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.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Gifts From Grief

     For the next few weeks I’m going to tell you about some of the wonderful workshops I attended at the National Compassionate Conference recently. This first one is called “Gifts of Grief,” given by Donna Goodrich. I paraphrase the handout she gave us listing the gifts, plus add my own thoughts.

As we all know, we can’t bring back our children who have died. And I’m sure we’ve all said that we’d give up any “gifts” we may receive as a result of their death, just to have them back, alive with us again. We know this can’t happen, so we must look for the gifts we are now offered and let them be a living memory to our child.

Here are some of the gifts you may receive if you attend a TCF meeting:
1      The gift of  “courage” to go to your first TCF meeting.
2      The gift of hope from other bereaved parents at that meeting.
3      At that meeting did you find someone: to share precious moments of your child with them? Did          you laugh with them? Did they allow you to talk about your child?

The above are all gifts that you may receive at that first meeting. But as you continue going to these meetings, you will find that there will be changes “within you.” Here are some of the changes you may find:

4     You have become a more compassionate and forgiving person than you were before your child           died
5      You understand the value of an “I love you” like never before.
6      You understand what matters most in life today.
7      You are more supporting of others going through a loss than ever before.
8      Your life has a better focus and greater meaning since your child died
9      You’ve learned to live in the moment.
10  You may get pictures of your child from others that you didn’t know existed
11  You may talk about your child whether others like it or not.
12  You may give of yourself to others more.
13  You now have more loyal and compassionate friends who understand your loss.
14  You learn happy stories about your child from others.
15  You are a better person now than before our child died.
16  You have a better appreciation of life and who to share it with.
17  You forgive ourselves and others and give them a second chance.
18  You have deep relationships with people you would never have thought of as being close to.
19  You have the ability to empathize with those suffering.
20 You receive “hugs” from heaven when you find pennies, see dragonflies, butterflies, rabbits,                rainbows, hummingbirds—all showing up at just the right time. They help us through the darkest        days and let us know that our children are still with us in some way.

“There are many gifts in grief and it may take you a lifetime to find them, but they are there for us—given because we continue to love our children and seek a continued connection to that love,” said Donna.

What “gifts” have I received from the death of my daughter? Here are some. I became a book author of two books on surviving grief, never dreaming those books would include my daughter. I became known not only for those books, but everything I have written and contributed to other books, other newsletters, online writings and my eight years of blogs on surviving grief. My life’s desire is now to help others cope with their loss, speak to groups and keep my daughter’s name and life alive in other’s memory. I have learned what is important in life and not to dwell on the little things that don’t matter. I have become more empathetic to others, more giving and have wonderful, lasting friendships with those I can now identify with. I also agree with Donna’s list of changes that take place within yourself.

Our children may be gone from our lives, but nothing can take the beautiful memories we will always keep and treasure.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Supportive Husbands

They say the third time is the charm. That is so true for my third husband and me, now married nine years, but together for 12 years. I couldn’t have asked for a better husband. He is kind, thoughtful and it is such a comfort to know he understands and supports me during the good days and the not so good days, as I continue my never-ending grief journey.

We go to the cemetery together; he never lets me go alone. He always reminds me when it is time to go there in case I have forgotten an important date. We choose to go about 4 times a year. (For some people that is a lot; for others not enough. Many factors go into this decision and whatever is best for you personally is what you should do.)

My husband has watched videos of my daughter and understands her personality and our relationship. On what was her wedding day, we watch the DVD of the ceremony together because he knows it is what I want to do. It is a lovely memory, since it is the only DVD I have of her. I do have lots of photos to look at and have also shown many of those to him also.

Although they were destined never to meet, my husband gets very emotional and teary-eyed when he speaks of Marcy to others, her accomplishments and how well we got along as I have explained her to him over our years together. It always brings tears to my eyes to hear him speak so fondly of someone he only knew through me.

My husband also has one beautiful daughter, also an only child, who now lives in Belgium. She and Marcy were born in the same month and on the same day, even though 17 years apart. When I speak of that to others, I, as well as they, get goose bumps. What were the chances of that happening? They are so much alike that when I talk to his daughter on the phone or see her in person when we visit, I see the same personality come through, the same expressions and the same words out of her mouth that remind me so much of my daughter. We get along beautifully, something I am grateful for.

And now we have a grandson, something I thought would never be. A picture of Marcy is on a wall in her Belgium apartment so that my grandson will know where his middle name Marc comes from. She has made sure he knows the connection and will continue to do so throughout his life.

My husband and my stepdaughter make sure I am a great part of our grandson’s life. Not only is he thrilled with his first grandson, but more importantly to him, is the fact that I, too, can share that joy with him. He knows how much it means to me. I truly love this little boy and know that as he grows up, I will always be ‘grandma’ to him. I understand it is not important that we are not blood relatives. I am as close to him as any grandparent can be and can’t wait for the next time we are together.

I hope you, too, have the love and support that I have found and that it has helped you cope with your loss.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Making a Difference

Thoughts from a recent speech I wrote and gave to a bereavement group on surviving...

You all have a future after the death of your child. Because you are all doing the best you can, you are survivors, survivors from what I believe is the worst possible thing that could ever happen to you. You may question whether you are capable of being a survivor, you may not believe it yet, but in time you will.

All of us have to work it out in our own time sequence. For some it is a shorter period, for others, much longer. I don’t need to tell you what it feels like, how your life changed in a split second, how difficult it is. It is indeed the most unbearable loss of all. But I truly believe we were left here to do some good, to help others who may not know where to turn.

Time is our friend. Time does not heal us completely but it does soften our grief. Hope can be found even when all seems lost. With hope, we are on our way to the reconciliation of our grief and the reinvention of ourselves after this devastating loss. We are forever changed, and it is our choice whether this experience expands or diminishes us. It often takes years to recognize this.

The quote, “I can not choose what I feel, but I can choose what I do about it” has meant a lot to me over the years since my daughter’s death. I choose life. I choose joy again. I choose not to be a victim. Despair and lifelong agony need not be a choice. I know there will be “moments” but those can be safely put back in place. I also choose to help others in the best way I can, through my writing and through my speaking. I choose to make a difference for those who have lost a child and for those who crave to know how to act and react to others who have lost a child. I do all this not only because I want to, but also in my child’s memory. She would have wanted this from me.

Author Martha Hickman in her book, Healing After Loss, said, “We found that our circle of friends shifted. We were surprised and disappointed that people we thought were good friends became distant, uneasy and seemed unable to help us. Others, who were casual acquaintances, became suddenly close, sustainers of life for us. 

Grief changes the rules, and sometimes rearranges the combinations...”