This is a photograph of Heather Low, a 1995 Kingsland graduate who was killed in a car accident on July 28, 2003.
This is a photograph of Heather Low, a 1995 Kingsland graduate who was killed in a car accident on July 28, 2003.
Mary Goodsell knows her daughter's dash.

"I found this on her desk at work: 'We all have a birth date and a death date, but the most important thing is the dash between them,'" read Goodsell as she stood before an assembly of Kingsland High School students last Wednesday morning, speaking about the dash that was her daughter, 1995 Kingsland graduate Heather Low's, life, and how the date on the right side of that dash came all too suddenly and soon.

She began by telling how the morning of July 28, 2003, was sunny and promising, as Heather and her fiancé, who lived in Lake City, were going to Rochester to buy landscaping materials for their home and would meet Mary and family at the boat on Lake Pepin. "The last thing I heard her say was 'I love you,'" Goodsell related.

On their trip to Rochester, Heather's fiancé, who was driving, spotted a vehicle veering into their lane on the highway. He was a deputy with the Olmsted County Sheriff's Department and had training in defensive driving, and knew that if he were presented with reason to leave his lane, he would first choose the ditch before driving into oncoming traffic. But he only had a few seconds and that particular day, "he went into oncoming traffic...he was on his cell phone about getting a different trailer hitch."

The other driver corrected to get back into his lane and the two vehicles crashed. There were two people in the vehicle in the oncoming lane that were on their way to Lake City to see their new grandchild. "The first thing that the man's daughter said when the deputies came to her house," said Goodsell, "was 'Is he drinking again?'"

The vehicles collided because of an overcorrection as the drivers attempted to regain their ground. "Traveling behind them was an emergency care nurse and her husband, and they were the first on the scene. Both vehicles were smoking, and the undercarriage of Heather's SUV was on fire. The nurse saw Heather in a fetal position - she was turning blue, and her husband was trying to help get Heather's fiancé out of the SUV, but the door kept closing because it was on its side. His bones were crushed like a bag of potato chips. Heather had a head injury and did not feel any pain. She had a collapsed lung and a broken leg."

Goodsell, who works at the Olmsted County Sheriff's Department as well, recounted, "We were already out on the lake, waiting for them, and there were a lot of jet skis and boats out there, which we thought was unusual, but we didn't know they were looking for me. I thought one of the officers was injured, but the cell phone reception between Lake City and Wabasha is bad, so all I heard was 'Heather in accident,' 'not good...head injury'."

Goodsell played an answering machine recording of the cell phone call, a normal conversation until the collision, a shred of fear and the unanticipated ending in Heather's fiancé's voice.

She continued, "When we got to Rochester, my boss was waiting for me. That was not a good sign. They put our family in the 'death room,' where they make you wait to hear that your daughter isn't going to live. Mayo One had to be called to the accident, and Heather was cut out of the SUV and coded three times on the way to Rochester. She was brain dead. Her brain stem was still alive, but when your skull is going 65 miles per hour and then stops, your brain detaches from it and then from the other side when your head recoils."

Goodsell and her family were finally allowed to see Heather, at which point she knew that the tubes and wires were the only things sustaining her daughter.

"At 105 pounds, Heather was always cold, so I asked for a warming blanket even though I knew that she wouldn't feel it. It was the mother in me. I talked with three different neurosurgeons who had three different opinions, and that was the hardest decision I have had to make. I don't know if you've ever seen what happens when somebody dies, but it's that 'fish breath.' They take a breath in, let it out, do that several more times, then there's one last breath, and they're gone."

After Mary and her son, Chris Low, were ushered out and brought back in 20 minutes later by the nurses, after the tubes were disconnected, Mary recalls, "My daughter's body was there, but it didn't look like her. I thought, 'Where is she?' My son and I left the hospital with an orange plastic bag filled with the clothes they had cut off her and her rings, and we walked out into the sunlight to find that the world was going on without her, that our world was in that hospital room."

She shared the Kenny Chesney song that describes the moments that often catch her off guard, when she's least ready to deal with the reality of Heather's death, "Today," with the line "sometimes I wonder who you'd be today."

She went on, "A couple months before Heather died, we went to the Cities to find her wedding dress. When somebody dies months before their wedding, what do you do with the dress? You can't return it, you can't sell it. I buried her in it." A pause rose as Goodsell surveyed the student audience, noting their tears. "And when somebody dies, what happens to their belongings? I ended up with her toothbrush, her hairbrush, her clothes, all her personal belongings. The best thing I got for a while was her dog, until she passed away from cancer."

The mother, who has been speaking about her loss for the past several years - even though it doesn't get any easier, but "because I'm passionate about it, because I'm her mom, because if it makes a difference for just one person" - related, "MADD put up billboards around Rochester later on with Heather's picture and the date of her death. She's buried in the Grand Meadow cemetery...four seconds in a phone call isn't much time, isn't very long to live with the aftermath of someone driving into your car. Four seconds gives you no time to do anything about it." She concluded, advising the students, "Please be careful, use your smarts."