FRANKLIN LAKES, N.J. — Ann Marie Miller of Franklin Lakes has been there.
Like the parents of Sam Cali and Leo Vagias -- who were killed in a single-vehicle crash on Route 287 in Mahwah before dawn Monday -- Miller also lost her 19-year-old son in a car accident. Brad was also a Don Bosco graduate. He was also driving a new car when he died in the summer of '86.
Miller wants both moms to know that things changed for her when she joined a local support group for bereaved parents, Compassionate Friends.
“The first thing that I learned is that children die,” Miller said. “The second thing I learned is that I wasn’t alone anymore.”
Miller co-lead Bergen County’s Compassionate Friends chapter in the Christian Health Center in Wyckoff for almost 16 years up until she became a grandmother.
Not a day has passed in 29 years that Miller hasn’t thought about her son.
The tragic news of Cali and Vagias's deaths before dawn Monday sent her back through family photo albums for the first time this week since her son was killed. The memories, while happy, still evoked tears and a great deal of pain.
Helping other bereaved parents, though, is what motivates Miller to stay strong -- if not for herself, her husband and her daughter, then for Brad.
“[Compassionate Friends] gives us understanding and it gives us friendship when we are at the worst time in our lives,” she said. “A lot of other things have happened that weren’t good in my life but I have survived it all because if I can survive the death of my child, I can get through anything.”
Bergen/Passaic Compassionate Friends meets at the Christian Health Center on Sicomac Avenue in Wyckoff the fourth Tuesday of every month.
CLICK HERE for funeral arrangements for Sam Cali and Leo Vagias .