The scourge of losing my twenty-six-year-old son, Paul Philip Grammatico, and his best friend, Michael, to a drunk driver leaves scars, and each day I chew on my thorns in the stunning reality of Paul’s death. The title, “MADD Mother” was impaled on me, and it breaks my heart.
Paul was my past, my present and my future; he was my only son. A natural leader, he was an extremely generous young man, the epitome of loyalty, passion, motivation for life, and a true goal setter. Our hopes as a family were crushed against the pole that split open Paul’s head in four places. I can no longer experience him; I cannot touch him or hear his charismatic voice. He cannot hold me and whisper as he always did, “Mom, I love you.” He is not physically in my life; nothing new will happen between us.
Paul’s life was cut short by a man with total disregard for sacred life who lost control with road rage. With the influence of alcohol and speed, he annihilated the brilliant, promising, productive life of my child. Our entire family dynamic was altered and traumatized in a nano-second, and we cannot even measure our loss.
Paul had no voice, no choice, no second chance in his death! His injuries were so horrific and devastating that I could not even recognize my own child. His handsome face had no features. He was declared brain dead when just hours before he had been an effervescent young man with a big heart helping to get ready for the wedding of his sister. Instead, we had two funerals, and my daughter, Christine, is condemned to life without her only sibling.
The offender was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to jail for two to seven years. At his sentencing, the judge gave him an ‘F’ for failure and told him that he was every parent’s worst nightmare, that he was a criminal, that he had taken hold of 3,000 pounds of steel and killed two innocent young men. During his time in jail, he never reached out to either family, and his parole was denied twice. He served four years, never accepting responsibility for his heinous crime and deadly actions, whereas I have a twenty-four-hour, lifetime sentence on earth in an unconstructed jail without my precious son.
Following are words from the eyewitness to the deaths of Paul and Mike.
“…As a surviving victim of the May 16, 1999, double fatality, the horror of witnessing the death of Paul and Michael will never leave me. The anguish and nausea I feel of those two young men being propelled like rag dolls, so high, crashing so hard against telephone wires, is almost unbearable. The drunk driver never expressed his sorrow for his cowardly act; I am not in favor of his parole…”
My son, Paul, leaves a legacy of himself in his own Circle of People in Organ Donation. After the declaration of “brain dead,” I agreed to donate all of my son, and he saved the lives of eleven people. This gives purpose and meaning to the senseless way Paul died. Neglected and abused children live in a building named after Paul at Mercy First in Syosset, New York. When I speak at presentations with Paul’s heart recipient at my side, I explain that “the heart inside Joe’s chest is Paul’s heart, but Paul’s heart grew under my heart for nine months, so we are connected.” This is a powerful witness!
Paul’s story continuously renounces drunk driving, resonating each time I communicate as a sorrowful MADD Mother /Donor Mom. Recently, Kathleen Rice, District Attorney of Nassau County, opened the Grammatico Wrestling Tournament at Valley Stream High School in New York. As Rice stood next to me along with Paul’s heart recipient, the song I wrote; The Gift of Life and Love was played to proclaim the message of anti-drunk driving and the miracles of organ donation. Music and voice give power and transformation from shattered victim into survivor in the absence of my beloved son/sun, Paul!
The story of Paul’s death is more than just a crime. Beside MADD’s work and organ donation, it is also about forgiveness. Years into the journey of life without my physical son/sun, I realized that my anger was toxic to my spiritual well being. It was a noose around my neck. It was then that I decided to reach out and forgive the man who caused the deaths of Paul and Mike. I knew the perpetrator would never contact me as a mother or “the other mom,” so I had to make the first move.
I wrote a letter to the parole officer, and eventually the offender answered. In a few words he said, “I did the crime and I did the time.” He said he needed to go on with his life and not look back, but was that a slap in my face? No absolutely not! I forgave him so that I could go on to another level. I put it in the universe! I learned that I cannot reach out and touch others while I have a clenched fist! I can’t be all that I can be if I am staying in chaos. Forgiveness is powerful; it is life affirming to my broken heart! It released me from bondage, gave me freedom, challenges, new opportunities, second chances, spiritual wisdom, rebirth, transformation and hope.
I will never forget how Paul died, but because I have assigned purpose and meaning in the death of my Paulie, I am blessed. Each breath I take is a renewal of God’s gift. I am only one breath away from my precious son/sun, but my chance to make a difference is now.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Claudia Grammatico is a charismatic dynamic inspirational speaker. She wrote and produced the song The Gift of Life and Life and The Gift of Life-Mosaic CD. Her song has received two Bronze Telly Awards. Claudia established and facilitates the Parental Bereavement Support Group in Warwick, NY, and the Orange County Donate-Life Support Group in Goshen, NY. She is on the New York Organ Donor Network Advisory Council and the Orange County Crime Board Victim Impact Panel. She is also recognized for her Humor and Grief workshops at bereavement conferences. In addition, she is a Sister of Mercy and Union of the Catholic Apostolate Pallottine Associate. Claudia lives with her husband of forty-one years and is a proud Mom to Christine and loving Nanny to granddaughters Carissa, Celeste and Charlotte. Contact Claudia at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.Donormom.com and Facebook.