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One Wish
By Jan Withers | April 1, 2014 | Filed in: National President , Underage Drinking , Power of Parents

If I had one wish – just one wish – I would wish Alisa wasn’t killed by a 17-year old drunk driver when she was just 15 – that I could still hug her and kiss her and tell her I love her. 

If I had more than one wish, I would wish I knew before she was killed what I know now. I wish I knew then that research shows talking with our children frequently and respectfully about our expectations to never drink alcohol before 21, nor get in the car with someone who had been drinking, was more effective than I believed. I wish I knew then that high school students who receive a message from their parents that underage drinking is completely unacceptable are more than 80 percent less likely to drink than teens who receive other messages.

I wish I could have the opportunity to watch Alisa roll her eyes at me, as only teens can do so well, and say, “I know, Mom,” when I would bring it up again. I would love that, because I would quietly know that the message was getting in. Alisa wasn’t drinking, but she got in the car with someone who was. Maybe, just maybe, if I had talked with her more frequently about it she would be alive today. 

And – I wish that every parent who reads this downloads our Power of Parent handbook. It is such a great guide to help parents have the life-saving discussions with our children. I want you to be able to continue to hug your children and kiss your children and tell them you love them.


Special Individuals
By Jan Withers | March 4, 2014 | Filed in: National President , Victim Services

Being traumatized by the devastating effects of drunk driving is so overwhelming that I often say there are no human words to describe the intensity of the suffering. Those of us who have experienced such anguish know just how fragile we are during those first months and years, and because our friends and family members frequently don’t know what to say or how to support us, we can find ourselves isolated.

Thankfully, there are special individuals who do not shy away from our pain, and instead embrace us for as long as we need. In my case, that person was Pat Herbert.

Pat is a dear friend who was always there for me during my most painful hours. She just lost her battle with cancer last week. She would not only reach down into my dark hole to help me out, but she climbed into that hole with me when I needed her. I never had to ask, she was just there. She never told me to move on – and I know she had to want to – I cried for so long – but she was patient. I wore out my sofa, soaking it in tears. She was there. She is one of the main reasons I am vertical and no longer horizontal on that couch.

She walked beside me and my family through the court process. We were angry together. But she also smiled with me, shared beautiful memories with me, laughed belly laughs with me, cried with me, played with me, acted crazy with me—I just sit here and smile at all the memories. My precious friend, Pat Herbert, helped carry my heart into peace.

Many of you belong to this special group of compassionate individuals that Pat represents for me. I consider you to be true angels here on earth. So to each of you who help others across these treacherous rocks, I extend my profound gratitude. You don’t know just how deeply your kindness is appreciated. In memory of my Patricia, I want to tell each of you how much you are loved.  

 


Never Give Up
By Jan Withers | February 3, 2014 | Filed in: National President , Drugged Driving , Victim Services , Drunk Driving

During the State of the Union address, I was overtaken by the admiration the President and entire Congress displayed for Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, an Army Ranger who was injured in Afghanistan in 2009. In describing Ranger Remsburg’s journey since his injuries, the President talked about the many surgeries and courageous work he has done to move forward. He said that Sgt. Remsburg “never gives up and he never quits.”

My thoughts immediately moved to the thousands of Americans who are similarly injured every year across our country because someone selfishly drove impaired by alcohol or drugs. My heart goes out to each of those individuals, who are bravely facing a different life and digging deep for strength as they struggle with the physical, financial and emotional ramifications of their injuries. In my years with MADD, I have met so many of them and now consider them my friends. I am overwhelmed with deep admiration for their courage and fortitude. Their valor is amazing.

The President concluded his speech by appealing to us to follow this soldier’s lead to never give up. He said, “If we work together, if we summon what is best in us… I know it is within our reach.”  

We know that a nation without drunk driving is within our reach. We know how to get there, what needs to be done, and we are doing it. We do it for the thousands of victims who are now forever changed having been victimized by a substance impaired driver. We never give up. We work together and summon what is best in us.  I am so very proud to be a part of such a determined courageous family.  I admire each of you just as I admire Sgt. Remsburg. You are all my heroes. Thank you for allowing me to walk beside you on our journey.


Full Family Trees
By Jan Withers | January 8, 2014 | Filed in: National President , Victim Services , Drunk Driving , General

My son gave my daughter, Jennifer, a subscription to ancestry.com for Christmas, and with her husband, she has focused on rooting around their family tree. As I watch, I cannot help but notice a huge hole.

My son Kevin is married and adds a beautiful wife to our family. Jennifer is married and adds a wonderful husband and delightful sons. But Alisa, who was killed by a drunk driver when she was 15-years-old, is entered with the date she was born and the date she died. Her lineage stops with her. There begins a hole in the tree that reminds me of the hole in my heart.

This is my last year to serve as MADD National President. It is a privilege to walk along side each of you. Everywhere I go I take you with me in my heart, which is such an honor.

I have been asked what I am most proud of accomplishing in this position. Goodness. I can’t answer that because, you see, “I” do not accomplish anything alone. Rather, “we” are accomplishing so much together.

I want to say I am most proud of how we support people who have been victimized by substance-impaired driving. We are a powerhouse of kindness and knowledge. I want to say I am most proud of our research-based way of reducing underage drinking. I want to say I am most proud of how we are successfully reducing drunk driving in states that have passed all-offender alcohol ignition laws. I want to say I am most proud of the forward movement in the advanced technology research, the DADSS program, which will one day eliminate drunk driving.

It is for all these reasons that I am filled with not just hope, but with certainty, that we will save even more lives. We will not rest until there are no more holes in family trees caused by underage drinking or drunk driving. We will work hard to ensure that our family trees are filled with great stories and robust legends, not empty promises of what might have been.

That’s why this new year, as every year, I am resolved to work side-by-side and arm-in-arm with you to save lives and support people. I humbly say to each of you, thank you for being in my life and being part of my family.


The Season of Light
By Jan Withers | December 4, 2013 | Filed in: National President , Victim Services , Drunk Driving , General

This is the holiday season. It represents a time of joy and a time of hope. It is a season of light. However, a heart recently broken by the death of a loved one can often feel even more darkness and emptiness during these days that we think should bring moments of celebration.  

I remember the first holidays following Alisa’s death, feeling as if there were no light at the end of the tunnel. Hope? That was a four-letter word. How could I smile or feel warmth and joy when such a huge hole was now forced on my heart and our family?

For some of you whose grief may be fresh, it is hard to see hope during these dark days. However, I do know your love endures for the person you grieve.  It knows no bounds. Hang on to that love. It is your ray of hope, and it will serve you well until you can smile again.

Our loved ones are forever part of our hearts.  As we remember them over the holidays, I ask you to think about the light that was in them – that is now in you – that you can share with others. You can share that light, even with the pain in you. They live on through us. What a beautiful way to honor them, by sharing their love, and the joy they gave us with others. What a gift that is. It is a shining star in the darkness, and in that I see hope.


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