By Steve Mason
As I begin to write my thoughts about becoming a Peer Support Volunteer for MADD, the words to the song Closer To Love by recording artist Mat Kearney come to mind. The song includes these words: "I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees…”
For my family, that phone call came at 2:15 AM May 7, 2005. Our youngest son, Chris, was home from college for a three-day weekend. Three of Chris' friends from college drove to our small town that Friday evening to attend a "campfire party" where many of Chris' friends would be hanging out.
Hours later, the phone rang, and the voice at the other end of the line was very shaky...very distraught...the male voice said "Is this Chris' Dad? You need to come quickly...there's been a crash...Chris is hurt really bad.”
Once we arrived at the crash scene, we quickly discovered what might easily be called a parent’s worst nightmare. Our first glimpse of the crash scene revealed a mangled car resting upside down against a large tree. Next to the car, we saw a motionless body being attended to by EMT's, and we quickly learned it was our 20-year-old son Chris.
Chris was airlifted to a nearby trauma center, where he survived for 17 hours. However, due to the massive injuries sustained in the crash, he died at 6:54 PM, May 7, 2005. We planned his funeral the following day....Mother’s Day, 2005. We learned that two other passengers in the car had been seriously injured, and the 20-year old-driver of the car had been arrested for drunk driving.
Here's the connection between the words to the Mat Kearney song and Chris' death. During the days between his death and his funeral, our grief was overwhelming. For me, the grief caused the neurotransmitters between my brain and my legs to "short circuit.” Without warning, my legs would buckle, and I would literally fall to my knees. I am guessing other victims/survivors have had similar experiences.
In the summer of 2015, a MADD staff member asked if I would be interested in becoming a Peer Support Volunteer. This would be a new volunteer role for me, but I was not new to volunteer work with MADD. For 10 years, I had volunteered as a speaker at Victim Impact Panels, school assemblies, youth conferences, and for other organizations with an interest in preventing and eliminating drunk driving.
Once I learned a bit about the Peer Support training and what the responsibilities included, I quickly agreed to take the required training. Even though it had been ten years since Chris had been killed in an alcohol-related crash, the memories of unimaginable grief, confusion, and guilt were still quite vivid in my mind. Helping others navigate a similar journey is the goal of a Peer Support Volunteer.
Soon after I completed the peer support training, I began receiving the names and contact information for new victims of drunk/drugged driving. With each phone call, I expressed my most sincere condolences...I asked if they were getting emotional support. I asked about their deceased loved one(s). I asked what steps they were taking to find much needed continued support.
Some were understandably confused, uncertain where to turn for help. I let them know MADD would offer additional support via Victim Advocates, and I offered suggestions such as grief counseling and support groups like The Compassionate Friends. I suggested contacting their local United Way, their religious leader or perhaps a local funeral director for additional sources of assistance. I briefly shared my own experience and the struggle my family faced in learning to cope with the loss of a close loved one. I let each victim know there are many hurdles to cross, but they can survive. I let them know that no one should tell them how to grieve or that there is a time limit to grief. I let them know that I care...that MADD cares and will offer additional support.
My volunteer work on behalf of MADD and the victims it serves has been bittersweet. Learning about the needless deaths is heartbreaking, but helping others understand the dangers of drunk/drugged driving and helping others deal with their loss has helped me in my healing process, a journey that has no finish line.