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'MOMMY ISN'T COMING HOME'

Airman 1st Class Madison Sylvester shares the story of how her first scar became her reason for never driving while under the influence of alcohol. Sylvester is a 319th Air Base Wing Public Affairs broadcaster. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Xavier Navarro)

Airman 1st Class Madison Sylvester, holding a photo of herself with her mom, shares the story of how her mother died in a head-on collision after drinking and driving. Sylvester is a public affairs broadcaster with the 319th Air Base Wing at Grand Forks AFB, N.D. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Xavier Navarro)

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (AFNS) -- As a young child, you don't think much if someone doesn't show up when they're supposed to because you have better, more important things to worry about ... like bugs and dolls.

But occasionally, a child will stop and ask a question about the sky, their toys ... or where their mother is.

I stopped playing long enough one night in 1998 to ask, "Daddy, when is Mommy coming home?"

My father cleared his throat and blinked a few times. Obviously shaken, he seemed unprepared to answer his little 3-year-old daughter's innocent question.

"Mommy isn't coming home, Sweetie," he replied softly when he'd finally gathered himself. "She's living with the angels now."

My mother was killed in a head-on collision March 24, 1997, as a result of drinking and driving.

Her decision to drive home after drinking was not her first time doing so.

Consumption of alcohol, or rather the inability to stop consuming it, had ruined my parents' relationship. Already in the process of divorce, they had been fighting that particular day over my mother breaking into my grandparents' liquor cabinet.

She first attempted to lie about it. When that didn't work, she stormed off. She tried to take me with her, but my father was able to wrestle me away.

My dad thought she would take a walk down the street to calm down. He had the car keys, so he didn't worry about her driving. Little did he know, she had a spare set made.

She almost ran him over as she angrily sped off.

Mom never returned.

My father eventually remarried. I was 5 years old before I really, fully understood my mom was never coming home.

Not wanting to hurt feelings of the wonderful woman I now called Mom, I waited until I had my father alone to ask again, "Daddy, what really happened to Mommy?"

Judging from the look on his face, he had thought he had some time before any real explanations had to be given. Seeing his distressed look, I quickly apologized and got up to rush to another room. But he stopped me and said, "No, it's OK. I just didn't think I would have to do this so soon. ... Your mother had a problem."

A problem.

That's what we hear today when someone invites alcohol into their lives for too long.

I grew older with conflicting images of her.

"She was a wonderful mother, she loved you, she was so full of life and laughter," collided with "Your mother was a liar, a cheater and a drunk."

I grieved over it for years.

Did I do something so wrong she needed to drink?

I eventally learned to deal with my own hurt and turned it into understanding and proactivity. My mother was certainly not the only person to ever deal with alcoholism, nor the only one to lose her life to drunk driving.

Unfortunately, I will not be the last person to lose a loved one like this.

The one thing I took away from my own loss was that I never wanted anyone else to go through the same experience. My family brushed her addiction under the rug because addictions are ugly; they're taboo. They wanted to believe she was OK.

She definitely was not.

I urge you to help your wingmen. If you suspect they're having hard times, say something.

Even better than that, do something. Don't let them get in that car after they've been drinking. Help them. Love them.