What Mother's Day means to me: A second chance, unconditional love and a life-saving hug

Kristi Rendahl
Kristi Rendahl, Center for Victims of Torture.
Courtesy of Kristi Rendahl

By Kristi Rendahl

A hug saved my life last month.

I was hosting a couple of guests in my hometown in North Dakota for a speaker series. The second guest arrived late that evening and when we said goodbye, she gave me a friendly hug.

Just a couple of miles south of town, as I drove back to my family's farm for the night, a pickup truck crossed the line of the two-way highway and came directly at me before rolling into the ditch.

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It was nearly one in the morning. I slammed on the brakes and called 911 imagining the worst. They stayed on the line as I went to the truck to see if help was needed.

I stepped into snow up to my knees as I pointed my mini flashlight toward the truck cab, now resting on the passenger side.

"Are there any injuries?" the 911 operator asked. I don't see any movement, I said. But the truth was, I didn't want to get any closer.

My mother died in a drunk driving accident on a country road when she was 35 years old. I was 2. At age 37, it felt too personal to look inside that truck. For years I wondered who found my mother and when, whether she died on impact or suffered alone and in pain. I couldn't stand to see a dead body. I just couldn't.

Then, he kicked open the driver side door and popped out.

A minute later, he asked if I'd called 911. Yes, I stuttered, I was worried. I'm screwed now, he said, but in more explicit terms. I murmured that I was sorry. He told me that it wasn't my fault.

My mind raced back to the hotel. If she hadn't given me that hug, he would have turned right into me.

He stood next to me as the police arrived on the scene. He stood in a way that made me want to give him a hug. Or maybe I wanted to hug myself for all the times I've screwed up.

It was hugs that had saved me all along. There were those from Irene, from Myrtle, from Millie — the women who cared for me like their own after my mother died. There were those from my mother's friend Edie and from my godmother Judy.

And there were those from my mom, the woman my dad married a few years after my mother died. She has seen me through Girl Scouts, piano lessons, moving away, marriage, divorce, joys, and disappointments.

It turns out that just one hug doesn't save a life. It takes a village to hug. A village of unconditional love and second chances. My mother didn't get a second chance, but I did. And I got another hug. So this year, that's what Mother's Day means to me.