Our Story.... Allen's Story
It's hard to know where to begin in telling "Our Story", or rather, "Allen's Story." Allen's life was so much more than just the details of his death. Our family's hope is that others will hear about his story, and join us in promoting the use of bicycle helmets for
every rider, every time they ride.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 726 bicyclists killed in the US in 2012. Our little Allen was one of them. In the blink of an eye, this energetic, and eager 15 year old who was just trying to get to school,
became a statistic.
This organization was started at the request of Allen's cousin, Gage. Gage was 6 years old when his older cousin, 15 year old, Allen Hall was killed.
So who is the author of this section, tasked with telling this story? I'm Allen's aunt. He called me "Nana" all of his life. Allen's cousin, Gage, is my son.
April 16, 2012 was a busy morning. Not only were all of the Monday morning commuters making their way to work, but it was also the tax filing deadline for the IRS, as April 15th fell on a Sunday that year. That morning, Allen woke up for school, and didn't ride the bus to school per usual, but rather, rode a bike without wearing his helmet.
Allen was unintentionally struck by a truck on that morning as he made his way to his school. To go into the details of the actual accident is just too horrific to type. This situation has been devastating for everyone it touched. A life was lost, and lives have been forever changed.
Our own human nature leads us to examine the situation, to look for cause and blame. To blame the driver in this situation is not altogether fair. The man who unintentionally struck Allen that day is a kind, and decent person. He did not intentionally hit Allen. He has been devastated by the reality and weight of the accident. His life and the lives of those who love him are forever changed by what happened to him
as a driver that day.
The truth is, a multitude of factors contributed to Allen's death that day. One of those factors was his split decision to ride a bike to school with no helmet.
So many kids and adolescents look at bicycle helmets as unnecessary and uncool. As parents, we may also find ourselves going down the thought paths of "what are the chances that anything will happen," and "well, we didn't have to wear helmets when we were growing up and we turned out just fine." Maybe we survived our repetitive cycling without helmets, but not everyone did. Maybe we didn't hear about the fatalities because we were shielded from such tragic news, or it just wasn't so readily available like it is now
because of the internet.
As parents and caregivers now, we have the ability and responsibility to shape and protect the young in our care. Injury prevention is a part of that. With things like education about seat belt use, studies have shown that fatalities have decreased as the use of seatbelts increased. It shows that injury prevention works. As parents, caregivers, and role models for children, we owe it to them to shift our own mindset with regard to helmet use, and avoid the mental traps of thinking it couldn't happen to "our family."
In reality, it happened to our family.
It could happen to yours.
In the days following Allen's death, I was not immediately in the mindset of "we have to promote cycling safety now." Allen was not an avid cyclist. He was not a member of any type of biking group. He was just a child, trying to get to school.
Hearing "significant head trauma incompatible with life" was.... hard. Difficult. Devastating. There seems to be a lack of a word to even describe that moment. Hearing those words physically hurt. It caused an ache within me that I lack the words to describe, except to say that I felt like maybe my soul itself had been physically shaken. I can't imagine that the physician who said them was comfortable with the words spilling from his mouth. As my mind was racing, I begged the doctor over the phone, "please just don't let him die alone."
My mother, Allen's grandmother, was with him in the ER as he was dying. She has told me that there wasn't a dry eye in the room as the doctors and nurses did everything within their power to save Allen. There were so many people who tried to save him....from the witnesses of the accident who started to take care of him right away, to the first responders, and then those at the hospital. I mean it when I tell others that so many people tried to save our Allen. We as a family were so grateful for every one of their efforts. We know that they too carry this story with them.
Allen's funeral was both beautiful and unbearable, as you can imagine. Gage was only six years old at the time. He was upset about the news of his cousin's death, but at the age of six, death was such an abstract concept. The word "forever" is a phrase tossed about flippantly these days when people talk about the passage of time. He truly struggled to understand that the "forever" describing how long Allen will be physically absent from this Earth, is nothing like the "forever" people use to describe how long it takes for the most mundane of daily tasks.
As we sat there in the pew at Allen's funeral, Gage began to cry. I knew that at some point his tears would come, and when they did, he cried himself to sleep there in the pew. It was sad and sweet. As Gage's parents, we were so thankful to see a sweet peace wash over him as he slept, escaping the difficult rituals of saying goodbye.
When we returned back home to our town, it was a few days after Allen's funeral when Gage had to return to school. Every day I would take Gage to school and pick him up. One day he commented on all of the bike riders going to and from his school without helmets. With wisdom beyond his years he said, "Mommy, they just don't know that it could happen to them." Life handed us this tragedy, and this six year old would give us perspective to channel our grief and energy into protecting other lives through sharing Allen's story and injury prevention.
In 2012 we lost Allen. That same year, Gage said that he wanted to "give helmets to everybody so that they will be safe too." In 2013, he approached his school principal about hosting a bike safety event so that he could give away helmets and teach children to be safe on their bikes. In 2014, with the help of his School Resource Officer, that happened. He wanted to help "more and more kids so everyone will be safe," and we had a family conversation about forming a nonprofit to reach further into the community to effect change and promote helmet use. In 2015, that nonprofit was formed: Just Cuz Helmets Matter, Inc. Gage himself named it after his own "Cuz," Allen Hall.
We hear many family members who have lost children express a fear that their child will be forgotten. We too have that fear. We also fear that nobody will learn from his death. As Allen's family, we hope you will share Allen's story, and join us in promoting the use of bicycle helmets for
every rider, every time they ride.