Jessica Holden Photography » My Photo Journal

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Every 15 Minutes…

In early April, Emily was selected to participate in a very powerful campaign against drunk driving through her school. It’s called Every 15 Minutes, and it’s put on for the juniors and seniors at her high school. We parents were informed well in advance (giving me ample time to stress about it!), but the involved kids only found out the Friday before, and the rest of the school didn’t officially know until the day of the mock accident. The program focuses on teaching kids about the potentially dire consequences of driving while intoxicated or when distracted by texting.

We dropped Emily off at school at 6:15 in the morning, and then we couldn’t see or even communicate in any way with her again until after the “funeral” the following morning. For the program, the school day started out with 13 Living Dead kids being pulled from class by the Grim Reaper: one every 15 minutes. Then the school had an assembly with a very real-seeming accident caused by a drunk driver. The “drunk” driver was handcuffed and taken by the police to prison and booked; his passenger “died” at the scene and was taken in a body bag to the morgue where his father had to identify him. Em and another girl were in the other car, and both were “critically injured” and had to be extricated from the car by the Jaws of Life and then taken by ambulance to the hospital. Emily “coded” in the ambulance and was “pronounced dead” at the hospital before we could even get there. Tom and I were informed of the accident at home by a police and counselor, and then we were off to the hospital where we said goodbye to our girl. In the hospital she had all the tubes everywhere and braces stabilizing her and it looked so real, and she couldn’t respond to us in any way, but in spite of all of that I saw her tears, which absolutely broke my heart into a million pieces. I can’t even tell you how intense it was; even now I get teary thinking about it. It’s really so surreal—intellectually, of course, we knew it was all just pretend, but at the same time it just felt so very, very real…

This was Emily’s car; she was the passenger (images without my logo were taken by school; mine were just iPhone pics):

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Emily on the stretcher:

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And some of the Living Dead during the assembly:

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That night Emily attended a retreat with the other kids who were involved (the 13 Living Dead and the 4 Accident kids), and she could have no contact with us or any of her friends—cell phones were left at home. She told me a lot about it when we were reunited the next morning, and it sounded amazing—many first responders (police and firemen, a coroner, nurses and paramedics) all discussed their stories with the kids. It was especially great because the kids were all selected from different “cliques” on campus—the idea was for every student in the audience to have at least one involved kid that they personally knew or at least could identify with. And despite being from all different walks, the kids came together that night and talked about everything under the sun, both by themselves and with the adults. At the retreat they also wrote letters to us and to their friends, and the parents also went to a meeting that night where we heard talks by first responders and wrote letters to our “dead” children.  (The kids also each chose two friends to attend a third retreat where those students, too, heard talks and wrote letters expressing how their friend’s death affected them.)

The next morning we went to the “funeral”, which broke my heart all over again. In some ways it was worse than the day she “died”! So many of the participants from the previous day were there: The nurse who was with us at the hospital and who broke the news to us that they were unable to save Emily came to check on us and thank us—even her kindness made me teary. They showed the video of the accident and its aftermath; then several of the parents’, kids’, and friends’ letters were read (each so beautifully and poignantly written); and lastly a retired teacher spoke about the actual death of her son when he drank and drove. Even at the funeral I was trying my hardest to hold it together, but then I would see Emily sitting there crying and I would lose it yet again.

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After the funeral, we finally got to be reunited! (I think that might be when all three of us cried the most—I am generally an intensely private person about such things, but by then I absolutely didn’t care who saw me or what they thought–I just wanted to hold her and never let go, and it was clear that all three of us felt the same as we sobbed and hugged–LOL!) After a quick luncheon we got to take our baby girl home with us, and we just talked all afternoon.

I am awed at the a great group of people who so intensely believe in this program and how much volunteer effort was put into making it all happen. The whole thing was awful but so powerful, and I’m glad we did it, and I am even more glad that it’s over. (And the whole junior and senior classes got to see what an ugly crier I am in the video of the accident and aftermath—so mortifying—sigh…) I’m not sure how I feel about the shock value of the program (and I admit I wonder if those kids who most need the lesson are just poking each other and giggling throughout the accident and funeral assemblies), but at the same time, I have seen what alcohol can do to a family, and if the intensity of this program makes even one child make a smart decision they might not have otherwise made, then I’m proud to be a part of it.

And if you want to see my ugly cry (and my super pretty knee brace!), too, here it is! (And I REALLY need to improve my posture…) I don’t really think the video was terribly well done—I think it could have been much more impactful than it was if it had been a little less cheesy in parts, but still it shows how insanely intense the program was for all involved.