Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Blackened

I went for a walk at one of my favorite parks a couple days ago. It wasn’t a pretty day but at least it wasn’t raining. Or snowing.

Between winter and spring.

I went because I hadn’t been in awhile and because I was feeling sad about a friend of mine who is going through some tough stuff.

A place to rest and contemplate.

When I got to the park there was a warning at the gate about a prescribed burn. That’s when parts of the land are deliberately burned to ward off weeds and nonnative plants.

A scorched earth walk.

Much of the nature trail area was black, which accentuated the hills that I’m always trying to photograph. For that reason alone I didn’t mind walking along the scorched earth, or the smell that can sometimes be overwhelming.

Overlooking his park, wondering what happened.

As I walked I stopped often to take pictures. No surprise. It took me forever to walk the four miles, but it didn’t feel like forever.

Back in the woods spring is taking hold.

It felt wonderful. Spring is arriving, though slowly. Tiny wildflowers are popping up. More will follow.

So tiny you might miss the evidence of spring right under your feet.

I thought about my friend and hope he is able to come on a walk with me soon. He’d find hope in the woods, even the burned parts.

Sometimes it’s hard to let go.

Of course yesterday, listening to the Supreme Court news, I felt sadness overtaking me again. The world seems to be a darker shade of burned right now.

Nothing but darkness.

I’m trying to remember that deep in the woods hope is poking up from under last years debris.

Little umbrellas of hope.

I think I’m going to need another walk real soon.


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Unrelated

I heard a helicopter fly over late last night. And the night before. I don’t know why or where it’s going, but it makes me think about the people in Ukraine, and what they’re hearing fly over, or roll by outside their windows. And I wonder how they are sleeping while hiding in an abandoned subway or in an old bomb shelter. And I think about those trying to leave the country, walking miles, standing for hours, the men being turned back to fight, women and children trying to find a safe place to rest. My heart breaks for them all.

Last week I dog sat for a neighbor who was out of town for a couple days. The dog’s favorite indoor game was to retrieve his tennis ball. So I’d roll it under the ottoman fast enough that it would appear on the other side. He figured it out pretty quick, either waiting for it over there, or trying to keep me from rolling it past him in the first place. As he was pouncing on my hand, moving so quickly that it was almost impossible to get it past his big feet and long tongue, I had a memory flash. We used to play “Sheltie in the middle,” with one of us sitting on the floor on one side of the room, and one of us on the floor at the other side. We’d roll her tennis ball back and forth and Katie would try to get it. She usually did. Then she’d prance to one or the other of us and give us the ball to play again. I had forgotten she used to play like that. My heart cracked just a little.

Unrelated heartbreak. It’s everywhere.


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Sharpie

I’m washing dishes this early morning, pots and pans left from last night’s dinner. Katie observes me and, deciding I’m going to be there awhile, settles down on her rug in the breakfast room, in front of the door to her deck. She loves to survey her yard from that vantage point, but this morning she’s sleepy, tummy full of breakfast.

Her mind wants to keep an eye on the birds, keep watch for squirrels, but her body is determined to take a nap. I watch her eyes slowly close, then blink open, then close again. Her head starts to bob.

I stop washing dishes and stand there memorizing her.

As if she feels me watching, her eyes pop open and she gives me a side-eyed glance, checking to see if I noticed her dereliction of duty. I stay motionless. She relaxes and her eyes slide closed again, head still held high.

I tiptoe away, back to the living room to get the camera. Taking the lens cap off and turning back to the kitchen I am surprised by a little fuzzy girl standing right behind me, head tilted, watching.

“Whatcha doing mama?”

Sharp as a tack, this one.

My old girl.


42 Comments

When Katie smiles

We’re on a roller-coaster around here. Katie has mostly good days, but even during those I can sometimes detect, if I’m observant, her underlying kidney disease.

During an early morning neighborhood walk today.

When I took her to a park to celebrate her 15th birthday a couple weeks ago, I thought we were both having fun. She was walking through the woods with me, sniffing things like always. But our walk was much shorter than normal, and when I looked at the photos after, I didn’t see the usual joy in her eyes. She wasn’t smiling in any of the images.

It was a frosty sort of morning.

That made me stop and really think about the quality of her life, and whether or not she would let me know when she was done. It’s hard to consider end of life procedures when she’s still excited about her meals, still wants to go outside. Still wags her whole behind when you walk in the door.

Is still so beautiful.

You know it’s my supper time again. Right mama?

And then we had a day like today, sunshine and 30 degree temperatures. Perfect sheltie weather. We went on multiple walks around the neighborhood, none of which she wanted to end.

Today, checking her park.

We went to her park — I was thinking we’d just walk around the pond, sure that she wouldn’t have the stamina to walk all the way around the park.

What are you doing taking pictures, mama? We have a whole park to explore!

But once we were there I let her make the decisions and she never once sat down or asked me to pick her up. We took it slow, but we walked all the way around her park’s perimeter, just about a mile.

It sure is a pretty day mama. I get a treat for posing, right?

That, on top of all the walks in the neighborhood should have exhausted her, but she’s been asking for her (numerous) meals right on schedule. And we’ve been on another walk around the neighborhood this evening.

It was a good day, mama!

I’ve looked at the images I took during our park adventure today. I’m pretty sure she was smiling. I guess it’s not time yet. Not today anyway, probably not tomorrow or the day after that either.

Yep, I’m still the Princess Katie and this is my park!

My girl. She and I are lucky we have more time together.

Still so beautiful.


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Broken heart

It’s now a proven fact that walking quickly on a treadmill, especially at an incline while wearing a mask, is not fun. I had a stress test this morning, as if life in times of covid isn’t already stressful enough.

While the tech was gathering “before” ultrasound images of my heart I gazed up at the ceiling wondering what a broken heart looked like. And if he’d be able to see that mine surely was.

Dad and his sister.

Seventeen years ago this morning my dad was killed, while slowed in traffic, by a semitruck driver who fell asleep at the wheel. Dad never had a chance.

So today I wonder about a lot of things. Whether our driver ever thinks about the man he killed. Whether today’s date stirs his heart like it stirs the hearts of my family. Whether he measures time in before and afters like we do.

And I think a lot about the recent sentence of the truck driver in Colorado who killed four people and injured several more in a firey crash in 2019. Colorado laws required that sentences for each of the charges he was convicted of be served consequently, and that’s why his sentence was 110 years.

Being a big brother.

Is 110 years too long? I don’t know. What is the right number of years for killing a person, intentionally or not? The Colorado driver made several bad decisions on his way to that devastating crash, the most important being him passing the truck runoff lane on his way to rear ending all those cars.

The driver that killed my dad made several bad decisions too, the most important being continuing to drive tired and not stopping at the state visitor center only 12 miles prior to the crash site. But in Georgia his bad decisions resulted in a misdemeanor and the max time he could serve in jail was 30 days. Is 30 days too short a time to pay for negligence that results in the death of someone else?

Being a dad at Christmas.

On one hand I’m sorry the Colorado driver got such a heavy sentence because it’s garnering sympathy for the driver. He says he wishes he had died instead of all those people. I thought for a moment that he felt remorse. And then he added, he wishes he had died ‘because this is no life.” His statement reflects his own fear and frustration and loss rather than any feeling of responsibility. Lost in all of the hyperbole are the injured, the dead, and their families. The real victims of this crash.

On the other hand, I am grateful that the Colorado driver got such a heavy sentence, because it’s bringing attention to these types of crashes which occur all too frequently. Time and time again I hear the same story. Someone was stopped in traffic. A truck doesn’t stop, for any number of reasons. People die horrible deaths. Truck drivers die too. Some people survive to live lives that are never the same.

Everybody involved lives in a world of before and after.

Being a dad to such a big family carries a lot of responsibility.

Earlier this week I attended a Zoom meeting with several volunteers of the Truck Safety Coalition. We’re trying to get through the holidays by leaning on each other. My heart, toughened by seventeen years of scarring, broke again as I listened to several new stories.

One young man feels lost because his fiancé was killed on her way to work a few months ago. They had a whole life planned — he was helping her get through nursing school, after which she would work and help him get through pilot school. Now he sits in their apartment stunned as he trys to come to terms of his ‘after.’

And another young person has been married only eighteen months when her husband was hit by a semi last month. He’s in an ICU now, can’t move, is on a ventilator and communicates by blinking his eyes. She had just started law school. Now she sits with him, advocating for his care in a hospital short staffed and overrun with covid. It’s not clear yet what their ‘after’ will look like.

Being appreciated by his employer.

That night our group talked a little bit about the Colorado driver and his sentence. The widow of one of the victims of that crash is new to our organization. She doesn’t want his sentence commuted. She says the people pushing for that have not sat through three weeks of testimoney. That they don’t know the whole truth.

She says that she, and all of us, were handed life sentences, too, the day that marked our own before and afters.

We used to laugh a lot. Before.

It’s a complicated issue and will take more pondering on my part before I know exactly where I stand. Meanwhile, I’ll start again repairing my battle scarred heart. No matter how many layers of patches I’ve put on it, it seems to break just as easily as it did seventeen years ago.

Thank you all for reading this far. Drive carefully. Stay safe. Protect that heart of yours and hug your families close. It’s a proven fact that broken hearts can’t ever be entirely healed.

I imagine he has an ocean view now too.


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Vacuum cleaner blues

Katie didn’t bark at the vaccum cleaner this morning. If she was a young dog I’d be thrilled, certain that I’d desensitized her, trained her not to go balistic whenever I pulled it out of the closet.

But she’s barked at that vaccum every single time I’ve used it for the past fifteen years.

This morning she just looked at me with sad eyes and wandered off to nap.

My eyes are leaky.


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Thank you

I can’t let another day go by without sending out a great big THANK YOU to all of you that supported my Giving Tuesday Facebook fundraiser for the Truck Safety Coalition. Monetary donations, as well as verbal and written support, all made my day. Sometimes I feel that working to make our roads safer is too hard, maybe even impossible, and I feel lonely in the fight. But you proved to me, once again, that I’m not alone, and that many people care about the victims and their families as well as the underlying purpose.

I started out with a goal of raising $1,000, the same amount I struggled to raise last year. I put the fundraiser up the evening before Giving Tuesday because I was afraid I’d have technical problems trying to do it early Tuesday. I don’t know why I assume things won’t go as planned, but I didn’t have any trouble getting the page to work, and by late evening I was already close to goal.

Well. I couldn’t start Giving Tuesday with only a couple hundred dollars to raise all day, so I upped the goal to $1200, and was quickly nearing that goal too. So I boosted it again to $1500 and by afternoon was slightly over. It felt kind of like cheating to raise it again, but I did, one last time, to $2000 and several more friends helped me make that final goal. I should have just started at $2000, but that felt so far out of the realm of reality, and I was afraid of failure.

Lesson learned.

So thank you. You give me renewed hope that the world can be a pretty wonderful place, and people are kind and compassionate and generous. You gave what you could, and it was, as a blogger friend of mine often says, enough.

Thank you.


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Convergence

I want to write a post thanking all my fabulous donors who contributed to the Truck Safety Coaltion today during the Giving Tuesday campaign. That’s what I thought I’d be writing about tonight, because you were all truly amazing.

But just before 1 p.m. today, Giving Tuesday, five days after Thanksgiving, only weeks before Christmas our county became another statistic. There was a school shooting here, in a high school a couple of towns over. While we were talking about trucks and death and injury and funding, while we were congratulating each other on moving toward fundraising goals, a 15 year old was shooting classmates and a teacher.

There are three dead students so far, 8 more people injured, several are critical. A fourteen year old girl is on a ventiltor.

Oxford is a small, tight knit community. They are all in shock, as are the rest of us in this county. Just like truck crashes you never think it will happen to you or your family or your community. Until it does.

Tonight, after a full day of fundraising and an afternoon moving from disbelief and incredulity to sad acceptance, I went to my community band rehearsal — our Christmas concert is next Tuesday night. It seemed a lot to process.

The truck crash stories I’d heard today bounced around in my head, ping ponging against the sights of ambulances and medical helicopters and running students and crying parents that I’d seen on television, offset by comforting music played distractedly by folks that are parents and grandparents and high school students themselves.

So many emotions converging, it’s all a jumbled mess inside my brain. So the thank you post I planned to write will have to wait.

Tonight on my way home from rehearsal I thought about the three families who’s children didn’t come home from school today. Who will never come home again. And I thought about the families who’s children are fighting for their lives in the hospital. I thought about how the actions of one person can irreparably damage an entire community, a whole county. A family. How Christmas, and Thanksgiving too, will never be the same in Oxford.

And how Christmas music will forever bring up wells of grief for so many, just as it did in our family for so many years.

If you believe in the power of prayer, please send some this way. Because it feels like crazy has converged here, in a small town, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the holiday season.


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Going live on Giving Tuesday

We’re going live tomorrow! I’ve rarely done any live work on Facebook before, but tomorrow is the day! The Truck Safety Coalition will be featuring volunteers, board members and staff in short presentations and interviews every hour on the hour between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m tomorrow. You can see it all on their Facebook page.

I’m live at 10:00 a.m. I’ve been practicing, but you never know how it will really go. I’m not sure I can get through it without crying, so I may end up doing an abbreviated version. Or maybe tears are just what we need for people to realize how important safety is for us all.

Anyway.

Below is what I’m planning to say. What actually comes out of my mouth tomorrow may be completely different.

Hey everybody!  My name is Dawn King.  I’ve been a volunteer with the Truck Safety Coalition for more than 15 years.  When people first hear me talk about volunteering with TSC they assume I’m a retired truck driver or something. 

But that’s not it.

I volunteer with TSC to honor my dad.  Some of you know that he was killed a couple days before Christmas back in 2004 when he was driving to the airport to catch a flight, planning to spend the holidays with family.

He was on the interstate, early in the morning of December 23rd when he came upon a small crash.  He would  have called it a fender bender.  Police, ambulance and fire trucks were already on the scene, and traffic was slowly being directed around the crash. 

Dad was in back of a semi, and  both of them, along with most of  the rest of traffic, managed to slow down and move into the left lane.  But the semi behind dad never saw the slowed traffic.  He never saw all those revolving emergency lights on that dark early morning.  The semi behind dad slammed into him with the cruise control still engaged.  Dad’s vehicle was pushed into the semi ahead of him, then spun out into the median.  Dad was partially ejected through a rear window even though he was wearing his seatbelt. 

They say he died instantly. 

What should have been a joyous time of year turned into tragedy and my family’s lives were changed forever.  Dad was the trunk of our family tree, our last living parent.  Without him I and my 3 siblings felt lost.   We had no idea what we should do next, where we should turn.

And then someone searching randomly on the internet came across the Truck Safety Coalition and I called them asking for advice.   And that’s where it all began.

TSC helped connect us to an attorney who in turn told me the things I needed to do immediately to protect our interests.  That was a big first step.  And the further we got into the process the more I realized how huge the problems are in the trucking industry.  How often the families who are injured or killed are considered just another cost of doing business.

Every one of my siblings said they wanted to do something, to make sure no one ever had to go through the pain we were experiencing.  And volunteering for this organization is how we’re making a difference. 

Volunteering for TSC changed my life, it gave me a place to put my anger and my grief.   It gave me the opportunity to help other people.  To make positive change.  It gave me a direction.

We know we won’t stop all crashes.  We know change is slow and difficult.  But every step we make toward protecting both the motoring public AND the drivers of these trucks saves someone an injury, saves a life, keeps a family together.  Even though we can’t identify specific individuals who weren’t involved in a crash because , for example, a double 33 foot trailer wasn’t on their highway,  we know that working to keep longer double 33 foot trailers off many of  our roads  has saved lives.

The Truck Safety Coalition was there when my family needed it.  And we want to make sure they continue to be there for all the families, especially the new families far into the future.  People are beginning their long treks through grief and pain every single year.  Approximately 5,000 people die each year in crashes with commercial trucks.  Over 150,000 are injured! 

You never think it will happen to you or your family until it does. 

It takes money to keep an organization afloat.  We can’t let our families down, those new faces, so raw with grief can’t be ignored.  We have to raise enough money to keep talking in Washington, and to keep supporting the people who are affected by these crashes.

We need your help. 

Next spring we’ll be inviting families to Washington, to give them and their loved ones a voice on Capitol Hill.   It’s a conference called Sorrow to Strength which we do every other year.  The families, particularly the new families, come to the conference filled with sorrow, and through their time together with other families who have gone through similar experiences, they  learn more about the issues, and about themselves. 

We see people come the first day barely able to speak their story, who leave after four days with new confidence, strength and commitment, people who have found their voices.

We are all stronger than we ever thought we could be. 

We need money to be able to do that.  If you’re interested, there are a number of scholarships that need funding.  Every dollar helps.  You can learn more about the conference and the specific needs at our website, trucksafety.org, under the tab “Sorrow to Strength.”

And, at an every day level, we need funds to have someone answer the phone when a new family calls for help.

We need funds to attend meetings with the agencies that make the rules that govern the trucking industry, to make certain that safety is always involved in any decision.

We need funds for someone to reach out to families soon after the crash, to make sure they know we’re here.

There are so many things that need to be done to meet our duel mission of supporting families and affecting change.  And they all require funding.

Truck Safety affects everyone.  We all share the roads with commercial trucks.  We are all at risk.  Help us keep educating, keep supporting, keep pushing for change.

Please donate.  You’ll find my page on Facebook or you can go to the Truck Safety Coalition Facebook page and donate there. 

And if YOU or your family or friends have been in a crash with a commercial truck, and you’d like to join us in our work, or you want some advice, or just need to connect with other people with a similar experience, please contact us.

You can find out more about our organization and how to reach us at trucksafety.org.

If you knew my dad you know he wouldn’t have been quiet if one of his kids had been killed that December morning. 

I can’t be quiet either.

I would be grateful if you would find it in your heart to donate so we can continue this important work.

 Thank you in advance.


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Plastic wrap flashback

Today I’ve been busy cleaning the house and cooking in preparation for Thanksgiving tomorrow. It’s one of the days I’m glad Katie gets me up early, I have so much to do. Katie, on the other hand, is less than happy, following me around from bedrooms to bathrooms to kitchen and back again as I alternate cleaning with putting something on the stove or in the oven or downstairs in the spare fridge.

Up and down, back and forth. She didn’t even bark at her personal nemesis the vacuum cleaner. By the time I got to that she was all but exhausted. Me too.

But there was one moment this morning when I was suddenly transported back to Thanksgiving 2004, and I had to stop and catch my breath. And then grin sadly.

You see, in the summer of 2004 my mom died suddenly, and by Thanksgiving of that year the entire family recognized that we couldn’t take family for granted. And so both sides of my family, people on my mom’s side, and people on my dad’s, from all over the country, were arriving for Thanksgiving dinner, to be eaten on Friday, at my house.

Dad and my siblings got there a day or so early and were helping me prepare. And wouldn’t you know it, I ran out of plastic wrap. It’s certifiably impossible to cook massive amounts of food without plastic wrap. So even though it was Thanksgiving morning, a time I would generally avoid going to the store, my dad volunteered to run out and pick some up for me. And of course all he and one of my brothers could find was some funky colored sticky plastic wrap which I used that day but never used again. In fact I think I still have that roll at the back of the pantry.

Today I was making vegetable lasagna for dinner tonight and needed to cover the pan with foil before it went into the oven. I had a new roll of it waiting in the drawer. But darn it all, Kroger, do you have to glue the edge down so that I can’t get it started? Does everyone have to yank the foil including the cardboard core out of the box and use scissors in order to get a piece of foil? I should just go buy another brand.

And then I envisioned going to the store the afternoon before Thanksgiving. The chaos that would be there. Just for some tinfoil. Even though I know for a fact that it’s certifiably impossible to cook massive amounts of food without tinfoil, I wasn’t going to head to the store for anything. And then I remembered sending dad out into the craziness for plastic wrap.

And I stopped tugging the tinfoil and I took a deep breath and I smiled.

Memories on this Thanksgiving about Thanksgivings long past. I guess that’s what the holidays are supposed to be about. And I should probably just stop worrying about all that food. It will get done or it won’t, Thanksgiving will be here either way, and I’m grateful to be spending it with some of my family this year.

I hope you are all in a happy place as well. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

At my wedding, 1990.