Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Truck rant

(This was written in January 2012. It was sitting in my draft folder, never posted, probably because I was afraid of offending someone. Now, nine years later, the same issues are still being studied by the DOT. Other than mandating unboard recorders nothing has been accomplished there.)

Warning – this is probably not going to be politically correct.  And I remind myself that what’s put out on the internet stays on the internet.  Good or bad.  But I’m working on truck safety stuff again, which makes me relive some of the initial moments and days after Dad’s crash.  And some things just need to be said.  Out loud.  Emphatically.

I’m heading to Washington again, for more meetings with the DOT; Secretary LaHood, FMSCA Administrator Anne Ferro and then members of Congress, to talk about things that can be done to improve safety.  Sometimes it all feels pointlessly repetitive, like we’re just wasting time, ours and theirs.

But then I remember.

I remember getting the call at work.  I remember signing papers to have Dad cremated and faxing them to the funeral home from a retail UPS store the night before Christmas Eve. I remember suffering through the holiday cheer of the employees as I waited for my confirmation while trying not to cry.  I remember sitting in my brother’s Alabama living room the night of Christmas Eve listening to the county coroner explain what happened.  I remember not understanding.

And this is what I can tell you now that I know more, understand more.

I know that though Dad was the kind of guy that would fix things and make them better, dead is forever and dead can’t be fixed.  And as much as I want to I can never make my family whole.  I told my sister, a couple of years into this journey, that if we could save one life through our efforts with the Truck Safety Coalition we’d be even.  She said “No we won’t.”  And she’s right.  We will never be even, not ever again.

So we can’t fix the fact that Dad is dead.  But we can fix fatigued driving.  And though common sense says that the easiest way to fix fatigued driving is to lower the number of hours a person can consecutively drive, well, maybe I’m just a naive civilian.

I received an emailed response from Administrator Ferro to my own emotional email expressing my displeasure with the new Hours of Service rule.  She says, and rightly so, that reducing truck crashes will take a complicated combination of rules, a push toward safety from many fronts –  and that reducing the number of allowed hours would continue to be studied.  She assures me a reduction in consecutive hours of driving could still be on the table.  OK.  So let’s study this for another year or more.  Apparently the people that will be killed by fatigued drivers during this period of study are expendable…collateral damage if you will.

Or maybe they’re just the cost of doing business.  After all, the trucking industry is the backbone of our economy, don’t you know.  So what’s good for the ATA (American Trucking Association) is good for all of us.   Right?  Well maybe good for everyone except those of us who get calls in the middle of the day, those of us signing our family member away to a funeral home, those of us left with a hole that can never be filled.  Those of us angry in our grief.

I’m not apologizing for this rant.  It’s your choice to read or not read.  Comment or not.  It wasn’t written for you.  It was written for me.  Because I have to go back to Washington and talk to these people again about common sense safety issues.  And I shouldn’t have to.  I shouldn’t have to explain simple concepts to people that are in power and are supposed to be experts in their fields.  I shouldn’t have to exploit Dad’s death to get something done.  I shouldn’t have to relive the whole thing over and over and over so that they can justify ‘studying’ things some more.

Give it up people.  The time for studying and discussion is over.  We need some action.  People are dying.

I don’t know what more I can say.


32 Comments

Torn

I’m back in Michigan, and it’s lovely here, with sun and blue sky, a bit of white snow left on the ground. It might get to 50F this afternoon.

My last night at the lake the sky finally cooperated and provided a worthy sunset.

Still.

The fact that it was a foggy morning made it somewhat easier to leave.

In Alabama it was beginning to warm up too, daffodils were blooming, and when the sun broke through the rain clouds we enjoyed temperatures in the 70s.

For weeks, this trip, I passed this field and remembered one year when cows where there and how photogenic the spot was. But I never saw any cows there until the day I was leaving town.

My last day in Alabama I sat on the deck and enjoyed listening to the birds singing. The brown thrush were chasing each other around the yard. Blue birds were flitting everywhere. Robins sang in the morning and ducks and geese gathered in the lake.

I took tiny little two lane roads that curled through the mountains as I headed north. The better to find interesting things to photograph.

It would have been wonderful, after almost a full month of rain, to sit there for a few more days.

There were a lot of interesting places along the way.

Still.

You don’t always have to have a structure to make an image interesting. Especially with fog.

My husband and my Katie-girl were in Michigan and I’d been gone a long time. I felt somewhat guilty lounging around in the South while my husband dog-sat the demanding princess.

So many old, abandoned homesteads tucked in the hills.

Still.

I think about all the families whose dreams moved on to somewhere else.

My sister and brother are in the South and I hadn’t seen either of them in more than two years, so it was great to spend weekends with them, painting with my sister, going on a boat ride with my brother. It would have been nice to stick around and spend more time with them.

So many barns hanging on.

Still.

So many decisions to make.

My girl, who lives in the moment, had spent enough moments without her mama. She must have felt like she’d never see me again.

A high point in Alabama. Plus the sun started to break through the fog.

Still.

Lots of barns still in use.

There were more adventures to be had in the south.

I turned around to get this, because of the car.

Still.

A cozy barn nestled in the hills.

There are adventures to be had in the north too.

Solidly facing a new day.

So here I am, enjoying sunshine while wearing a coat, tickling the princess tummy, feeding my birds, watching the squirrels. And it’s good.

Some grey barns are by design, not by age.

Still….

Photos in this post are from my last evening at the lake, and my drive north.

Kinda missing this place now.


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Sixteenth anniversary

Early in the morning, sixteen years ago today, dad went home to be with mom.

Studying a map. But there’s no roadmap to heaven.

We said, sadly, that she sent a semi-truck to collect him; she’d been gone five months and they hadn’t been apart for that long since the early days of their marriage when dad got drafted into the army.

1954, he’s in the army now.

So today my family and I think about him. And them. And wish it all could have been different.

1961, the whole family.

But there is comfort knowing they are together for always.

The way I like to think of them, laughing and happy.

When mom came down and collected him that morning, sixteen years ago, I imagine he was glad to see her but worried about leaving all of us.

1990, still had fourteen years of marriage ahead of them.

So I’ll remind him, you both raised us well, rest easy; we’re doing just fine.

See you both again someday.

50th wedding anniversary on Lake Michigan.


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Giving Tuesday thanks

Here it is Friday already and I haven’t been back to thank so many of you for your support of my Giving Tuesday Facebook fundraiser.

As you may remember I was raising funds for CRASH (Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways) which is a 501c3 under the umbrella of the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC). I’m a volunteer with them, and have been since dad was killed December 23, 2004 by a tired semi driver who failed to see traffic stopped ahead of him.

Anyway, giving Tuesday is a way for people to easily donate to nonprofits and many of you donated to mine, and I can’t thank you enough.

This year we had two anonymous donors each willing to match the first $10,000 we raised, so it was very important that collectively we get to that magic mark, and we did! We actually raised about $13,000, so all in all the organizations, between CRASH and P.A.T.T (Parents Against Tired Trucking, the other organization under the TSC umbrella) raised $33,000.

This is much more than we’ve ever been able to raise on this platform before, and that’s due to our First Reponse Coordinator getting behind the effort, organizing us and cheering us on. Next year we hope to have even more volunteers put up their own fundraiser on Giving Tuesday so that we can raise even more.

By maintaining our fundraisers, talking about them throughout the day (I even did a live interview), changing the images at the top, sharing it often, we not only kept ourselves front and center, but we reenergized our donor base and our volunteers.

Now we’re ready to start work — there is much to be done, and with your help we’ll be able to move forward, helping more people, one family at a time. If you weren’t able to help, that’s OK, I appreciate your emotional support as much as your monetary support. I know you guys have my back and that counts more than you can ever know.

Again, thank you all so much.


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In preparation of Giving Tuesday

It’s become a bigger and bigger thing, Giving Tuesday. Put on by Facebook, it’s a day when nonprofits post about their organizations and ask for friends and familiy, and friends of their friends and family, to give a little to help. There are all sorts of nonprofits, and each one has a worthy story to tell.

Long time readers know our story, but we’re coming up on the anniversary and tomorrow is Giving Tuesday. It seems like a good time to tell it again.

In 2004, early in the morning of December 23rd, my dad was killed by a sleepy semi driver while on his way to the Atlanta airport with a ticket in his pocket to fly north for the holidays.

That’s the short and shocking version. The long version is just as shocking once you realize how preventable dad’s and so many other crashes are.

After dad was killed, and while we were trying to get our footing, someone found the Truck Safety Coalition online, and through them we found a truck crash lawyer who knew exactly what to do to protect our rights. Suddenly we had help.

And once all of that was settled some of us found that we wanted to help other families too, so we joined the Truck Safety Coalition to talk to folks who were facing the same sorts of challenges we did. We have two goals; we provide support to families who are just as shocked as we were and we educate lawmakers about the dangers on our roads. By doing both we provide a place for people just like us, living with unimaginable pain, to use their grief to make our roads safer.

It’s complicated, I know. Nothing is black and white, every regulation has unintended consequences. But every family I’ve talked to in the sixteen years since dad was killed wants the same thing we did way back then – we just want fewer families to have to go through the loss and grief we went through.

Just over 5,000 people died in truck-related crashes in 2019. Over 125,000 people were injured and trends are continuing to go up. Every time we hold our Sorrow to Strength conference I meet new families who are in the middle of crushing pain.

There are always new families.

Truck crashes are not Republican or Democrat, they don’t recognize any particular religion or faith, don’t care about race, ethnicity or gender. Truck crash survivors and families of victims who come to us for help become members of our truck safety family, and we know that within our family we are understood and supported. Even sixteen years after the crash.

Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday. I’ll have a post up on Facebook asking for donations to CRASH (Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways) which along with P.A.T.T. (Parents Against Tired Truckers) form the Truck Safety Coalition. Both CRASH and P.A.T.T are 501c3 nonprofits, and this year because of a Covid Relief Bill (the CARE Act), everyone is allowed to use up to a $300 charitable donation as a tax deduction even if you don’t normally get to deduct charitable gifts.

So I’m hoping some (OK a lot) of you will consider making that donation. This year we have two anomymous donors who are matching the first $10K we raise on Tuesday. So your $1.00 donation will actually give us $3.00!

Thank you for reading this, and looking at pictures of my dad. My brothers and sister and I miss him every single day, and always will. Sadly we know there are thousands of new families, just in 2020, that are missing their family members, or dealing with traumatic injuries too.

Please help us help them.


35 Comments

What is true

I know that science is true.
I know that Covid 19 is everywhere.
I know that washing hands and staying away from crowds will slow the spread.
I know that wearing masks when you do go out will protect others.

I know that spending extended months away from friends and family is hard.
I know we’re all experiencing Covid fatigue.
I know we’re feeling constrained, our personal rights being trampled.
I know we’re feeling sad and overwhelmed and frustrated and tired of it all.

And I know we want it to just go away like the President has promised it will.
But that’s not the truth.
We haven’t turned a corner, we aren’t out of the woods, it’s not going away.
There isn’t a magical cure available for anyone to use.

I know there is no end in sight, that the numbers of cases and deaths will continue to rise.
I know that unless people begin to care for each other and respect the science we are stuck with no hope but a vaccine that might come next year.
I know the vaccine, even when it’s ready, won’t be easy to administer to every American.
I know that some people won’t want to take a vaccine pushed through the approval process.

I know that 218,000 people have died of Covid related illness in the US alone.
I know that because one of those people was a family member of mine.
I know that hundreds of thousands of families are strugling with those deaths.
I know that spouses and children and grandchildren and friends are all experiencing deep grief.

And I know it didn’t have to be this way.
I know that I will always place blame on the leaders of our country for not putting together a national plan, for dismantling the process that was already in place, for lying and offering false hope.
I know that blaming doesn’t fix the problem and blaming doesn’t make the pain go away.
But I know that those 218,000 people who lost their lives deserve to be honored, and the countless hundreds of thousands of people left with dilbaitating illness after suffering the disease will need help.

I know that our country is up to the task.
I know that we can look beyond ourselves and do what has to be done.
I know that we can see family in zoom meetings, send virtual hugs for as long as it takes.
I know that we can wear the darn mask.

Because this is the America I know. The strong yet empathetic country that can accomplish anything.
The country I know can come back from the brink of destruction.
I know we can turn this around.
I know this is true.


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Anniversary smiles

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary.

Lots of years ago, when we were much younger.

We got married in the town I grew up in, in the church we attended every Sunday when I was a kid, even though I hadn’t lived there for more then 15 years myself.

Who could have guessed all that was ahead of us when we took those vows and cut that cake. I’m sure glad I didn’t have to get through it all alone.

It wasn’t a very big wedding, but it must have been legit because we’re still married — thirty years later.

And that makes us smile.

My sister and me.


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Another Father’s Day

When your dad dies you’re in the moment of loss and you don’t really consider how permanent it is. But dead is forever and that’s a very long time.

In the beginning you get through each day, each moment really, one moment at a time and you try to accomplish all the things you have to do, from arranging a funeral to cancelling his next doctor appointment, and you don’t think about what it will be like sixteen Father’s Days later.

But I can tell you what it’s like. It’s like the first one, just a little softer around the edges. Less the slice of a knife, more the dull ache of a bruise.

Dad would have turned 91 last February. There’s no guarantee he’d still be alive today, but I know for certain that a sleepy truck driver took several years from him — and us — sixteen years ago when he failed to see dad stopped on the freeway ahead.

A young man with big dreams

I wonder if that driver ever thinks of dad. Or us. I think of him often; he’s a father too, and I am sure there will be some Father’s Day thing happening for him this weekend. I don’t begrudge him that. I just wish…I wish he had pulled over when he got sleepy that morning.

I know you all expected some sort of uplifting Father’s Day post, but that’s not where I am this year. Grief ebbs and flows, but the work remains.

In fact I’m working on some truck safety stuff over the weekend. In some ways that’s in honor of my dad. I guess, for me, just about every day is Father’s Day as we fight to improve safety on our roads. Can’t give up, though sometimes it feels futile.

I like to think of him up in heaven sitting with some of your folks who have gone on too, sitting around in easy chairs telling stories about all of us, sharing experiences. Smiling a lot. Don’t see why this isn’t possible, after all, most of us met over the internet, just as unlikely as our folks meeting in the afterlife, right?

Anyway, now I’m rambling. I hope those of you that still have your dad here get the chance to give him a hug or a call or a card. Sometimes dads get lost in our busy worlds, but time is not infinite. Don’t waste any of it.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. No matter where you are.

A new dad.


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I’m turning into an old fart

When my brothers and sister and I were growing up we pretty much ran around the neighborhood, the woods or spent our time out on the lake. But there was one place we didn’t run, and that was our next door neighbor’s yard. Though our neighbor had two kids of his own he wasn’t really kid friendly.

We weren’t allowed to walk across his yard to play with kids that lived on the other side of him. We weren’t allowed to skate on the part of our lake that was behind his house. We couldn’t even touch his grass in order to take his dog back home when it wandered over into our yard to visit our guinea pig. (Robbie the collie and Barney the guinea pig had a very strong friendship.)

That was all fifty years ago.

From our gardens.

This week I found, on our lawn next to our driveway, a large deposit from what must have been a very big dog. I was incensed. This is not the first time we’ve been the recipient of doggie gifts that are not Katie’s. I’ve ignored it when it’s at the further corners of our yard which is bordered on two sides by roads. But a month or so ago the deposit was left right next to our mailbox. And this week it was right next to our driveway.

It was sort of in my face, and I found myself turning into my childhood neighbor, but with no one around to yell at.

So I made a sign, and posted it right next to the offending pile. It said “Who left this? NOT OK! Pick up after your dog.”

The porch pots are vivid.

Of course no one admitted to being the offending human. I don’t blame the dog, though if it could read I’m sure it would take it’s business across the street to avoid me. I picked up the pile after a couple days, and put the sign away. I’m sure I’ll need it again.

But that incident alone didn’t make me think I was turning into an old fart. Oh no, there’s more.

Yesterday I was moving mulch from a very big pile which is sitting in the driveway, to a sweet little spot in our front yard under the trees, and nestled in among the hosta.

Gonna need a bigger wheelbarrow.

I could feel the drop in temperature every time I tipped a wheelbarrow of mulch onto the ground under the trees. A little microclimate exists there, so cool and green. I thought how nice it would be to have a chair there, a place to sit and watch the world go by on the street.

Which solidified the old fart notion.

Our elderly neighbors (defined elderly because they are older than me) used to sit in chairs in their garage and watch the comings and goings of the neighborhood. They have a lovely deck on the back of the house, looking into their pretty backyard edged in woods, but I don’t think they ever sat back there. No, they sit in their garage on sunny afternoons and watch the street, and us.

And now, here I am, thinking how nice it would be to sit in the front yard and watch the street.

Cool relief.

Yep I’m an old fart, not going to apologize. I figure I can sit under my tree in a comfy chair on my nice soft mulch and watch people walking their dogs down my street. And if they or their dogs get too close I’ll be able to tell them to get off my grass.

Somewhere in the cosmos I think my childhood neighbor would finally laugh.


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A very Covid Mother’s Day


Not having a mother still on this earth I hadn’t been paying attention to the upcoming celebration preparations. But today’s newscast reminds me that Sunday is Mother’s Day and that most people won’t be able to celebrate it in traditional ways.

Of course not.

This year most adults in this country will be separated from their moms by more than distance or time, the usual excuses not getting home to visit. Even some younger children, those who didn’t happen to be living with their mothers when all this started, likely won’t be celebrating with her this Sunday. They’ll be separated by the virus. By fear. By common sense.

But I bet there are plenty of creative ways to connect with her. Technology sure helps. At worst people can make coupons to send, dinner at a future date, for example, promises for time spent together when it’s safe again.

Flowers dropped off on the front porch would work too.

None of that will help my family have physical contact with our mom, as she went on ahead sixteen years ago. She’d be 91 now, and I have often wondered, during this pandemic, what she’d think about it all. I know we would have been scared for both of my folks, if they were still alive. I can feel the fear friends with elderly parents have, and I feel some guilty relief that I don’t have that worry.

And as I make weeks worth of meal plans and shop with my lengthy list these days, trying to limit my trips to the store, I remember my mother doing the same thing, for different reasons. It must have been hard feeding a family of six day after day. The endless scrimping and planning. Not wasting anything because there was never enough.

I know I have it much easier, though I sometimes feel the same way these days.

I don’t think we appreciated her for all the things she did for us, all the things she was for us, all those years ago. I wish she had lived longer because I think we were just beginning to realize what we owed her when she died.

Anyway…if you’re a techie and can figure out a way to get Zoom or some other app to connect to heaven…let me know.

I’d like to check in, express my appreciation, even if I can’t be with her, right now, to share a meal.