They told me my daughter died today.
I knew it was coming, I signed up to hear it. That doesn’t make it any easier to hear, even when it isn’t true.
Let me explain; our high school participates in a program called Shattered Dreams every other year. Juniors and Seniors are given the opportunity to participate. Two years ago, my daughter came home and told me how powerful it was to see it all. She decided then that she would participate when she had the chance. As always, I encouraged her to follow her heart and be a leader, but then I basically forgot about it. A few months ago she reminded me that she would be participating. I said “Ok, just tell me when” and went on with my day. Then came the day she told me that there was a meeting to discuss the program; she said they would tell us when we had to turn in the obituaries that we had to write and everything.
Wait a damn minute! I have to write an obituary? For my own child? What kinda program is this anyways? Turns out it is a very immersive program that promotes responsible decision making and highlights the devastating effects of drinking and driving. The kids go to school on a Thursday and every 15 minutes one of the participants is pronounced “dead as a result of an alcohol related crash”. That’s the real life statistic, someone dies from an alcohol related crash every 15 minutes. Those students are taken from the classroom on a gurney with a sheet over them, there obituary is posted in the hallway, and for the rest of the day they are ghosts. They attend classes but no one speaks to them, they speak to no one. Oh, and the parents are notified of their child’s death. A for real phone call that says, “I’m sorry to inform you that your child has been involved in a wreck and died.” I got mine at 10:28 this morning.
After school the participants spend the night at a camp where they go through a series of exercises that teach them about drinking and driving, and being a leader, and the consequences of making poor choices. The also read letters written to them by their parents, and write letters back to their parents. It’s supposed to be a pretty intense evening. I’ll have K tell me all about it tomorrow. I went to a parent workshop this evening where we learned about the laws surrounding underage drinking and the legal consequences of breaking them so that we could share those with our kids. Then we watched the video. I’ve seen the Shattered Dreams videos before, but tonight was hard. Being in a room with parents of children who participated in the mock accident, watching a mom break down and cry when the doctor pronounced her daughter dead on the screen, it made it all too real. I hope it hits the students who see it with their classmates the same way.
I knew the call was coming, I’ve dreaded it all week, I had a pretty sleepless night last night dreading it. But this morning, K was her normal cheerful self. I reminded her of a scholarship deadline and we laughed and joked on the way to school. It was NORMAL. Reflecting on it all I think that is one of the big take homes. You don’t usually get the warning, you don’t usually get to know the call is coming. All you know is that it is a normal day in your child’s life, and then it’s over. I’ve known people who have lost children as teenagers and young adults, and I have sympathized with them over it. I have uttered the phrase “I can’t even imagine” to them. Tonight, I can imagine. It is the most awful feeling in the entire world.
Friends, fellow parents, I beg of you to talk to your kids about making smart choices. Be real, be brutally honest, tell them all the bad stuff that might happen in gory detail. You can protect them from a lot. You can pretend that some of the bad things don’t happen. This isn’t one of them. Drinking and drugs are too much a part of the culture surrounding our youth to ignore this. You do NOT want to get that phone call.