Opinion

This photo is the most effective drunk-driving message

"I’m convinced that no one who sees these pictures will be able to get behind the wheel intoxicated without having these sweet babies in their mind."

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I’m writing this at the worst possible time of day—6pm—as supper bakes in the oven, as my toddler Juliette stacks blocks at my feet and my four-year-old Sophie watches Treehouse in the living room. I usually reserve writing for the wee hours of the morning or the magical window after bedtime, but all day I’d been so bothered by something that I couldn’t put off the words any longer.

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting in standstill traffic, listening to the CBC, when the voice of Jennifer Neville-Lake came over the airwaves. Jennifer, the mother of Daniel, Harry and Milly Neville-Lake, the three gorgeous children who were killed along with their grandfather in a horrific drunk-driving accident in September, had to sit in a courtroom yesterday during the sentencing of Marco Muzzo, the man whose actions resulted in the deaths of her kids and father. Jennifer had to listen as Muzzo was given ten years in jail (though he will probably be paroled much earlier than that) when she’s already living a life sentence of a different kind. Jennifer had to face the press and recount—again—how her family has been stolen from her.

That should be enough. But Jennifer and her husband Ed went a step further, and released images of her two younger children, Harry and Milly, holding hands in their final moments at the hospital.

I don’t know what possessed me to look up the pictures when I stopped in the parking lot of Soph’s school, because I’m usually the viewer who needs the “viewer discretion advised” warning, but I did. And what I saw I will never unsee. I didn’t even look at them for more than a split-second, so I can’t describe them in detail, but my heart leapt into my throat. They’ve stayed with me in the hours since. They are, without a doubt, the most effective drunk-driving message I’ve ever seen. I’m sure I would have been bothered by these images before I had my children, but now with two little girls at home, I actually feel nauseous when I think about Jennifer’s kids.

I cannot imagine the day-to-day lives of Jennifer and Ed. I can’t imagine how they deal with the quiet. But I hope they know that what they have done is so brave, and I truly believe that it will change the course of history. Because I’m convinced that no one who sees these pictures will be able to get behind the wheel intoxicated without having those sweet babies in their mind. (For those of us who would never consider driving with alcohol in our systems, the same goes for texting behind the wheel, which has been likened to drunk-driving many, many times.) I hope Jennifer will be able to take a small amount of solace in the fact that by releasing intensely private, shattering pictures she’s hopefully saved other mothers from the heartbreak she’s going to have to live with for the rest of her life.

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How to talk to your preschooler about death