bad. No one was critically injured. Everyone healed. We learned some lessons we would have preferred not to learn, but they’ve made us smarter and inform who we are.

We can wish that the accident didn’t happen. But it did.

And that’s okay.

 

© 2013 – 2014, Kristen Lummis. All rights reserved. Any use or publication of content, including photos, requires express permission.

About Kristen Lummis

I am the owner, writer and head ski tech at www.braveskimom.com. The mom of two boys in a busy outdoor family, I write about skiing all year round, tossing in some biking, hiking, parenting and even a bit of reflection during the off-season. While my recreational passion is for all things snow, my real passion is for my family.
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24 Responses to How A Ski Accident Changed Our Lives

  1. Paul Dixon says:

    Thanks for sharing! It’s tough to open up about things. I’m reading this and thinking about my kids and how easily it could be us. The one thing I always pray is that my kids never lose belief in God because of the faults of people. I”ll pray that for your kids too, that such situations don’t mess us their perception of God.

  2. Nancy Kubik says:

    Thoughtful post and I love how the story in fact ended. There’s a phenomenon called the Knobe effect indicating, in essence, that whenever a bad thing happens people go looking for someone to blame (even though, in a structurally identical situation they would not think it right to hold anyone responsible). I think this is what happens in cases like yours.

    • braveskimom says:

      Well, I guess I’m glad to know there’s an identified phenomenon! It is true, I see it in my family, when something gets spilled or broken or mud gets tracked in. Fingers point immediately. I was hoping this is something kids outgrow, but perhaps not! Thanks so much, and we love how it ended, too.

  3. Kellie says:

    Beautiful, Kristen … Again, you continue to inspire me in more ways than you might ever know. Thank you.

  4. jules older says:

    Once more… good on ya’, Kristen. You are indeed the Brave Ski Mom.

    — jules

    • braveskimom says:

      Thanks Jules. It means a lot that you say that. You and I have discussed this story. This is how it came out when my fingers hit the keys. Best of all, it’s out. Cheers.

  5. Kim Hull says:

    Very well written Kristen – will be sharing.

    • braveskimom says:

      Thanks Kim! I needed to write it and when I did, it took two drafts. The first allowed me to get all the details out, to sort through the emotion and really reflect. This version simply wrote itself…and let me tell you! It’s cathartic! Hooray!

  6. amelia says:

    Oh man – I didn’t realize how involved that all was. Beautiful post about what really matters in life – thank you for being brave enough to share the story AND your faith. Sharing! :)

  7. braveskimom says:

    Thanks Amelia! I appreciate the kind words and the share! Take care.

  8. Thanks for sharing your story. :) I think sharing these things when we are on the ‘other side’ of them allows others to learn from the steps we took, the mistakes we made and the perspectives we gained along the way. Your honesty is refreshing! As a soon-to-be parent you have highlighted something very important about learning alongside our children through these situations and doing our very best. Our best won’t always feel “good enough” but it’s all we can offer them.

    • braveskimom says:

      Thank you Meghan. I wish I was as wise as you seem to be, when I was a “soon-to-be-parent!” Congratulations and good luck with everything on the wonderful journey of family!

  9. Your story is a good reminder that life can change in the blink of an eye. And it seems when something goes wrong, people are quick to assign blame, but not so quick to forgive and heal. Thanks for sharing.

  10. judy berna says:

    Thank you so much for your story! I will share it with my family, who spend a lot of time on the ski slopes. It would never occur to me to warn my children about ‘making a statement’. Thank you for the lesson, that we can learn through your family’s experience.

  11. Amber Rocque says:

    Wow! Thanks for sharing that. Glad that you are all healing … an accident while skiing or otherwise affects us to the core forever. I saw my young daughter get hit from behind by a snowboarder several years ago. Luckily no one was injured; I made the young man cry, my daughter was terrified. We all worked it out, hugged and rode away more aware. I was physically sick after the incident in private knowing full well how lucky we all were. Skiing and riding are fun but can be very dangerous. As they say, Be aware, Ski and Ride with Care! Best Amber, (ski instructor and former patroller)

    • braveskimom says:

      So sorry to hear about your daughter’s accident, but I’m glad she was okay. You are so right: be aware, ski and ride with care. I hope you’re having a great season at Mount Washington, BC! Thanks again for sharing about your resort last season. Cheers!

  12. Thanks for sharing, Kristen. Good to know about the legal ramifications of an apology. We spend so much time teaching our boys to be kind and empathic! I had no idea! Glad to hear that the difficult journey ended relatively well.

  13. Thanks for story,honest and do whats right will work out in end!

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