The first action of our survivor mission is a massive stretch for me, as I am terrified of encountering or triggering new trauma. I must have known intuitively what Judith Herman wisely explains:
The survivor who elects to engage in public battle cannot afford to delude herself about the inevitability of victory. She must be secure in the knowledge that simply in her willingness to confront the perpetrator she has overcome one of the most terrible consequences of trauma. She has let him know that he cannot rule her by fear… (Herman, J., Trauma and Recovery, 2015: 211).
Although I feel angry, insulted, and wronged, I also feel alive for the first time in seven months. The night before the meeting with the Council, as I am baking apple spice muffins for the meeting, I imagine that these people, who have agreed to listen to the words of a shattered elderly widow, might soften their hearts.
I believe that Kev, Lori and I are speaking truth to power, but later I have to agree with Brené Brown: we were speaking truth to bullshit (Brown, B., “Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil,” Braving the Wilderness, 2017: 89-146).
We are willing to show up and be seen, even when we know we cannot control the outcomes. We persist.
Karl’s advice on our road safety advocacy
Karl’s persistent boosterism and guidance help me gain a broader perspective on my survivor mission by steadfastly encouraging my activism, and while I am terrified, I begin to relish the prospect. We both feel that the Council staff should hear that Karl is more than a statistic. His strategic advice emphasizes the importance of pressuring the State Coroner to hold a coronial inquest.
It is Karl who alerts me that “nobody’s minding the shop”: the absence of coordination among authorities handling road safety in Tweed Shire, especially the State Coroner. Karl regards this as a “systemic breakdown” in relationships among the local police, the Council, and the State Coroner regarding traffic fatalities and the condition of Kyogle Road.
Karl recommends that I request an audience with the Council’s Traffic Committee. I follow his suggestions and feel him closest when I ask his advice about the specifics of our campaign.
A conversation with Karl
The day before the Council meeting, Karl and I have this conversation:
Wendy: I heard you say ‘go for it’ for tomorrow’s meeting. So, I am bringing homemade muffins. I am taking a photo of you to show them how beautiful you are. I want them to know that we are talking about you — a real person — and God’s most beautiful and treasured being.
Karl: After that meeting, none of these people will ever look at so-called ‘statistics’ the same way again. I refuse to be a ‘statistic’. I will never be a statistic.
In the meeting, I read my Victim Impact Statement aloud without crying. I am shaking, but I do it. To my astonishment, I can ‘read’ the meeting dynamics and put an insensitive bureaucrat in his place. I feel confident and empowered. I am beginning to understand Lori’s lessons about road safety. It is not that complicated: the road safety system in Tweed Shire is broken, just plain broken.
After the meeting, I don’t recognize myself.
I report to Karl the next morning:
What I took away from the meeting is that they are incompetent, simplistic binary thinkers (they think the cause of your death was solely driver error and speed). And they do not think holistically.
Seasons of GRIEF
Karl predicts that this event heralds an enormous change for me:
Just as there are seasons in a year, grief has its own seasons. I think you can expect a gentler time now that you’ve done this thing at Tweed Council. It doesn’t matter that they didn’t understand. You did it. It was successful. You feel stronger. That is what we are after: a strong Wadie. Now many things can begin to unfold because you have found a way to get in touch with your mental energy. ‘Reading’ that room was good work, Wadie.
For me, the Tweed Shire meeting is a completely unexpected breakthrough moment. I write to Karl:
I am basking in my success – knowing it was REAL. With your help, I can access my old mojo. It’s a beautiful feeling – after seven months of feeling so depleted, incompetent, and diminished. Maybe this will be a genuine milestone, and my healing and my progress will take off from this point? That’d be so great. I want to thrive and flourish.
And, although I am severely traumatized by the flood a few months later, I never really look back.