I had a conversation with Maddy just before her birthday in January. She was talking about how she would be turning 12 the following week, and I was teasing her and said now that she was getting older, she needed to start looking for a job. Then she said to me, “Kelli was 13 when she died, and I’ll be 13 in a year.” I said, “Yes, that’s true” and wondered where she was going with this. “And Jessica was 18, and was in college to do that PR thing.” “That’s right,” and then I said nothing more, waiting for her to take the lead.
After a few beats of silence, she stated “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. Jessica knew what she wanted to do, and Kelli wanted to be a vet. I don’t know.” I said, “Mad, there’s no deadline. What you want to do now may not be what you want to do later. Who knows if Kelli would still want to be a vet.” We talked a little more about it, then I said “I mean, look at me, I’m 42 years old and I still don’t know what I want to do.” “But you have a job,” she said, and I replied “Yes, I have a job, but that pays the bills and buys us groceries. It’s not what I want to do with my life.” Then she asked, “What do you want to do?” and I said, “I don’t know. I used to want to be a lawyer so I went to work for them. Then I had babies and stayed home for a while, but I had to go back to work, and I just never got the time to go back to school.”
She thought for a bit, then she said “Mom, I think when you can quit your job, you should do more of that speaking thing that you do with the police. I think it’s important that they hear you, and you’re good at it. That’s what you should do.” Taken aback, I said “you think?” She replied, “Yes, I do. And if you quit soon you can stay home with me this summer, and I can go with you when you talk to them.”
At that moment I was schooled by an 11-almost-12-year-old. She was right – I miss out on a lot of time with her because I have to work, and now more than ever I am so appreciative of the time I have with my family. I also love speaking to the police cadets and field officers because I feel that it is important for them to hear about Jessica and Kelli, and it makes me feel like I’m doing what I wanted to do all along – make sure they aren’t forgotten and make sure that their deaths weren’t in vain and that I hopefully change an officer’s mind about how they drive and perhaps save a life because of that change in perception.
Maddy went with me last week to the Southwestern Illinois Criminal Justice Summit and saw me give my presentation to over 250 officers, my largest audience to date. Then she stood next to me as dozens of officers came up to us to express their condolences and to tell me thank you for sharing my story with them. I exchanged contact info with several of them and will be speaking to their departments as well. I thought it was important that Maddy see exactly what I did, and also to see that the majority of the police officers are not like the one bad example she’s had to hear about for three years.
On the way home, I said “thank you for going with me.” She said “thanks for taking me, I learned a lot. I cried a little but I don’t know if it was because of what you said or because I was thinking about them while you were talking. But I liked what you said.” “So this is what you think I should do with myself,” I asked her and she said “yep, I do.”
So, at the ripe old age of 42-almost-43, I know what I want to do with my life. This Friday is my last day of work, and then I will be home with Maddy, and also be available to speak to police departments about Jessica and Kelli. I have four sessions lined up already and am working on scheduling more. Maddy and I also have made a list of things to do this summer.
I am thankful that I have the opportunity to do this, and I am also very aware that it comes at a high price. However, I think Jessica and Kelli would be proud of me and the work that I do in their honor. At least I hope so. I know Maddy is.