Sunday, August 30, 2015

Class Reunion Jitters

My daughter died the same year as her 10th annual high school reunion. I had some choices to make at that time, and those choices would define my life at that time and in the future.

Marcy was looking forward to this reunion. She would be able to see friends she hadn’t kept in contact with for one reason or another. She could tell them about her successful career as the publicity director for the L.A. Music Center. She could talk about her recent wedding and how proud she was of her husband and their life together. And she could relive those exciting high school memories with those she knew. But it was not meant to be. She died two months before the reunion. I requested some mention of her be made in the reunion booklet, and so the last page in the booklet simply said “In Memory of…” and the year of her death, 1994, with a picture, nothing more. I was hurt and disappointed that there was no write-up but said nothing to the school or reunion committee. She had been in many clubs, won honors in the debate club and was either in or behind the scenes in all school plays. I would have done a short write-up, if asked, but no one did, I felt hurt that her classmates didn’t care enough to honor her life and mention some of her accomplishments.

Years later, I had my 50th high school reunion. My curiosity urged me to go and see those I had associated with so long before, but I was afraid of the inevitable question, “How many children do you have?” I knew I would stumble on the answer. Of course, all conversation would then stop . The one who asked wouldn’t know what to say after “I’m so sorry.” And I would feel awkward responding, “Thank you.” I would want to say more about her but knew it probably wasn’t appropriate since the person who asked never knew her and would be in a hurry to change the conversation. I’m sure others told stories of great sorrow and pain who did attend the 50th reunion, but perhaps it was easier for them in some way. For me, it wouldn’t have been.

So I avoided the entire scenario that I conjured up in my mind by not going to the reunion at all. During that same period of time I had received a call from the alumni group of my college sorority saying they were putting out a hard covered book of all the alumni, names, addresses, spouse names and of course, any children names and ages. When that question came up, “How many children do you have?” I paused for a short time, then answered, “None.” A few minutes after hanging up, I felt so guilty for not acknowledging my wonderful daughter, I called them back and explained why I had said that. Very calmly they said, “Not a problem, we’ll change it immediately.” So I gave them Marcy’s information, and I had this great big smile on my face when the book came out months later, and I saw it all there.

From that time forward I acknowledge everything about my daughter to anyone who will listen. We want to talk about our children and their lives, however short those lives may have been. We don’t want to forget them, and we want others to know and remember them also.

Now when asked the inevitable question, I directly respond to the person and look them straight in the eyes. “I have one daughter who died in a car accident 21 years ago. She was 27 and my only child.” And then I talk about her. I am proud of her and her accomplishments, and I want to acknowledge them and also let others know how much I loved her. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Aware Awake Alive

On Dec. 2, 2008, following a fraternity hazing ritual, Julia and Scott Starkey’s son Carson died of acute alcohol poisoning. Following his death, the Starkey family formed Aware Awake Alive, a nonprofit that prevents loss of life to alcohol poisoning by educating teens, young adults and parents on its symptoms and empowering them with the necessary tools and resources. Here is the Starkey story.

Carson was compelled to drink large quantities of alcohol; he became unresponsive. Sigma Alpha Epsilon members put Carson in a vehicle to take him to the hospital but ultimately abandoned the trip for fear of getting themselves and their fraternity in trouble. They returned to the house and left Carson on a mattress; he never woke up. Carson died—unresponsive, not monitored, and abandoned on a mattress. He died from acute alcohol poisoning; his blood alcohol level was .40.

His friends are now living with the consequences of what they didn’t do that night. They didn’t realize they could be charged with a felony. One students says it cost his family $160,000 in legal fees and $500,000 in a civil suit settlement. He says it opened his eyes to the real issue. “You have to be extremely careful and look after your friends.”

Aware Awake Alive was created in August of 2011 by Carson’s family and it works with parents and educators throughout the United States to educate young people on the symptoms of alcohol poisoning, create awareness on the conditions that enable it, and encourage responsibility for one another in situations where alcohol is consumed.

Aware Awake Alive is driven by a core belief and philosophy that lives can and will be saved simply by working together. They aim to partner with like-minded individuals and organizations while encouraging an atmosphere of shared responsibility among young people, their peers, parents, and educators.

Many events are held each year to enhance the program. Just this past April, they raised $6,000 for educational scholarships. The family is turning their personal tragedy into something positive with their work. They believe the loss of Carson has given them a unique  gift to serve and help others.

Many web sites can give much insight to this problem: The Medical Amnesty Initiative, The Gordie Foundation, Red Watch program, CNN Health, Keep Friendships Alive, Face Project and 911 Lifeline Legislation. This last site talks about the Texas legislation, led by Senator Kirk Watson, limiting immunity if you try to get help to save someone’s life.

Education is one of the key factors in creating awareness around the dangers of binge drinking. Here are some of the signs and facts about binge drinking.

If you suspect someone has alcohol poisoning, even if you don’t see the classic signs and symptoms, seek immediate medical care. In an emergency, call 911 immediately. Even if the person has stopped drinking, alcohol continues to be released into the bloodstream and the level of alcohol in the body continues to rise. Never assume that a person will sleep it off.

If the person is conscious, call 800-222-1222 in the U.S. and you’ll automatically be routed to your local poison control center for help.

Be prepared to provide information and if you know, the kind and amount of alcohol the person drank and when. Don’t leave an unconscious person alone or try to make him/her vomit.

Finally, here are some facts you should know:
1.      31% of college students meet national criteria for alcohol abuse diagnosis.
2.      According to the CDC, every year more than 80,000 U.S. deaths are the result of binge drinking.
3.      1 in 3 college students and 1 in 4 high school students are binge drinking.
4.      6 people under 21 die from non-driving alcohol related accidents every day.
5.      5. 90% of alcoholic beverages consumed by those under 21 are while binge drinking.
6.      Nearly 2,000 students die from alcohol-related injuries each year.

About Carson…
In his short life, Carson accomplished much. He looked at the world around him and saw limitless possibilities. He approached life with a practical tenacity that led him to pursue every path that caught his interest with vigor, intelligence and an uncanny intuition. In high school, he lettered four years on the Austin High tennis team while also running on the cross-country team his freshman and sophomore years then playing lacrosse his junior and senior years. Carson began running in races and events around Austin at the age of 6, competing in the Capital 10K nine times. His love for architecture led him to intern at Page Sutherland Page during high school. He then attended Cal Poly State University where he was majoring in architectural engineering. He graduated in the top 10% of his high school class, served on the Austin High Hall of Honor Leaders Council, and made the Dean's List at Cal Poly State University.

Carson will always be remembered by family and friends as a shining example of the right way to live and love this life.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Unique Workshops at TCF

There were many unique workshops held at the TCF Conference this year. Unfortunately, I could not attend all the ones I wanted to. But just to give you an idea of what 'unique' workshops were available, let me summarize what some of them were about. If you have something you’d like to see next year at the Scottsdale Conference, July 8-10, 2016, please let someone at the national office know about it.

Dreams: A Blessing in Disguise for Healing Through Loss and Transition – Carla Blowey, author of “Dreaming Kevin: The Path to Healing” and certified dream work facilitator shares the prophetic dream about the death of her 5-year-old son, Kevin, and the subsequent dreams that offered her forgiveness, healing, spiritual growth and new life. Carla shares examples from her own dream journal, to aid participants in discerning the elements of a “dream visit” and a “grief dream” and recognize both dreams as a valuable tool for reconciling the death of a child. The bereaved were invited to examine their own dreams for personal symbols and metaphors, as a means to reconciliation and self-empowerment.

Surrendering to Grief on Our Own Terms – Often we seek out ways to avoid, suppress or distract ourselves from the overwhelming pain of grief. Yet grief experts tell us that our pain, however terrible, must be dealt with to begin our journey of healing. By surrendering ourselves to the reality that grief over the death of our children will last a lifetime, we can learn to live a life that incorporates happiness and purpose once again. This interactive workshop guided participants through exercises of identifying their personal struggles, triggers, emotions and fears. With this information, each person created the terms of their surrender to grief. These unique set of terms will help begin to define the road map toward healing your grief and reinvesting in life.

Intimacy and Grief – The death of a child, grandchild or sibling changes everything. This includes how you relate to your significant other. This workshop explored what grief can do to intimacy and what can be done about it. The discussion focused on identifying self-expectations about intimacy, suggestions for improving communication and also on issues specifically related to sexual intimacy. Discussions centered on issues that many people find uncomfortable.

Healing When Faith is Not an Option – Many bereaved parents and siblings derive strength and comfort from their religious beliefs. Those who are bereaved who have never subscribed to religious belief or who have rejected the faith in which they were raised (whether related to the loss of their loved one or not) may benefit from support and encouragement that does not refer to an afterlife, heaven, angels, reunification, or signs and messages. This workshop does not denigrate any religious belief, but provided a safe haven for those trying to endure their loss without religious support. Such grievers can sometimes feel isolated and marginalized in a culture where the non-religious are a minority.

Soul Gatherings: A Continuing Bond Meditation – The Soul gatherings experience arises out of stillness and offers an opportunity to participate in a circle with the intention to quiet the mind, open the heart and listen. The mediation process will include an opening intention, invitation into the present moment, guided chakra balancing, invitation for support, guided  journey into an open ended experience, silence, sharing, processing, and closing with gratitude. Soul gatherings offered the bereaved an opportunity to redefine the connection with their loved one, for the Continuing Bond (CB) is an essential component of the healing process. Those who embrace the belief that the experience and conversation arises from thought and memory will benefit in the same way as those who hold a belief that consciousness continues to exist after the physical death of the body. Soul gatherings supports a life affirming transition of loving in presence to loving in separation.

The Grief of Grandparents – This workshop explored ways grandparents can grieve while still being sensitive to their child and daughter/son-in-law, ways to be supportive without hovering/smothering.  If the death of the grandchild affected your relationship, there are some positive ways to mend it. They covered self-care and health issues; physical, mental, emotional, sleeping too much, not sleeping at all, alcohol use, Rx meds, counseling, exercise, eating too much or not eating. The ages of grandchildren, causes of death and how long ago are factors in your grief. Also discussed were ways to honor the memory of the grandchild.

The Healing Power of Animals and Nature in Grief – This interactive workshop explored the healing power of nature and animals for parents who have experienced the death of a child. Covered was the importance of “walking in awareness”, discovering the teachings revealed by nature and animals, and how these teachings can empower parents to transform their perspectives following the death of their children.

Many other workshops dealt with becoming childless, substance related deaths, loss of an infant or toddler, writing to stay connected to true feelings, military loss, stepparents, stillbirths and miscarriages, just to name a few. Something for everyone was the key to the successful conference.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Tears To Triumph-Creating With Sea Glass

Working through grief and trauma takes time and not everyone is comfortable sharing his or her pained raw feelings with strangers. Participants in this third workshop I attended at the TCF conference were encouraged to contemplate what has been lost and what has been found by creating  jewelry from sea glass. This workshop was given by Deb Collins Hart, author and inspirational speaker, as well as a wonderful crafts expert.

Participants were given wire and allowed to choose any piece of  small sea glass on the tables in the room (and there was a lot!). Colors of the glass ranged from brown and white to green, blue and purple and were all shapes and sizes. Deb wanted us to use creativity to get to a place unavailable by just talking or thinking. She does this through her crafting. We were inspired to create as if we are the only one who will ever see it. The wire is wrapped around the glass in any artistic way that appeals to the participant and the finished object with a loop becomes a pendant for a necklace.

I was surprised how much I liked my finished, simple product, and as we passed them around the table, others commented on how nice mine and others were.

Deb Collins Hart, author of Tug at My Heart (Pink is the New Black), chronicles her personal journey from tears to triumph. In addition, she is also an inspirational speaker whose message is intended to generate meaningful change and offers hopeful transformation to people going through life’s challenges.

Deb’s son Kasey, 22, died in 2006. He was a tugboat captain in Alaska and was living his dream. That is when her life changed forever. On a trip to Greece after his death is when she first saw this beautiful sea glass, gathering up as much as she could.

In central Oregon’s famed recreational area on the eastern slopes of Mt. Hood, she founded Pine Hollow Retreat for those who have had a loss and need to heal. She holds retreats there during the year where there is fishing, hunting, white water rafting, skiing and much more in the outdoors to enjoy.

This vibrant woman, who herself is a breast cancer survivor, also raises donations for other breast cancer survivors to attend her retreats by organizing a variety of events throughout the year with her non-profit, “Pink Sistas, Inc.”

Deb says her message is intended to generate meaningful change and offers hopeful transformation to people going through life’s challenges. She says she loves to share with guests the trials of her journey and ultimate triumph to THRIVING!

Deb is also a Hospice volunteer and sponsors a room at the Vancouver, Washington ‘Share House’ in Kasey’s memory.

If interested in one of her retreats or eager to set up an event that she can speak at or just want to talk to Deb, contact her at 503-901-7900. She is happy to talk to anyone looking for a good listener.

Sunday, August 2, 2015


Second in a 3-part series of interesting workshops and speakers I attended at the national TCF conference recently in Dallas, Texas.

One of the keynote speakers (there were four of them) was Gary Mendell, the founder and CEO of Shatterproof, a national organization committed to protecting our children from addiction to alcohol or other drugs. He also wants to end the stigma and suffering of those affected by the disease. His son, Brian, lost his battle with addiction in 2011 and this organization is to honor his son.

Shatterproof’s quest to end addiction is guided by a group of scientific, medical, business and public policy leaders. In its first year, it was influential in the passage of legislation that significantly reduced the number of deaths related to overdose and has provided funding to expand the use of an intervention program that has proven to reduce the number of teens that will become addicted. They are working to change the lives of the hundred million Americans affected by addition.

Here are a few quotes from those who have been touched by addiction and are getting help at all ages, in all communities, and learning the most important fact of all—that they or their relatives can survive and recover from any type of addiction.

Warren Phillips: My father was an addict who died from an overdose when I was 10 years old. At 29 years old, I am an also an addict. I have 2.5 years sober and am living with a purpose to help young addicts find joy in recovery. I am not alone in my journey.

Swami Kavyo: I am an alcoholic, currently in recovery. Both sides of my family have a history of alcoholism. I started drinking in my early teens, was a daily drinker and actually overdosed once in my teens. In college I added drugs to the mix.

Makalynn Powell:I got clean at 17 years old after an extensive history with opiates, among other narcotics. I spent 10 months in a residential treatment center and have been clean ever since.

Valerie Carbone: My whole family has been hurt by addiction. We all are limping and hanging on .  We families need to gather together like MADD did and make it stop.  I'm so glad to have come across this movement.

Jody Cowan: My two daughters are addicts. One is now living at home, clean and on Suboxone.  She's working on herself and trying to get her life up and running. I'm so proud she did it!  She was addicted to Heroin and shooting up.

Shatterproof also launched a series of innovative rappelling events in 30 cities across the U.S. to reduce the stigma associated with this disease, educate the public, and advocate for change. By raising funds from these events and public donations, they hope to reduce the devastating impact of addiction on families across the U.S.

Helping to make our country Shatterproof is Gary’s mission.