Thursday, November 28, 2013

I reached out and someone reached back

We are making a difference, Dustin and I. The following is part of an email I received after speaking at Oregon Impact's DUII Victim Impact Panel earlier this month. The writer attended with her teenage son after he was in a drunk driving incident which did not involve police; this was her action as a parent to help him learn the possible consequences of his actions.

"...A. was very quiet at the meeting. He really didn’t want to go and he did not express much while sitting there. When the meeting was over, we left and on our drive home A. began to open up and we discussed you and Dustin. He related to Dustin as he too rides a bike and he never wears a helmet. He just could not comprehend placing blame on someone that has died. It completely blew him away that the young man that killed your son could “have the balls” to even worry about getting his license back. A. was appalled at the length of time that people were getting for killing someone when they made the choice to drink and drive; he said it was not fair. I do not feel that either of us will ever get the picture of you standing on that podium with your son next to you out of our heads.
Thanks to Julia Flucht of OPB for the picture

"You mentioned that you were saddened that only a few people remembered his birthday and that you did not want him to be forgotten. What you do not realize is that he is still alive through you, every time you share his story, every time his story saves a life. You allowed us to meet your son through you; it was obvious that he would want you to share his story, obvious that he would want to save people from his own fate. I will remember Dustin every time I look into my son's eyes. I will give credit to Dustin every time my son makes the right decision to call and to not climb behind the wheel. As parents all we can do is hope our children make the right choices, choices that will keep them and others safe from harm. Unfortunately as we all know, teenagers do not always make the right choices. I think my son learned that Mom understands what being a teenager is like, he understand that he can call me. If Dustin made an impact on A. and he never gets behind the wheel drunk again, then Dustin has made a difference in his life. If A. sees someone and says 'you can’t drive, give me your keys,' Dustin has made a difference. 

KATU's coverage of Oregon Impact's MIP Victim Impact Panel (featuring me)

"I hope my email will bring you some peace that you will realize that Dustin may not be here in the flesh but that he is speaking through you. He is saving the lives of others and he will forever live on through you and everyone that his story touches."

I cried after reading this. Sometimes I struggle with confidence, wondering if anyone really hears me, if my telling of our story is compelling enough to capture anyone's attention. There are some other incredible real life "story tellers" at these panels, believe me. But this mother's words reassures me that my most fervent wish is fulfilled: Dustin's life is making a difference...even in death. He would be so happy!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion

An award-winning traffic safety activist back east told me that what probably helped him more than anything else was "shameless self-promotion." With that advice, I'm going to share in one place all that is going on.

October highlights (I also did my usual 4-5 victim impact panels):
20. Received a facebook message from a Philadelphia journalist wanting to help me to increase awareness around hit-and-run (he nearly died in a hit-and-run in 2009)
23. KATU coverage of my Oregon Impact Minor in Possession presentation.
23. KATU coverage of Faces of Fatalities featuring moms me, Mary Cooley, and Tammi Beers
26. Adopt-a-Highway clean up at milepost 2-3 on I-5.
28. Son Colin's birthday (I love you, Colin!)

1. Attended the (Oregon) Governor's Advisory Committee on DUII, was invited to also attend the Multi-Disciplinary Training Task Force which meets afterward.
4. Received email from Joseph Rose of oregonlive that he'd like to use some of my comments on a follow-up article regarding hit-and-run.
4. Presented at the Trauma Nurses Talk Tough DUII Victim Impact Panel.
5. Spoke with that award-winning activist mentioned above, Tim Hollister, who wrote the book Not So Fast: Parenting Your Teen Through the Dangers of Driving
7. Received an email from a victim's advocacy program coordinator who saw my presentation at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, asking if I'd present at her organization and collaborate with them on victim's rights and education.
8. Sent an early morning email to a couple of safety guys at Portland Bureau of Transportation and got a nearly immediate response about partnering with them and the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division.
8. Received an email from George Rede, OpEd of Forest Grove Leader and Hillsboro Argus asking me to consider writing a guest column on drunk driving.
11. Dustin's 31st Birthday and my second wedding anniversary (I love you, Glenn! I love you, Dustin!)
12. Recruited another mom of a hit-and-run victim to support our cause. Yay, Dawn!
12. Presented at Oregon Impact DUII Victim Impact Panel.
12. Heard that Oregon Liquor Control Commission is interested in doing a documentary on Dustin's story. 
13. Meeting with attorney Joshua Shulman's assistant Maureen to learn about my own website.Awesome.
14. Phone call scheduled with George Rede (see 8) to discuss my guest article including word count and deadline.
15. Attending the sentencing of the woman who hit and severely injured 20 year old Henry Schmidt. Henry's mom Kathi is also on board with our mission and Mike Cooley's mom will be there for support also.
16. My wonderful Dad's birthday.
17. My wonderful husband's birthday.
18. Presenting at the Clark County DUII Victim Impact Panel for the second time. 
20. Attending the Compassionate Friends, a support group for bereaved parents, grandparents, and siblings.
23. Presenting at High Risk Driver Class.

December high-lights so far (plus the normal five VIP classes):
6. Attending the Governor's Advisory Committee on DUII with Joan Miller, fellow DUII VIP presenter, hit-and-run DUII victim, traumatic brain injury survivor, co-founder of birrdsong (non-profit support and education for those with brain injury).
6. Attending the Multi-Disciplinary Training Task Force meeting.
7. Presenting at the Crime Victims and Law Enforcement Symposium at Western Oregon University
8. Attending the Worldwide Candlelighting Ceremony for deceased children of all ages.

There it is. My shameless self-promotion. I fully intend that this is really going to pay off some day soon!

Monday, November 11, 2013

He was pushing 30... and didn't make it

Dustin would be 31 tomorrow. And because what I really feel like is breaking down and blubbering and sobbing uncontrollably and howling and dying myself thinking of the loss to everyone who loved him and the loss to himself and how this type of grief is unlike any pain I ever could have imagined, I'm going to post some of the wonderful things people had to say about him.
Joe, Logan, Colin, & Dustin: Wahkeena Falls 2010

"Dustin was [very] eloquent. He was really well spoken, thoughtful, principled, and apprised."

"[He was] tireless in the fight for equality for all people. All minorities, men, women, children to be treated with equal rights and respect."

At James' and Elvina's
"He was confident and he walked with poise. The man had some real determination. He was such a good guy. He wasn't a kid anymore. He was a man. We loved Dusty." "Then overnight, the potential exploded." "He was really going somewhere. He was well read and thoughtful and the maturity and self esteem over the last year was palpable. Once he made up his mind nothing was going to stop him." "Dude, I never understood how much of my life you had become."

"[Dusty was] very well read, really politically astute. He was just all muscle because of all the work he did, and he had a great brain too."

"Dusty always had poise and a wonderful mind." 

"Unlike so many late 20'somehings in our time he chose to enrich his life instead of wasting it. He broke current norms and decided to grow up. So sad that we will never see the fruit from the seeds he had planted in his life."

"Dustin really impressed me with his passion for and his ability to do research on separation of church and state issues. It's going to be hard to fill his shoes."
2010 Gay Pride Parade (he designed the t-shirts)

"[Dustin's] passing has been noted by many who had never even met him, both in the environmental movement and the freethought community, which were among his many interests. For those of you who met this young man at the Northwest Freethought Conference earlier this year and saw his passion for bringing science and reason without supernaturalism to his generation, no doubt you were as impressed as the several organizers of groups in attendance who scrambled to get him on board as a youth liaison."

"He was an inspiration and an example of someone who not only had great ideas but followed through with verve and intelligence."

Board Members of Americans United May 2011
"Dustin was a rising star in the freethought community. He was fully committed to humanist values, separation of church and state, equality for all people, environmental protection, and actively taking a stand for your beliefs regardless of who that offends. It is rare to find a volunteer who had both the passion and ability to pull off projects such as he tackled."

 "He was so focused, and friendly."

"He was 'On Fire' ! ... SERIOUSLY!!!" 

5th grade, rocking a mullet!
"U were the only kid in our 5th grade class that wore flannels and rocked the mullet!!!!"
Loved playing soccer

"Dustin u were a great individual.. although I hadn't seen you since the 9th grade, the good old days when we would hike thru David Douglas park, have pinecone wars till we almost passed out, spending the day hanging at the bench and skateboarding thru town without a care in the world, these are some of the best memories of my youth."

"I loved Dusty so much. He will be missed."

"He truly was a beautiful man inside and out." 

"Members of local political organizations frequently got invitations to volunteer with Dustin at the Oregon Food Bank. He was full of life and brought the fun. He is missed in our corner of the world as well." 

"I was always impressed at how intelligent & sweet he was... I knew that he was a stand up guy of great character. My prayers & thoughts go out to all of Dustin's friends & family that are affected by the loss of such a beautiful soul. "

"On my 18th birthday, just a few minutes after midnight, Dustin sent me a text that said 'happy birthday, little sister. Welcome to adulthood. Everything sucks from here on out. It just gets worse.' Haha I love him and his sense of humor. He was remarkable. His impersonations were so funny and his laugh was contagious." 

Dustin and the "infamous owl"
"He was a unique individual in all the right ways. Dustin was definitely going somewhere because he had passion for life and uncommon wisdom."

Dustin was my oldest child. When I had him at the age of 18, I learned instantly that I could be "in love" with a baby. I am so happy now especially that we had the first three years of his life together, just the two of us (well, his dad, too, but we spent a lot of time together just us two).

I am so grateful that even though we had it rough when he was a kid, due to poverty and domestic violence and drug abuse and the abandonment by his and Colin's father, that he grew up into a man with such integrity and caring and compassion. And passion. I love that he figured out what he wanted and went after it full bore, that he wasn't afraid to stand up for what he believed in regardless of the popularity of his beliefs. He once told me that he wished I had taught him how to be assertive. I told him I couldn't teach him what I didn't know myself. Well, he taught himself how to be assertive and by his example I am learning it now. One of my favorite things I found on the internet after he was killed was a statement he wrote at the end of a controversial opinion on a blog post: "I invite rebuttal."  It reminds me that everyone is not going to agree with what I do or how I do it or even like me (which is hard for me to believe!), but I'm going to speak up anyway because it needs to be said and I am driven to say it.

Thank you for all the "I love yous," Dustin. It means the world to me knowing those were our last words to each other. I will love you forever.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Outside my comfort zone even more!

Today I finally gathered the nerve and attended the (Oregon) Governor's Advisory Committee on DUII. Many thanks to nurse Shelley Campbell of Trauma Nurses Talk Tough for inviting me, for showing her confidence in me where I didn't yet have it myself.

There were about 25 people there, liaisons and representatives from all kinds of different agencies across Oregon, including Oregon State Police, Oregon Transportation Safety Committee, Oregon State Sheriff's Association, Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor, Addictions and Mental Health Division, Dept of Public Safety, Standards and Training, Driver and Motor Vehicle Services, DUII Multi-Disciplinary Task Force, Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police, Oregon District Attorney's Association, Oregon Judicial Dept, and and Oregon Liquor Control Board. An article I read also stated that DUII drivers and victims of DUII drivers were members also, but I believe I was the only victim's family there.

Chuck Hayes, Chairman GAC

At the start of each monthly meeting, committee members take a moment of silence, led by Chairman Chuck Hayes, retired Oregon State Police Captain, and now one of two national coordinators and a trainer for the Drug Recognition Expert Program. “It is for the people that lost their lives or have been seriously injured by an impaired driver,” Hayes said. “Let’s remember what we do here.”

It felt amazing for me to sit in on this committee with all the professionals (25). It was wonderful to hear the discussions that clearly demonstrated that these people take DUII seriously and really want to prevent further devastation on the roads and to families. It was clear that there is no clear cut answer to anything, that things that seem commonsense to me and a "no brainer" are controversial or unconstitutional or ... all kinds of things I'd never thought of.

Take (part of) the first topic today: the definition of the word "intoxicants." Should they use "drug"? No, that probably narrows it down too much. Should they use "any impairing substance"?

They talked about the increasing likelihood of marijuana becoming legal in Oregon and how they are researching other state's laws and what is happening in Washington and Colorado, what is working and what isn't and what surprises have come up and how to avoid them.

There was much, much more. Every person there (except newbie me) was valued and specifically asked for their input and given things to do. Everyone was admonished to "think outside the box." Everyone was encouraged to think about events or outreach that could result in media coverage that would increase awareness and knowledge with the public.

I was very impressed, very humbled, and made to feel welcome. Maybe I have more to offer than just being a bereaved mom. I'm wracking my own brain to think outside the box. I can't wait to go back next month.