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A Grandma’s Story of Love, Tragedy and Survival

Mary has experienced the unthinkable. . .the loss of grandson and granddaughter in a car accident. In this blog Mary tells how she’s learning to live through the pain and hoping to share her story she can also help others. 

Our tragic story began on Aug. 17, 2013…It was a beautiful sunshiny day.  My daughter, Holly, her husband Joe, their only two children, Peyton and Zoe, as well as Joe’s parents played in a Golf Tournament that day as a fund raiser for Peyton’s high school basketball team.  As the tournament ended, Peyton and Zoe got in Peyton’s car and headed home…Holly, Joe, and Joe’s parents stopped by McDonalds for a sweet tea putting them a few minutes behind the kids.  They were about two miles from their home in Arenzville when Holly and Joe saw stopped traffic ahead.  They had just passed the school, Triopia, where the kids both went.  Holly jumped out of their car while it was still running, screaming, “Oh my God, Joe, that’s Peyton’s car!”  She told me the next day that she knew Peyton was dead when she saw him…but, one of Zoe’s hands moved so she held hope that she would be ok..The first responders got there but there was nothing they could do for either of them.  The ambulances came and took them both to Jacksonville Hospital where Peyton was pronounced dead…cause of death…a broken neck.  Zoe was lifeflighted to a hospital in Springfield.  My sister, brother-in-law, and myself got to that hospital before Holly and Joe.  The nurse came in a couple of times with updates…but, then, the doctor came in to say that they could not get Zoe’s heart started on it’s own.  They had to open her chest to see why..The result was that the main artery of her heart was torn away and there was nothing they could do to save her either..Holly looked at me for an answer to, “Why did He take both of them, Mom?”…I said I had no idea…Shocked, angry, numb..we all were crying, hugging, trying to make some sense out of this tragedy knowing that there was no sense for us to make out of it.  My precious daughter broken…a family of four at 8:00 that Saturday morning…a family of two by 6:00 that night…How do we cope?  How do we deal with this tragedy?  How do we go on?  Holly said, “We can’t quit Mom..Peyton and Zoe would not want that.”  Seeing my two beautiful Grandchildren in the caskets is an image that I will never forget.  The collateral damage left in the aftermath of this accident has been very wide-spread.  It is a nightmare that we never wake up from.  It will soon be 19 months and I still see their beautiful faces…still hear their voices..still remember the joy and laughter they gave to all of us..memories I will cherish forever.   The accident was ruled Distracted Driving…The coroner found Peyton’s phone in his right front shorts pocket.  So, that was NOT the distraction.  The question of what distracted him as well as so many others, I refer to as “earthly questions with only heavenly answers”.  Their absence has left a hole in my heart that will never heal.  And, to see and hear my daughter breaks my heart because I cannot fix her..I cannot rescue her from this tragedy.  We continue to get up everyday…we continue to find ways to honor them and to keep their memories alive.  For 8 months, I was so angry with God…How could he let something like this happen?  He is a good God who wants what is best for us…Is this best?  Not in my earthly thinking…But, He is God…He is in control…and He has a plan…not the one I would have chosen but someday I will understand fully…I long for that day when I can see them again and see my daughter smile and laugh once more…But, until then, we have to stay the course…let go of the anger and find a way to turn this tragedy into a way of strengthening our faith and witnessing to others.  I pray that everyday…help me keep my faith in this lonely, challenging, troubled world.

I am blessed with a close family. I have two other daughters and three other beautiful Grandchildren all very much affected, as well, with the loss of Peyton and Zoe.  It was my daughter Amy in Colorado who encouraged me to go back to church and constantly reassured me that faith is the only way to get thru this heartbreaking tragedy…It was my daughter Heather who encouraged me to dial into WCIC and her son Ian who tuned my radio into WCIC several months ago and I have not changed it since.  I enjoy listening to my Granddaughters, Emma and Tess as they have grown so much spiritually.  So, I will forever hang onto the great memories of Peyton and Zoe and certainly wish they were still here with me, but, I will cherish the time that He gives me to enjoy the many additional blessings…forgetting never…but going on…

“Keep your faith” as a very special visitor told me.

This is the poem that I wrote to Peyton and Zoe the day after the accident that took their lives.  I read it to them during private Grandparent time prior to the visitation.


To my precious Grandchildren, from this earth you must depart
Leaving behind so many memories, so many broken hearts.
Our lives have been enriched, in just these few short years
By countless smiles and laughter, which now have turned to tears.
I am honored, I am proud to have known you for this time
But the emptiness and sadness makes me want to cry.
Why my Grandchildren, Lord?  Why at their prime?  What am I to learn?
Because I am blind right now, I don’t see any good.
But help me to see…help me to cope…Help me to carry on.
I am old now and only numbness I feel.  My anger will not give me time to heal.
So please Dear God give me the strength to endure this trial you’ve given
And to go on here on earth, until I meet them again in Heaven.
Loved by me Peyton Joseph O’Neil since Jan. 29, 1996 until forever.
Loved by me Zoe Marie O’Neil since May 2, 1998 until forever.
Love, Grandma Mary.


I now do presentations on Distracted Driving…I have been to many area high schools, some more than one time, tell in more detail, the events that changed our lives forever.  So, if you know of anyone who might be interested and find value in this presentation, please let me know.

Mary Hoffman
email Mary here

In their memory and working to God’s glory,