This past weekend my local community was reminded again at how fragile life is and how quickly things can change.
In the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, May 15 I heard the far-away sirens through my open bedroom window. It struck me at how long they lasted. It didn't seem like lots of sirens, just a really long one. I remember thinking how odd, and maybe I'm imagining this. We woke the next day to news of a horrible car accident that had shut down the road only a few miles away near the soccer fields my oldest plays on.
As the details emerged, we discovered that it was a one car collision with a tree. Three of the five occupants of the vehicle were killed and one was injured. I found my self assuming the driver had been drunk, but was also remembering how wet the roads were that night. I had hoped it wasn't kids, it's prom season you know.
Later in the day the names and ages of the victims were released (they were all 18 or older) along with the information that the driver left the seen and was arrested three hours later. The youngest victim, Haeley McGuin was a local high school senior, just weeks from her graduation. The other two killed, Spencer Datt and John Hoover, were recent alumna of the same high school.
My heart immediately dropped. I travelled back in time to February of 2010 to the death of my student, a senior. The situations of their deaths differ, yet the grief still very much the same. Both situations lend themselves to "teachable moments".
When my student committed suicide, the troops mobilized and we talked to the kids about reaching out to others in need, talking to someone about what is troubling you, not bottling in feelings. We talked about anger and betrayal by a friend we thought we knew. We talked about the signs that something is not right.
In this situation, it has been suggested by the state's attorney that alcohol was involved. This is a prime opportunity for the community and the school, but most importantly parents, to talk about the dangers of drinking and driving.
Growing up, I knew about the dangers of drinking and driving. I was a member of my schools SADD club. I went to parties where there was drinking, but I absolutely never drove after drinking. Typically, I was the one with a car, so I was always the designated driver. But really, I didn't hang out with a big drinking crowd. But I knew to NEVER get in the car with someone who was drinking.
I know that the message is still out there, but maybe it is not as strong as it used to be.
I hear many stories as a high school counselor that concern me. There are many parents out there that either aren't present enough in their child's life (physically or emotionally) or are too present, working too hard to be their child's friend. my plea to any parent of a teenager is this, you are not supposed to be your child's friend at this stage in their life. They need you to set rules and boundaries, and yes, at times they are going to say they hate you. Allowing your child to set their own rules is a recipe for disaster.
So, hug your kids. Let them know you love them. But set limits and rules. Let them know that they can call you, at any time, no questions asked for a ride. Let them know that people do die; Haeley McGuire, Spencer Datt, and John Hoover did not get into that car expecting to die.