Colleen Haggerty lay on the precipice of sleep. The same scene that had visited her countless times before would visit again. She was in a car, sometimes driving, sometimes not. It was dark and raining. Out of the darkness comes a car, barreling straight for her, faster and faster, destined for catastrophic damage. At the last moment, just before impact, Haggerty wakes in terror.
For 15 years, Haggerty was haunted by that day. The rainy day a driver swerved and struck her on the highway shoulder. The day she lost her leg.
In the years following the accident, Haggerty fought for pride in a world where strength was valued. Wearing a prosthetic, she skied, hiked, ran and biked, developing a strong love for nature, but ignoring an inner atrophy.
“I may have been Superwoman out on the slopes,” Haggerty said, “but in my apartment, I was feeling sorry for myself.”
In addition to her bottled grief, Haggerty harbored a deep anger at the man behind the wheel. He hadn’t bothered to check in on her and drove home shortly after the accident.
For 15 years she pictured him as the same, apathetic 22-year-old, frozen in time. That’s why when they finally agreed to meet in person, she was surprised to be the one listening.
At the crossroads between anger and forgiveness, Haggerty chose to let go of all that had burdened her. It unlocked in her the art of awareness, a constant practice that eventually led her to pursue the best version of herself, for her family and the world around her.
Forty years have passed since her accident, the nightmares have stopped coming and Haggerty, who turns 58 in March, has spread positive influence in a variety of ways across the community. Starting as a camp director at Easter Seal Society, Haggerty, who lives in Bellingham, would also work for Rosehedge, a Seattle AIDS hospice house, as well as manage an affiliate of Big Brothers, Big Sisters locally.
Today she is the executive director at Bellingham’s Our Treehouse, coaching youth and their families through grief and loss, helping them accept, forgive, and move on to find their potential, like she did. She sees them stuck in a “broken-record” phase, skipping and ruminating on the same rotation over and over again. Haggerty tries to lift the needle and let them live the successful lives she knows they’re capable of.
Haggerty rests easier now. She’s still in contact with the man who hit her. She even considers him her friend. She actually dislikes the word “forgiveness.” It writes it off as a “done deal,” when in reality it’s a lifelong practice. Haggerty’s words and wisdom can be read and heard in her various essays, TEDx Talk, and a book, “A Leg to Stand On.