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Remembering Maryann Gray, an advocate for those who have accidentally killed someone

ANDREW LIMBONG, HOST:

In July of 2003, an 86-year-old man mistakenly drove his car through a farmers market in Santa Monica, Calif. Ten people died that day, and the public was enraged. Some called him a murderer.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Local resident Maryann Gray heard about the incident and wrote in to NPR - not with outrage, but with compassion.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MARYANN GRAY: (Reading) Like most people, I'm horrified and saddened by the devastating car accident. My heart goes out to those who lost family members and friends. But unlike most people, my deepest sympathies lie with the driver.

LIMBONG: That's Gray reading her letter on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED shortly after the car accident. She, too, had accidentally killed someone decades before.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GRAY: (Reading) I was not driving recklessly, and Bryan was just being an exuberant kid. Although the justice system absolved me of any legal responsibility, I blame myself for his death. For 25 years, I've thought of Bryan every day.

LIMBONG: That was the first time Gray had shared her story publicly.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GRAY: (Reading) As I apologize to Bryan and his family in my soul every day, I also try to forgive myself.

SUMMERS: Gray braced for hate mail after her story aired, but instead, support poured in, including from other people with similar experiences. And so she dedicated her life to advocating for people who had accidentally caused someone else's death.

LIMBONG: Just a few days ago, after suffering complications with a serious medical procedure, Maryann Gray, herself, died at the age of 68.

CHRIS YAW: To find Maryann was really to find a soul mate in many ways...

SUMMERS: That's Reverend Chris Yaw.

YAW: ...Somebody who really shared this deep sense of hurt because I think it comes out of love. Maryann was such a loving person.

SUMMERS: Yaw also unintentionally caused someone else's death about a decade ago. So when he learned about Gray's blog, Accidental Impacts, he reached out to her immediately.

YAW: One of the phrases that we really liked together is that pain that is not transformed is transmitted. And she really worked hard to transform that harm into something good.

LIMBONG: For Gray and Yaw, that something good meant starting an organization and support group for people who have unintentionally killed or seriously injured others. It's called The Hyacinth Fellowship, and they also do research on unintentional deaths. For example, according to their data...

YAW: Somebody accidentally kills somebody every 18 minutes in this country. There are a lot of people who go through and are going through what we've gone through.

SUMMERS: Bishop Mark Bourlakas was also involved in an accident that took someone's life when he was a teenager.

MARK BOURLAKAS: The organization gives people who have experienced this particular kind of trauma a place to share and to feel like there is some hope that maybe I, too, can find my way through what at this moment feels like impossible.

LIMBONG: Bourlakas is also a board member of The Hyacinth Fellowship and says that through the years, he saw how the way Gray approached people without judgment drew them to her and probably saved many lives. And somehow, he says, she managed to keep a lightness about her.

BOURLAKAS: Sometimes when you're talking about this work, it seems kind of grim, dark. But she had a wonderful laugh, and she could joke around a little bit with people, which you need levity sometimes in these moments.

SUMMERS: Before she died, Gray was in the process of writing a book with Reverend Chris Yaw - a guide of sorts.

YAW: "Accidental Killing, A Survivor's Handbook."

SUMMERS: Yaw says nothing like it exists. He plans to finish it in the year to come.

YAW: I have to. You can't bring somebody back from the dead, but what you can do is live a life to help others in honor of them.

LIMBONG: He hopes their book and Gray's legacy will help people lead with compassion, just as she did.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GRAY: We can never make up for what we did. We can never even the scales. But we can regain agency and efficacy that we not only do bad things, but we can also do good things in the world.

SUMMERS: Maryann Gray was a social psychologist and founder of The Hyacinth Fellowship. She died on April 1.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROSTAM SONG, "GWAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
Sarah Handel