Friday, March 4, 2016
The Last Party
Does your family history include any life stories that ended abruptly with a last party?
If you've been following A Family Tapestry for the long haul, you know that the answer to that question, for our family, is an unfortunate yes. Make that a triple yes.
Though each instance brought untold pain and lasting change, there is something we've discovered, as a family, about taking that tragedy and transforming it into something that can benefit others.
Every year now—for over a decade, at this point—my husband shares the story of his three family losses during a national program for high school students known as Every 15 Minutes. The goal of his involvement is to make a difference in the lives of these young people—to connect with them in a meaningful way so that his family history doesn't have to become replicated as their family's loss.
I usually mention the Every 15 Minutes program here at the end of each year's season—explaining it in more detail in my posts in 2011 (after we returned from the preliminary research project to obtain photos and documents reconstructing the three collisions for my husband's presentation) and in 2012 (recapping the actual story of the Stevens family's three losses).
Once again, we've begun another season of the Every 15 Minutes program in California. As you read this, my husband is likely pouring his heart out to an audience of young people at a high school near our home, in their final assembly of the two day event. He's not doing what critics of the program assume—just getting kids to cry, which may be effective for the moment but soon forgotten—but convincing them to make strong, lasting commitments to help each other stay alive, to take care of their friends, to make a plan so "having fun" doesn't have to end in tragedy.
The E15 season is a taxing one: this year, there will be at least ten such programs in our county's high schools. The program is complex and takes a dedicated interdisciplinary team to run smoothly. Along with my husband's presentations, our daughter oversees the "moulage" process—the gory makeup for the simulated crash acted out for the student body—and does photography of the event. In addition, there is a videography team, a sound team, a fire and rescue squad, local police, highway patrol and even coroner. Local hospitals volunteer their facilities for filming and mock treatment scenes, as do the jail facility, the county courthouse and even the funeral home. Though demanding—and exhausting—the program is well worth the effort.
In a way, it is painful to relive such a story as the one my husband shares each year for this program. What supersedes that difficulty is the chance to let one family's story spare another family of repeating the same agony.
When people realize there is a painful past in their family's history, the tendency is to tuck such stories away, to gloss over the ugly parts. These, however, sometimes deliver the transformative essence giving others the courage to make necessary changes. Our pain becomes others' preventive antidote.
It takes courage to let go of such difficult memories and free them to do their work. We face embarrassment, sometimes even shame, along with the doubt that our story would make any difference at all. But if the dark side of your family's history has somehow transformed you, redeemed you, or made any difference for you at all, it will only be in the sharing that it can do the same for anyone else.