After losing 4 children, Destrehan couple lends helping hand to others
Nearly 14 years after children drowned in 2003 accident
“My focus right now is to get through the holidays, just trying to prepare with that,” said Sandra Washington. “Every year, we tried to find something different to do. When you think about family time around the table around the holidays there is nothing that will take the place of those moments.”
The Destrehan couple’s lives forever changed on Feb. 2, 2003.
While still a mystery, their oldest daughter, Rachel, 21, was driving back from church with her three siblings when she lost control of the vehicle and they disappeared. When they were late returning home, Sandra Washington contacted family and was told a car had gone into a canal along Airline Drive in Destrehan.
The couple went to the scene and watched divers searching for victims.
“I will never forget the look on the State Trooper’s face when he looked at my husband and nodded that it was my children,” she said.
In a single motion, they had lost all four of their children.
“You just keep moving,” said Sandra Washington. “You take the hand you’ve been dealt and you work with it. I don’t know why this hand was given to me and my husband, but I know that it’s not in vain. So many things have happened as a result of this accident. I still have people today telling me when they drive past those crosses on Airline Drive, which has helped them refocus even if it’s only to slow down while they’re speeding.”
Washington said she and her husband continue to do what they know they’ve been called to do and hope they serve as an inspiration to others who have lost children.
Bolstered by strong religious faith, their efforts remain focused on serving and giving.
“When you walk by faith and you understand our belief in God is completely in charge of our lives,” she said. “For whatever reason that tragedy came into our lives, we know it’s just bigger than us. We made peace. It’s the only way to live.”
She also believes their children are proud of them.
There are still bad days and sometimes bad weeks where the grief becomes unbearable for the Destrehan couple, but their resolve to keep on giving and living has remained unwavering.
Sandra is a program coordinator, mentor and advocate with the Youth Empowerment Project, a community based prevention program started in 2004 to assist young people returning to New Orleans from correctional facilities.
In 2014, she and Allen graduated from college. Sandra earned a master’s degree in social work and is working full time while still going to school. At age 65, her husband earned a degree in criminal justice.
“We remain faithful to our church and still work with young people … continuing to help people any way we can,” she said. “I always thought my house would be filled with children and grandchildren every Sunday and every holiday. Although, it’s my stepchildren and their children, it’s just a different set of people.”
As the couple approach the 14th anniversary of their children’s deaths in February, Washington said they remain guided by four words: “Loving” because it’s what their daughter Rachel was about as the mother hen; “learning” because daughter Samantha was serious about academics and their only consistent honor roll student; “laughing” because son Allen Jr. was their talented drama student and “living” because daughter Alandra didn’t want to be anything that her brothers and sisters were so she was about living.
“That’s what we use - loving, laughing, learning and living,” she said. “And that’s what we’re doing.”
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