This time last year, I was on my way to the store to pick up some groceries. I will often use my driving time to call someone and that day, I called my sister, Nancy. She’s my sister just older than me and is the closest in age to me (there are 7 siblings in my family spread out over 28 years).
It was a Saturday evening and I was giving a talk in church the next day and I couldn’t get my thoughts to gel. I wanted her input and advice. We chatted and she gave me some insight into my topic and then we caught up on the lives of our kids. A
s is Nancy’s nature, she was happy and encouraging. Life has never been super easy for Nancy, but she has always had a positive outlook and has faced her trials with humor, strength and faith.
Later that night, I got the words that shattered my world. Kale, Nancy’s second son, had been killed in a car accident. Kale was 23 years old. He was a soldier in the Army. A “Specialist.” A ranking that I still don’t understand, but one I know he worked very hard to achieve. Kale was proud to be a soldier. He had served one tour of duty in Iraq and was preparing to go to Afghanistan at the time of his death.
You can see in some of the pictures below that Kale was overweight at one point. He worked very hard to lose the weight so he could become a soldier.
I could tell you all about the wonderful accomplishments of Kale’s life and the sacrifices he made in service to our country. Like the time his battle buddy had to go home for 29 days to care for his sick wife. Kale’s unit was moving to a new location. For those 29 days, Kale carried his buddy’s gear for him. That’s 80 – 100 lbs of EXTRA equipment he hauled around. He carried that same amount of his own gear. In Iraq. Where the average temperatures were 110 – 130 degrees.
He did that without complaint. when he was able to speak to his buddy, his only concern was for his buddy’s wife.
However, it’s not Kale’s life I want to talk about. It’s his death. I’ll spare you the gruesome photos of a car completely destroyed. When an Audi and a utility truck go head to head at high speeds, the Audi doesn’t win. Kale’s buddy, Jordan Peters, was driving the car.
Kale was sitting in the front, buckled up in the passenger seat. Another soldier, Pawel Serafin, was in the back. He was not buckled up. They’d all been out drinking. On the way home, Peters, who had more than twice the legal limit of alcohol in his system, crossed the white line and hit the truck at full speed. After the accident, a car following them was unable to avoid the cars and hit them as well.
Kale was killed instantly and Serafin died a few minutes later. All the drivers survived. The driver of the utility truck was on his way to work. He’s still recovering, not just from the physical damage done to him, but to the emotional damage as well.
There are people who will say that Kale got what he deserved. He was out drinking. He knew the risks of getting into a car with his drunk buddy. He was a young soldier who thought he was invincible. I’ve seen all those comments from people on the stories of the accident.
Kale did make a mistake, but the price he paid for that mistake was far too high. We later learned that Kale had tried to find other ways home that night. He called for a cab that never came. He called a buddy who didn’t pick up the phone. He ended up leaving with Peters when all other options failed.
Whether or not Kale got what some think he “deserved,” those who didn’t get what they deserved are the family and friends left behind. Yes, my sister’s grief is real and strong, as would be the case for any mother who has lost a child. Less talked about is the grief of my brother-in-law, Mark. I think Brad Paisley must have somehow known Mark when he co-wrote the song, “He Didn’t Have to Be.”
When Mark met my sister married he became an instant dad to my niece, Tiffany, and my nephews Brian and Kale.
Mark and Nancy have a blended family of his, hers and ours. There are 8 kids. That’s seven times Mark, and Nancy--but mostly Mark--had to break the news to their children that they’d lost their brother. Mark has been a rock of strength throughout this whole ordeal, even though he lost his best friend. Kale and Mark were tight. They were friends and truly enjoyed whatever time they could spend together. Coupled with that loss, is the partial loss of my sister. She’s a different woman now. There is a layer of sadness that has yet to ease. Nancy is an utterly devoted mother to all her kids. Her sorrow is not going to go away any time soon and that’s an additional loss that Mark has to cope with.
I think of Kale’s brothers, Brian and Jordan, one older and one younger than him, but both of them looked up to Kale. They were friends as well as brothers.
Kale’s sisters have all had to come to terms with his loss. Tiffany, who struggles with health issues that makes life challenging enough, without the struggle of mourning her little brother.
Kassy, who got married and had a baby, without her brother to help her celebrate.
Becca, who also got married last year and missed having her big brother share in her joy.
Or, Jessica, who survived brain surgery a few months after Kale passed away, and misses her brother deeply.
And Megan, who just simply adored her big brother. He surprised her at school one day when he was home on leave. Those are her tears of joy at seeing him.
This is only Kale’s immediate family. He has grandparents, aunts and uncles and dozens of cousins who mourn his loss. He has an entire battalion of soldiers who have mourned for him. I’m certain there is an equal number of people mourning Pawel.
Cost of Drinking and Driving
The cost of drinking and driving goes far, far beyond the lives of those killed and their loved ones. Kale and Pawel’s unit had to scrap their mission after their death. Their loss was crucial to their unit and the morale and devastion to their unit was felt deeply.
Jordan Peters was tried and convicted in a military court. He will serve 10 years of his life in Leavenworth. I can’t help but hurt for him and his family as well. I know I’m going to have to forgive him some day. I’m working on it, but I’m not there yet. It still just hurts too much.
While I have absolute faith that there is a plan of salvation for each of us and that we will see Kale again in the next life, that faith and belief doesn’t stop us from missing Kale. Lives have been irrevocably changed.
I wish this were the first time my life has been touched by a drunk driver. When I was in high school, three friends of mine were all killed in separate drinking and driving accidents. All of their deaths happened over a one month period. The last one was my boyfriend, Rob. We were supposed to go out that night. I’ll never know why he didn’t call me. His friend and the driver of the car, was convicted of manslaughter and also served time behind bars.
How You Can Help
Those deaths got me involved with SAFTYE (Stop Auto Fatalities Through Youth Efforts) club. It was a fore-runner to the SADD (Students Against Drunk Drivers) organization.
My sister is working with the MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers). She is walking to raise money for awareness and in support of the MADD organization which works with victim’s families to help them through this time of crisis. Her goal is to raise $2,328 (23 for Kale’s age and 28 for Pawel’s).
Here’s how you can help. We’re asking for donations of either $2.30 or $2.80 in honor of Kale and Pawel, or more if you can spare the money. If this is a cause you can support, you can click on the button below. Click on the link to “Support Team Clay/Serafin” and enter the amount you’re willing to donate. It’s pretty simple.
Let’s unite, not just as Mothers, but as Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunts and Uncles, Sisters and Brothers, Daughters and Sons, Cousins, and Friends Against Drunk Drivers to help prevent this tragedy for others.