“The Promise of the Season” by Guest Blogger Patty Kruszewski

Patty Kruszewski (left) with her daughter Lanie

Patty Kruszewski lost her daughter Lanie eight years ago due to a driver who was texting. Since then, she has honored Lanie’s memory by sharing her story with many. We are in awe of her strength and appreciate her commitment to safer roadways.



The Promise of the Season

As I left Richmond City Council Chambers December 9, a woman called to me in the hallway and ran over, with a small boy in tow, to give me a long hug. “Thank you! Thank you!” she repeated as she held me. Meanwhile, the little boy wrapped his arms around my leg and grinned up at me too.

Because I had been speaking in support of the mayor’s proposal to ban handheld phone use while driving, I assumed the woman must have had a family tragedy, as I did, that involved distracted driving. I was relieved — and pleased — to hear the real reason she was thanking me.

“I always talk on the phone while I drive,” she told me. “But after hearing you talk about your daughter, I won’t do it again.”

Later, I learned that a city councilman found himself close to tears that night as he listened to my “gut-wrenching story” of losing my daughter Lanie. “It drove me to step out and call my daughters,” he tweeted. “We must have safer streets.”

It’s not the first time people have reacted strongly to Lanie’s story. But at this time of year — when I am feeling decidedly un-festive and wishing only for the holidays to be over — the woman’s pledge and the councilman’s comment made at least one evening easier to bear.

In my family, Lanie was the Christmas freak. I leaned more toward Scrooge. She would harass me until I found time to take her out and fetch a tree she could decorate.

One year, when Lanie was in college, we did not get a tree up until two days before Christmas. So I had to promise her that I would keep it up all winter long, and send her photos, till she returned home for spring break. She loved getting pictures of “her” tree during the dreary winter months — and darned if that tree didn’t thrive all the way until Easter.

What I suspect Lanie liked most about Christmas, however, was that it gave her an excuse to give. She spent hours devising the perfect gifts for family, friends, classmates and coworkers. And she had a knack for knowing just what people needed, from the time she was very young.

At six years old, as I told the city council members, Lanie was the kind of kid who saw a first grade classmate clinging to the teacher at recess because he missed his mom — and who went over to comfort him and bring him into her group to play.

When she was in high school, she was the upperclassman who reached out to a brand new freshman and sat with her at lunch.
She was a talented cook, and at age 18 won second place in the nation in a teen chef competition. In high school, she loved cooking up gourmet lunches and bringing them to school to share with friends.

One of those friends told the story at her memorial service of the time Lanie’s lunch food began disappearing, and they realized someone was sneaking into her backpack. Eventually, thru some amateur sleuthing, they identified the thief, and Lanie’s friends told her, “Turn her in, Lanie! Or at least confront her!”

But Lanie felt bad for the girl. She knew she had an eating disorder.

“No,” she said with a shrug, “I’ll just make more.”

Lanie was the type of giving, loving human being the world needs more of. But her life was cut short because someone made a selfish decision to amuse himself by texting while at the wheel of a vehicle.

What’s so ironic about the way she died is that Lanie was the ultimate crusader for safe streets — even as a teenager who didn’t drive, and long before the level of phone addiction and distraction was as bad as it is today.

Lanie never liked it when I talked on the phone as I drove (a bad habit I gave up after she died.) But instead of arguing with me about it, she would snatch up my ringing phone whenever she rode with me.

“Mom’s driving,” she would say to the caller. “What would you like me to tell her?”

This will be our eighth Christmas without Lanie. I’ll spend it quietly, as usual, with my daughter who lives in Spain.

Everyone oohs and ahhs that I spend Christmases in Spain but, truth be told, I only go to see my daughter — and to escape the holidays as best as I can. I would much rather have my old Christmases back — the ones where I could be together with ALL my girls, at home in Richmond.

We don’t really exchange gifts in my family now; we focus on doing things together. But thanks to the council vote on Dec. 9, I did get an early Christmas present.

Council members unanimously approved the mayor’s hands-free proposal, and on July 1, Richmond will take a giant leap forward toward safer streets.

A hands-free ordinance is not the present I would choose for myself. I’d much prefer the gift of being able to turn back the clock and to enjoy the holidays with an intact family.

But I know Lanie is happy that someone else’s family might remain intact as a result of Richmond taking this step.

And between the thought of Lanie smiling, and those hallway hugs, and the promise of safer roads — the events of December 9 might just be the best Christmas gift I can hope for in 2019.

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