Rebuilding a Life after Taking One


Rebuilding a Life after Taking One

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How do we rebuild after causing accidental death or injury?

Accidental injury is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of forty-five. From fatal traffic accidents to firearms injuries to casualties of war to a deadly virus passed to an elderly loved one, accidental harm dates back almost as far as our human stories go. When these accidents occur, they pose profound and agonizing questions: What do we do when a death falls somewhere between a murder and an insurance claim? What if we are responsible for such harm? Is healing even possible?

Rooted in research on moral injury, religious rituals of confession and cleansing, and psychology--as well as the hard-won wisdom of someone who has been there--Accidental explores the complicated reality of accidental death and injury and offers companionship to those affected by these tragedies. Author, military veteran, and Episcopal priest David W. Peters walks with us through his own lonely journey after he unintentionally killed someone in a traffic accident and the journey of his family, as his brother was killed by a bus. Peters investigates the cars, guns, and systems that put some people and communities at more risk than others, and then draws wisdom from ancient cities of refuge, where accidental killers could find asylum. Accidental helps readers accept responsibility, see themselves in the stories of others, be open to mystical experiences, and find absolution and community. We can begin the journey of accountability, forgiveness, and restoration by asking spiritual questions of grief, penitence, trauma, and tragedy.


"David W. Peters's Accidental isn't just important--though it is important. It gives voice to a pain too often stifled. More, it is a useful and provocative addition to the very small shelf of books to give to people after tragedy befalls them. And it is written with grace and empathy."

Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life: A Memoir

"When telling the story becomes difficult or too painful, the voice may be suffocated not only by the grief caused by the event but also by the strong hold of unresolved trauma. David W. Peters makes use of the powerful impact of narrative as an invitation to tell one's story while embracing the healing journey."

Rev. Ardella Gibson, owner and director of Serenity CPE Center for Experiential Learning

"Riveting and powerful, Accidental is a personal story that is well woven with solid academic research. David W. Peters does a great job of telling his story in a heartfelt conversation, being true to his faith and convictions, and being authentically human, with good theological and biblical scholarship. A definite read for those suffering or working with others suffering from the moral injury that results from accidental killing."

Colonel Mark C. Lee, director of the CPE Center at Brooke Army Medical Center

"Accidental is a book of extraordinary grace and compassion, full of helpful, hopeful theological reflections and deeply affecting personal meditations, and utterly lacking platitudes. While David W. Peters's book is about people who have accidentally killed another person, it seems to me that it will be a balm for anyone who struggles with knowing they have accidentally hurt or harmed someone else. It certainly was for me."

Kerry Egan, author of On Living

"I found Accidental to be deeply moving, an intellectual tour de force, psychologically sophisticated and introspective, and by far the most in-depth consideration of accidental killing I've ever seen. It is so difficult to write from the heart and soul and mind, but David W. Peters did it. The concept of a post-traumatic God is important and powerful on so many levels, especially these days, and the blessings and personal stories offer solace. The interweaving of historical analysis, psychology, and theology is so well done and offers a rich framework for consideration. He did not shy away from difficult topics, yet provided a nuanced perspective that neither condemns nor excuses. Peters has created an important and moving book that explores the experience of accidental killers and offers a deeply spiritual exploration of what such tragedies mean and how those who harm others can themselves heal from moral self-condemnation. This is essential reading for anyone who has ever caused harm or cared about someone who has caused harm--that is, all of us."

Maryann Gray, PhD, social psychologist, and founder of the Hyacinth Foundation


"Peters's message is unfailingly empathetic, and his prose is an effective mix of unassuming and devastating....Sensitive and unflinching, this sheds light on the complex morality of an unpredictable world."

Publishers Weekly

Product Info

  • Publisher Broadleaf Books
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506487168
  • eBook ISBN 9781506487175
  • Dimensions 5.75 x 8.75
  • Pages 182
  • Publication Date November 7, 2023