Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Year's Day Despair 2012

January 1, 2012, was one of the most emotional days of my life. I cried and cried and wondered if I would actually survive the despair. My oldest son didn’t make it to 2012. For some reason, realizing that this was a year that Dustin would never write a date in, would not take a breath in, hit me really, really hard. And it was unexpected - so many of the emotional times are not anticipated. Thanksgiving 2011 was horrible, worse than I even thought it might be. Christmas 2011 was not too bad, a relief. But New Year’s Day 2012… A new year without my child. His years stopped dead in 2011- there would be nothing in 2012 for him - and it was an excruciating realization. Who would have thought the simple change of year would lead to such mental turmoil? I had no idea... 

I don’t THINK New Year’s Day 2013 will be so bad as last year… 

But just the thought of another Mother’s Day has me feeling tearful already.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Short Autobiography, by Dustin Finney

Today, while (finally) sorting through some of Dustin's things, I found this math assignment he completed (a journal entry), dated 1/4/11:

              "I can still remember my first day of kindergarten and particularly the smell of the hallways which I sometimes yet encounter vivid recollection in older public school buildings. Most of these memories are fond: arts and crafts, puzzles, duck-duck-goose, and half days. Some, however, are unpleasant. An instance when I was caught attempting to purloin construction paper for home-use was my first lesson about stealing. Oddly, I still haven't forgotten my resentment about younger kids having to sit on the hard gym floor for assemblies while the 6th graders sat in chairs. 
               "It’s probably fair to say I was a child of average achievement during my elementary years. I had an early interest in art that tapered off somewhat as I approached middle school, though I still to some degree entertain a notion of returning to it eventually. Exciting as well was observing scientific experiments and natural phenomena: a solar eclipse, the ability of a lens both to magnify and to ignite, the movements of microscopic organisms. To English, it seems, I was innately adapted. I have always possessed a proclivity for language that comes to me partially from my mother, and I was an early and prolific story-writer. Unfortunately, the pursuit of these interests and talents was not free of impediments and my educational career was bound to experience continual setbacks.
               "The second grade was a particularly challenging year in that I was almost daily getting in fights on the playground and in one instance with one of the student crossing-guards after school. This aggression on my part was rather anomalous in comparison to the relative passivity that followed and preceded it, and was often provoked by other kids’ teasing of my unusual hair and clothing (I fancied myself a young rocker and wore long hair and an earring – itself a provocation, perhaps).

               "Thereafter, my academic performance remained steadily average, leveling off until the sixth grade when it began a precipitous decline. I had always been an avid reader and in some sense, this was my undoing because I read many books from which I sometimes drew conclusions without the maturity of the audience for which they were intended. One of these conclusions and what I consider to be my earliest conscious political stance (since renounced), was that the institution of public education was evil: an insidious effort to break the spirit of youth and cram it into a lifeless, conformist mold. If security cameras and identification cards meant order and security to some, to me they were Orwellian prophecies-come-true that called for the opposition of all courageous 13-year-olds.
               "And so began my rebellion. While I was loathe to utterly disregard my mother’s insistence that I attend school, I made a conscious effort not to legitimize the institution by participating where not absolutely necessary to avoid oppressive, parental measures. The downward-spiral terminated in my dropping out of high school as a sophomore after two expulsions in as many years for repeated instances of behavioral misconduct and truancy. Two years later I would obtain my GED as a condition of juvenile probation for petty crimes.

                "That was then – this is now. The hindsight afforded to me 12 years later has me regretting that I hadn’t reconsidered my intransigence toward school. With over a decade of dead-end jobs behind me and nothing to show for it but physical survival, the true importance of a quality education is startlingly clear. Although the eventual price of college loans is a source of some anxiety, I have resolved that the return on this investment is well worth the cost and that the potential hardship of paying off debt without graduating is far more severe than the diligent effort necessary to ensure that I do. Success will demand that I correct some bad habits with regard to procrastination and management of time, but already in my first week of class, I have begun to address these issues by prioritizing study and completing homework early.
               "And so it is with optimism and enthusiasm that I embark on my second foray into academia, steadfastly determined to perform with a commitment to excellence that will assuage my guilt for previous failings. Necessary for success in this endeavor is a thorough mastery of advanced mathematics, as I am working toward a degree in environmental science. In fact, each term henceforth during my two years at PCC, I will be taking at least 14 credits worth of math and science: chemistry, biology, economics. During my final term, I will take both Calculus II and Statistics II and transfer to a university at the 252-level.
               "It must be confessed from the outset that math has never been a subject in which I have shown particular strength and my current understanding reflects a truncated high school education. I can recall the satisfaction of solving problems and mastering new techniques as a younger student, but at some point after learning basic arithmetic, the problems and puzzles became too abstract for me to conceive of an application for them, and I ceased to apply myself to their solution, thinking it a waste of time.
               "With age, I have come to realize the universal utility of mathematics. It seems that to every problem there is a solution to be found in the appropriate comparison of numbers. I previously mentioned my interest in earth sciences and here, especially, there is some hazy conception that the complicated interaction of chemical elements, biological organisms and geological processes that have made the earth hospitable to life can be summarized as a series of algebraic and geometric formulae corresponding to the varied landscapes and diverse ecosystems adorning our wondrous planet. Sophisticated measurements and calculation are used to develop life-saving medicines. Cutting-edge technologies owe their existence to the proper application of mathematical principles. In short, there are few if any undertakings for which the chances of success are not significantly increased by a working knowledge of math.
               "Although I now possess a true appreciation lacking in my youth, the world of mathematics is yet blurry and indistinct; its principles, strange and unfamiliar. I am fully confident, however, that through the instruction in basic math principles and techniques offered by this course, I will proceed with a firm foundation on which to build in my pursuit of mathematical literacy and proficiency in preparation for a career in which I can put these skills to use for the public good."

"I admire your determination to succeed at a very worthy goal, Dustin.
Keep working hard, asking questions & for help when you need it, and you will go far."
Dr. Susan Stein, Instructor

Saturday, December 1, 2012

In the Midst of Beauty, Anger

The experts say every bereaved person has his or her own “grief journey.” We all have to adjust to our “new normal.” That seems logical. Fact: Dustin is not going to be physically in my life anymore. I have to deal with it, adjust, get used to it, live life anyway. I have to move on, right?

If only the “new normal” were so simple. If only life were just like it used to be, but without Dustin in it. And for me, maybe people think it should be like that. After all, he was an adult living on his own and supporting himself.  He was not a part of my daily routine. My usual activities, my responsibilities, didn’t really change after his death. If I wanted to, I could be doing exactly what I was doing before.  

For me, adjusting to the “new normal” means learning how to deal with the changes inside my mind. There are many. Many. And some are totally unexpected. Unwelcome. Incomprehensible. Crazy?

My child was killed by a person behaving selfishly. Ashawntae was not being malicious, he didn’t intend to hurt Dustin. He was just a young man thinking only of himself, his convenience, his fun, his life. When I see others driving badly/unsafely now, I instantly think: selfish, self-centered people, only care about themselves. (I eventually remind myself that I may have behaved similarly prior to being enlightened the hard way).
This anger is new to me. I used to just let things go, to not get too bothered. And even if I did get bothered, I usually didn’t say anything about it. Thinking that way saved me much angst. I miss it!

Our family hiked the Eagle Creek Trail recently. This hike is “one of Oregon’s spectacular paths,”  “an engineering marvel” because it was blasted out of the sheer cliffs of a beautiful gorge. Hiking guides recommend taking only well-behaved older children and leashed dogs on the trail because of the danger.

Jenna at the start of the Vertigo Mile

The Potholes (yes, this is the trail)

Leeann exiting the tunnel behind Tunnel Falls
I was having a good time with my daughter and sister, the men had gone ahead. Suddenly a dog ran past. Her owner, about 15 feet behind, assured us that she was a friendly dog. Lightning fast, I was angry. Trembling angry. Here was another person endangering lives just like the person who killed Dustin. I didn’t start out too bad, telling her, friendly or not, the dog was supposed to be leashed. It’s a little fuzzy after that, but I know I called her “selfish” and “uncaring” and when she said she is, too, a caring person, I said that ignoring the signs that dogs must be leashed demonstrated that she did not care. I even at one point stated that “another” selfish person (like her) killed my son, whereupon she said she didn’t know anything about that and didn’t care, either (at least that’s how I heard it). 

It was a bad scene. That party moved on, dog leashed. My daughter and sister told me there were better ways to say things, which in my extreme emotional state I took as being non-supportive and totally not understanding my feelings. Why didn’t they understand the impact uncaring people have on society? Dustin was dead because of that, didn’t they get it? I cried and walked ahead of them, and we all felt miserable for a while. 

In the end, I did apologize to the dog owner and she apologized to me. 

Weeks later, I still feel crazy and wonder if I’m going to know myself (or at least be able to control myself) ever again. I wonder if I’m fit to be in public. I wonder if my husband, my children, my friends, are going to be able to stand me much longer because I’m so angry so quickly about little things sometimes. (I’m just saying that. I don’t really think of any of these things as “little.” Put in a context with the death of Dustin, nothing is little). 

I would really just like the “old” normal back.

A Time to Love

More destruction of life, other families’ unimaginable suffering… 
A young woman, just 20, for an unknown reason speeding through the streets, loses control of her car and critically injures a 21 year old man - a pedestrian - and dies herself.

The vehicle struck a light pole so forcefully the car was sheared in half. Unbelievable but true. Incomprehensible, yet it happened. 

Photo by Steven Lane, The Columbian 
Now there is one family trying to survive the loss of Annastasia, trying to figure out why she drove in a manner “not like Annie whatsoever,” and another family is dealing with the major – life-threatening – injuries of Joseph. There will be financial costs on both sides, heart-ache, confusion, emotional pain beyond all previous imaginings. It is so very, very sad.

And the impact of this wreck, this crash, this collision - not an accident, though assuredly not planned – is not confined to just the families of Joseph and Annastasia. The impact is felt by their friends, the first responders, the witnesses, the media personnel and their audience, the medical staff at the hospital, even the families of everyone just mentioned, and more. This is a ripple in a pond.

In my experience, public opinion is an unexpected additional blow to already devastated families during these types of tragedies. In this situation, comments ranged from people praying and commiserating with both families, to some singling out just Joseph’s family for prayer and good thoughts, to varied speculation of what caused the crash, to outright condemnation of Annastasia - and even her family, for raising such a person.

Nobody really knows why this happened. But I do know that now, people are hurting. They need support. And part of that support and caring is keeping silent about the faults of their loved one, at least where a mother or a brother or a grandparent might see or hear it. We are not helping anyone by making attack comments in the media. Instead that just creates more separation, more hurt, more defensiveness… and less clear thinking all around.

There is a time and a place for making an issue, for proving a point, for having to be “right.” But this time, right now, is a time to love.