Every parent's nightmare is to bury a child. That nightmare is intensified when a parent buries a child due to reckless decision making. Death is the one human experience that none of us will get a pass on. However, most of us hope that we will live full and productive lives. If we are parents, we hope that we will see our children grow and become old and we hope to watch their children grow.
Unfortunately, a growing number of families are being challenged by the premature death of their children due to recklessness and poor decision making. The impact that a young person's death has on a family, extended friends and loved ones is indescribable. The pain that a mother bears as she buries her son or daughter is incomprehensible.
The number of deaths of young people under thirty is escalating at an alarming rate. If we look more closely at these deaths, the data surrounding them is even more disturbing.
Drugs, alcohol, drag racing, suicide and reckless decision making are the leading causes of death for young people under thirty. These tragedies are not merely occurring in marginal and/or economically depressed neighborhoods, but rather are occurring at an alarming rate in middle and upper middle class communities. Many of these young people were born into privilege.
So the hard question to answer is "why?" Why are so many young people with limitless possibility and opportunity making destructive decisions that ultimately end their lives and forever shatter the lives of the people they love?
The answer to that question is rather complex and incomplete. We know that many young people feel that they are invincible. They don't think anything can impair or alter their lives.
We live in a world that thrives on the principle of instant gratification. If it feels good, do it and don't worry about the consequences. Might makes right. Bigger is better. More is better and quality is only a secondary concern.
All of our new technology has created a false sense of security. A growing number of people do not believe that life is fragile. They also don't understand that with every choice we make, there is a consequence. Too often, parents, in an effort to protect their children from their poor decision making, rescue them from being held accountable. Therefore, they never learn the important lesson to be responsible for the choices that they make.
MJ is seventeen. She just completed drivers' education and received her junior license. Her parents promised her a new car if she made the honor roll and maintained a high grade point average for the school year. MJ kept her end of the bargain, and so did her parents.
She received a 2008 Ford Escape. Her parents reminded her of the restrictions regarding her junior license. She confirmed with them that she was well aware of what she could and could not do. However, like most teenagers her age, she kept pushing the boundaries and was constantly asking her parents if she could drive at night. Eventually, they gave in and urged her to be careful.
On a Friday night before her junior prom, she took her car out after curfew. The car was overloaded with teenagers. They were returning from a party and speeding on a back road. MJ lost control of the car and hit a tree. Thankfully, none of her teenage passengers were seriously injured. Her car was totaled. The accident occurred on an isolated stretch of road. She immediately called her parents. They arrived in minutes and made sure everyone was okay. Her Dad had a friend who owned a towing business. He was called to pick up the car and tow it away. No police were called. No report on the accident was filed. The next morning, her Dad called the insurance company to cancel the insurance policy on the car.
MJ was restricted for a few weeks and was not permitted to drive. After that restriction was met, she was allowed to drive again. Her father made it clear that she would not be given a new car in the foreseeable future. She would have to save money and buy a car herself.
However, she was permitted to drive the family cars. Her Mom has a BMW that she has generously allowed MJ to use. Although she still has a junior license, her parents tolerate her using the family car at night for social purposes. She assured her mother that she would be very careful and would not speed or overload her vehicle.
Initially, MJ was very compliant. Unfortunately, last week, she was rushing home from a party to make curfew, ran a stop sign and caused an accident. Thankfully, again no one was seriously hurt. However, both cars were seriously damaged. The police were called and she was issued a series of tickets. Ultimately, because she was driving under age and driving recklessly. She will lose her license until she is twenty-one. This time her parents were not able to bail her out. The system is holding her fully accountable for her poor decision making and reckless driving.
MJ and her family are very lucky. The only real casualty in this reckless circumstance is the loss of her mother's car. It could have been much more tragic. MJ could have lost her life or killed the man she hit. Possibly, had she been held accountable after the first car accident, a second accident never would have occurred. Hopefully, both she and her parents have learned a lesson from this.
Recently, I presided over the funeral of a young man in his twenties. He was the youngest of four children. Everybody loved JK. He was funny, witty, loving and compassionate. However, he wrestled with demons that made life very painful for him. He masked his pain with a smile and an exceptionally generous heart. He, like many of his peers, thought he was invincible.
He was a hard worker. He would give the shirt off his back to anyone, even if he needed the shirt himself. If someone was in trouble, JK was there; even if he was suffering. He liked to have a good time and party with his friends. He worked and partied hard.
While many of his friends drank to excess and experimented with street drugs, JK didn't. He was a construction worker and also did a series of other jobs. His demon of destruction was prescription medication. After a construction accident, he was given a prescription for pain medication, which he abused. He quickly learned how to manipulate the medical profession and was able to obtain all kinds of prescription drugs. He used his construction injuries as his excuse for abusing these medications.
Unbeknownst to his family and friends, he became addicted to pain medications. He was also battling depression, but elected not to share that with anyone. After he was confronted about the pain medication, he started to mask it by using alcohol. He didn't like alcohol, but it was a safe cover for his pill use.
JK thought he was invincible. Most of his adult life, he struggled with feeling good about himself. He wouldn't let anybody in. He thought he could manage his personal demons on his own. Unfortunately, one night a few weeks ago, his human pain became so great, he overmedicated himself. He never woke up.
Now his family and friends have to navigate through a difficult course of survival. In light of the tragic loss of his life, everyone has been brought much closer together. They realize, now more than ever, how fragile life really is and how we all need one another. They have also painfully recognized that the abuse of prescription medication is epidemic and too easily accessible for young and old alike.
We need to do something about this now!
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