“I have to forgive him,” Lani Brereton says of the drunk driver responsible for the horrific accident that nearly claimed her life. Then she stops, takes a deep breath and continues, “after all . . .” She pauses again and all I can hear is sobbing on the other end of the phone, “. . . after all, I was once a drink-driver myself.” There is another long pause and then, “I’m just glad it was him who hit me, not me who hit him.”
It’s now more than two months since the catastrophic accident that left Lani in a coma, with multiple fractures to her skull and limbs, and crushed lungs. Two months since she died in the Medevac helicopter that airlifted her and her daughter from their car—smashed beyond recognition, sitting silently overturned on the road. Two months since the medics struggled to resuscitate her in flight. Two months since doctors warned her family that the swelling on her brain was so severe she would likely die in hospital or be left a vegetable. Two months since the moment that, in an instant, changed her life forever.
I'm just glad it was him who hit me, not me who hit him.
In that time, Lani’s story has been covered on television news, a Facebook page dedicated to her recovery has gone viral with people from across the world posting themselves making hearts with their hands to send love to Lani, and thousands of people have promised to keep Lani and her family in their prayers. “I can feel the love and I can feel all those prayers,” she says. “It’s the love and prayers that keep me going. I know it’s God who brought me back. And I’m so, so thankful. My dad (John Brereton, publishing director for the Adventist Church in the South Pacific) brought [a copy of] the Record. I cried as I read the article about my accident. I just can’t believe all the love for me.”
Lani’s recovery has been far from smooth sailing. She still can’t walk due to the severe nature of the fractures and muscle loss. And she has been plagued by crushing headaches and amnesia. “After Dad asked people to pray for me, my headaches cleared up. And now I am back to 100 per cent mentally. Physically, I still have a long way to go.”
As difficult as it has been physically and mentally, it has also been a rough ride emotionally. “Before the accident I had a partner. Honestly, we weren’t living a healthy lifestyle. I knew something wasn’t right, but it was hard to know how to turn things around or move on. Two weeks ago, he left me. He has moved overseas while I’m still here bedridden in the rehabilitation hospital. I suppose when things go wrong, you find out who really loves you.”
When it comes to the subject of love, Lani can’t stop talking about her dad. “My dad has been here for me every single day. When I was suffering from amnesia, he explained what happened to me—over and over and over again—as many times as I asked. What kind of father does that?” She stops to take another big breath and again I can hear crying. Through her tears she continues, “Because of everything that has gone on in my personal life, my dad and I hadn’t been as close as both of us wanted. But this . . . this has brought us so much closer—and that will never, ever change. I want to be more like my dad—completely full of love.”
How is Lani’s 10-year-old daughter handling the tremendous shock, upheaval and stress? “She is just so strong. She gives me courage. All I want to do is to get out of rehab and back to being her mum, caring for her.
“My colleagues from Myers have been great, too,” Lani says. One visit to Lani’s Facebook page and you can see what she’s talking about. “They’ve raised money to help me through this and have been incredibly supportive. You know, I always liked work and the people I worked with. But this has made me see a whole new side of them. They have a depth of caring I never could have imagined until now.”
But what of the drunk driver whose car was on the wrong side of the road when it slammed into her vehicle? “I’ve just completed the Victim Impact Statement for the court. I’ve written that I don’t think prison is the answer. I’d rather they make him do just about anything but prison. Prison doesn’t make people better people. I hope they read my statement out in court because I want him to know I’ve forgiven him. What he is suffering—the guilt and regret—that is worse than any sentence they can give him. My hope is that something good comes out of this—something positive. Punishment and prison isn’t going to make anything better. Forgiveness and love will.
“I believe that even very negative things can bring about good. This accident certainly has. It has brought people together in love—my family, my colleagues, my community. And I needed to head back in the right direction. This has given me a new start. And it’s a new start I will never take for granted as it’s a start I very nearly didn’t have.”
James Standish is editor of RECORD.