Parents across the world spent the past couple of months hastily preparing their children for the first day of school: picking out the perfect backpack, purchasing the annoyingly specific #2 pencils and making sure that the jeans that were bought last year still fit.
For one Canadian mom, however, the back to school season served as a stinging reminder that all three of her children were taken away too soon.
In their memory, she shared a photo on Facebook that is now reminding other parents to appreciate every moment they have with their own kids.
The photo featured the three lunch boxes each child had picked out before their unexpected deaths in 2015.
“Grade 8. Grade 4. Grade 2. Or rather, should be! These were their lunch bags for their 2015 school year,” Neville-Lake wrote on Sept. 3.
“Our family’s first day of school because of a drunk driver.”
Jennifer Neville-Lake’s three children were in the car with their grandfather on Sept. 27, 2015, when they were hit by a drunken driver, Constable Andy Pattenden with York Regional Police told People.
“It was a t-bone collision at an intersection,” Pattenden said. “The impaired driver failed to stop at the stop sign.”
The constable said that the driver received charges for impaired driving and is currently serving time in prison, but the damage done toward Neville-Lake’s family couldn’t be undone.
“(My parents) were running late and I was getting annoyed,” Neville-Lake told “Good Morning America.”
“But when 5 o’clock hit I was like, ‘This is really late for them.’ I tried calling their phones and they didn’t answer me. I flipped on the news and I saw the crash and I said, ‘That’s my van.’”
Neville-Lake’s oldest son Daniel, 9, died shortly after the crash. Harry, 5, and Milly, 2, died the next day.
Her father, Gary Neville, also died as a result of the crash. Only her mother and grandmother survived.
When the doctor called to tell her the heartwrenching news, she didn’t believe it at first.
“I remember saying to the doctor, ‘All of my children? All of my children are gone? This can’t be true,’” she said in 2015, according to People. “Our lives are pretty much over because our whole family has been taken.”
The tragic crash was four years ago, but the pain of losing all three of her children in one fell swoop is still raw for Neville-Lake.
After losing Daniel, Harry and Milly, Neville-Lake started the nonprofit Many Hands, Doing Good that helps children process trauma through art, dance and music.
Through her nonprofit, she hopes to keep the memories of her children alive.
She told “Good Morning America,” one of her friends said the post reminded her to appreciate every moment with her kids.
“She mentioned how it made her never want to complain about too much homework, or silly things again,” Neville-Lake said.
Neville-Lake also hopes by sharing her heartbreak, as she did in the Sept. 3 post, will help prevent others from experiencing the same pain at the hands of a drunken driver.
“Your choices become actions that have consequences,” she said. “I will never, ever get to watch, participate in and with, enjoy, celebrate, cry with, learn with, grow with, be with any of my children again because of another adult’s decision to drive drunk.”
She even told People that she hates her life after the accident, but she will continue to share her raw heartbreak in hopes that someone will see it and make “better choices.”
“Maybe,” she said, “seeing or reading my pain will help someone else make a better choice.”
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