How to Save a Life

October 20, 2015

I have worked to post weekly but this week I struggled for words. Even still, I decided I should at least make an attempt. I knew immediately I was on track when “How to Save a Life” by The Fray was the first song that came on my playlist. That song is a connection with my little brother. It played the night I drove to Savannah to get him out of jail. Our trip to Georgia was a wake-up call for Griffen and for us. A couple of months later, he was dead.

I’ve touched on this topic on my Facebook page, but it always feels like I’m lecturing. That is never my intent with any of my posts. My desire is for you to see the world through another’s eyes — mine. I believe that we are all in this together and the more we can see through another, the closer we become to being one with the ONE.

My intention with this post is to share my own experience and my prayer is that what I am sharing will be used in a way that might save someone’s life. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but I have to do this. I knew it when I went to bed last night and I knew it even more when I woke up this morning. My first thought today was, “Kim, you tell this to kids all the time. Why are you afraid to say it to the grownups?”

When I travel and speak I use Griffen’s morgue photos. Not to scare anyone or to be sensational but to show others the consequences of actions. I’ve spoken to thousands of teens and lots of adults. I want the young people to know that life isn’t like a video game with a start over button. I want the adults to get an inside view of what can go wrong.

I will go ahead and give you a warning. This blog post is going to end with a graphic image. The truth of the matter is that life sometimes ends graphically as well. If you aren’t prepared for that you need to stop reading.

One of the things that I try very hard not to do is judge. You never really know what you would do, or what something feels like until you are walking two miles in those moccasins yourself.

I am not a parent and I can’t even begin to imagine being a parent in this day and time. I saw with Griffen how different times were than when I was a teenager.

When Griffen died in 2007, I got to see up close and personally what can happen when young people and alcohol mix. Seeing someone you love on a morgue table changes you. Besides the blood and the fact that his body was mangled and torn, one of the things that stuck with me was a photo where I could see his eyes – only one was open. In that particular photo, the spark was missing, the light was gone. Death does that.

Until Griffen, I was so naïve. I saw the news of what could go wrong when alcohol became involved, BUT I NEVER thought it could happen to us. I told myself that only happened to other people. I believed Griffen when he told me he was too smart to go out and drink and get himself killed. I had NO idea how deadly my misperceptions were. The truth is I let Griffen drink twice in his short life. He had one beer each time and I saw absolutely nothing wrong with letting him.

Back then I was still in 1983/1984 related to drinking — it was long before I knew the effects alcohol has on a young brain and long before I knew what it could lead to. It was also long before I knew what kids were really doing. My brother opened my eyes. Before him, I probably had the same thoughts as many of you. Drinking is a rite of passage and there is nothing that can be done to stop it.

Nowadays our kids are binge drinking and drinking and driving themselves to death. I know that not just from my experience with Griffen but from my time with others who work tirelessly to educate people on what alcohol really is doing to our youth. I’ve seen way too many stories of young people dying. It doesn’t just happen in big cities and faraway places. It happens right in our midst. It happens right here in South Carolina.

I don’t think any adult I know would knowingly endanger kids. I have to tell you that every time I see a Facebook post that features an adult making drinking sound like fun or a way to escape, my guts churn. Not because I’m a prude and against alcohol or that I’m judging. My guts churn because I know what can happen.

Kids see adults doing it and think it is okay or so that is what they have told me. In addition, peer pressure and the desire to have fun drive them. No harm no foul, right? Ask Griffen, Nolan Birch or how about beautiful Samantha Spade. We can’t ask them anything because they are all dead. Their lives snuffed out long before they got the chance to really live them.

Young people talk. Adults talk. I’m troubled when I KNOW that young underage people are drinking and adults are letting them. Not because I’m judging but because I KNOW what it feels like to go to bed when all seems right with the world and be jolted awake to find out that it isn’t.

I know some of you will and do think the same thing that I did. As a matter of fact, I’ve had people tell me that their kid was way too smart to go out and do something stupid like Griffen. Some of you will think — sorry that happened to your family, but that will never happen to mine.

Guess what? Young people think the exact same thing. I was at Clemson speaking to a group in September. I volunteer to speak there with MADD. The young people who are present have gotten a ticket for underage drinking. In order to get their ticket expunged, they have to listen to Steven Burritt with MADD, a Clemson police officer and me or another person who has lost someone. In my last visit there a young man explained that he tailgated the weekend before and was drunk out of his mind. The group always agrees that they are too smart for something to happen to them. I always tell them that I heard that same thing from another young man that I once knew. Of course, they know who it is. He is the reason I am there in the first place.

Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual. We do the best that we can. We can point fingers or we can dig in and try to figure out how to help our young people understand that their lives matter and we care enough about them to set boundaries in place which affirm that we really mean it. It’s easy to imagine that these things don’t happen. I wish they didn’t, but they do.

You know what they say — a picture is worth a thousand words.

On my last visit to Clemson, the same young man who admitted to being drunk the weekend before told me that it was the pictures that got his attention.

I decided earlier today that it was time to be bold and courageous. My prayer is that whether you believe me or not that you see what I see — that once the spark is gone. It’s gone. You can’t bring it back.

Kids and alcohol are a deadly combination. I know that I’ve just taken quite a bit of your time to tell you what can happen and what did happen. Now I want to show you.

This was my smart, sweet, kind, compassionate and loving little brother. He had his whole life ahead of him. One day he made a bad choice and that choice cost him his life. This is how it ended.

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