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Tragedy to triumph: Mother of teen killed in accident writes of experiences

Vange Anderson of rural Solway wrote a book describing her family's experiences after a tragic accident took the life of her youngest child. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

On July 3, 2000, 17-year-old Amy Anderson of rural Solway went for a ride to pick wild flowers with her 15-year-old girlfriend driving.

"I said my usual parting words to her," said Amy's mother, Vange Anderson. "'You'll have a better time if you get a hug and a kiss from your mom before you go.' I hugged her, gave her a kiss and told her I loved her. She said, 'I love you to, Mom.' And she was gone."

And, Amy actually was gone - from their lives and from this world.

A short distance from Vange and Richard Anderson's farm home, the driver lost control on a gravel road and crashed her car. Amy was killed in the accident. A roadside shrine with a bench, flowers and wreath mark the spot, a memorial recognized not only by the family and neighbors, but also sanctioned by the Lammers Township Board.

Ten years after the tragedy, Vange Anderson has written a book about her and her family's experiences. The account tells the tragic story and how the family has coped through their faith in God. It also is designed to help others suffering a similar loss and provide ideas to those who seek to comfort the bereaved.

"From Tragedy to Triumph," produced by Publish America, Baltimore, Md., will soon be available for general sale. Vange said she plans to hold a celebration of the printing with an open house, in part so people who want to talk to her about their own experiences will have the opportunity. She said the book will also be available at local book stores and from or

One of the first gifts of grace the Andersons said they received from the Holy Spirit was the ability to forgive the child driver who caused the accident. A day or two after Amy died, they went to the girl's home and assured her they didn't blame her, that the accident was just that - a terrible accident. Shortly after, the girl and her family left Minnesota.

"She wrote to us later on and thanked us and told us she was doing well," Vange said. "She went on to say we were a big reason she was doing as well as she was. And I might add, a reason we were doing as well as we were."

Vange said she also knew that Amy would be proud of them for forgiving the driver.

"I always said I'd trade places with Amy, but then I'd be in heaven, and she'd be grieving," Vange said.

Vange said she went through anger at God, at the same time drawing comfort from her faith. The Andersons keep Amy's photo on the refrigerator along with images of their other four children, and now, four grandchildren. Vange said she misses Amy every day and thinks of her as she was at 17, not the 28-year-old she would now be if she had lived. But Vange said the triumph is that she can enjoy life, look to the future and reach out to other parents who have lost children.

The author devotes chapters in her book to tips for people who want to help families they know who have experienced tragedies like the Andersons'.

First of all, she said, those who haven't lost children to tragic accidents should never say they understand the bereaved parents' grief.

She said responses that were helpful were simple and practical considerations such as the gifts of food, lawn mowing and maid service, written memories of Amy and silent hugs.

"Either (say) 'I'm sorry,' or not say anything - just a hug," Vange suggested. "Don't tell me you understand. For me, the silent hugs were like prayers of the Holy Spirit. It's too deep for words to explain what it's like."