Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Happy Birthday

I wasn’t going to post about your birthday this year. After all it’s a private thing between you and our family; the whole world doesn’t need to know, or even care, that you’d be 89 today.

Eighty-nine. That seems like a very large number, and I’m having trouble imagining you there. Sometimes when I’m out I see little old ladies with their permed hair, stooped over, walking with a cane and I wonder if you would look like that.

But I don’t think so. You never did like your hair permed.

I think maybe you’d rest more, sit in your chair and read more, maybe cook less, maybe let us do more when we visited. Maybe. I think you’d probably not be traveling as much as you once did, but you’d still enjoy reading about new places, you’d still enjoy a good concert, a good piece of art. You’d still enjoy people’s visits, conversations, hugs.

I wish I could bake you a cake, plant candles on the top, watch you blow them out and laugh. Or watch you eat fresh corn on the cob with butter running down your chin as you grinned with the sheer joy of our summer tradition.

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You’d think with all the technical advances I’d be able to text you today, send birthday wishes, cyber hugs. Little smiley faces all in a row.

But I can’t, so this will have to do. Happy Birthday Mom. Tonight, if the skies are clear, I’ll be watching for meteorites and thinking about you just like every year. Send a few my way, OK?

Love, from all your kids, who miss you every single day.


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Safety and Sideguards

James Mooney never saw the semi truck backing across the country road in front of him that dark September night in 1983. He hit the side of the trailer and slid under it and out the other side, dying instantly. His daughter, Jennifer Tierney, has worked tirelessly on safety issues in the trucking industry ever since.

Thirty-four years and counting.

Over the years Jennifer has worked on many issues, hours of service, minimum insurance, electronic logging devices, and more. None of these were directly related to her father’s death, but they were the issues that had a chance of getting implemented. So she worked, along with many other volunteers, for the benefit of us all.

And now she has the chance to see progress on the issue most dear to her heart – side guards for semi trucks.

For years she and other Truck Safety Coalition volunteers have been asking for them, for years we’ve been met with blank stares and promises to ‘look into it’ by agencies and Congressional staff alike. But each time we brought it up we introduced the idea and over the years there began to be some interest.

Meanwhile every year more people have died or been injured in similar crashes.

It’s a hard way to effect change, working through the halls of Washington. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to make your point, and unfortunately that happened earlier this month. Four men, in two cars, slid under a jackknifed semi on a dark road this past July 5th. All four died at the scene.

The crash caught the attention of New York Senator Chuck Schumer. We were in his office just days before talking about these very issues. He has now come out and voiced what we’ve been saying for years, that trucks need side, rear, and possibly front guards. That regardless of whose fault the crash is, side guards can save lives, might have save these four men’s lives.

Our hearts go out to the families of these most recent victims. We want them to know we won’t forget their family members, that we will continue the fight to improve safety. We do it in their honor, and in honor of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people who have died or been injured in underride crashes.

Thank you Senator Schumer for supporting our position. Now please help us move our bill requiring guards forward through Congress. We know it’s an uphill fight but we aren’t going to stop pushing.

All those lost and injured family members demand it of us.


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Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

I’m looking at all the tributes to dads on this Father’s Day. They’re all over Facebook; lots and lots of pretty terrific dads out there. Of course you probably don’t know what Facebook is, I don’t think it was a thing back when you were on the computer. But I think you would have enjoyed it, kept in touch with a lot of your forward thinking friends. And your kids of course.

Speaking of which, we’re all doing pretty good lately. A couple of them are coming up to visit me next week, and I’ll be going south next month. Hopefully we’ll all be together at your lake house for at least a few days. I know you like it when we’re all there, just like the old days. I think the house likes it too.

And you should see our house and garden now. The remodeling is finally finished, you didn’t get to see the fireplace or the built-ins. The kitchen that was so new when you were here last is probably outdated now. I watch those television shows and wonder what a buyer would say when they walked in here. It’s certainly not a gut job, but it’s not white either. Buyers are so fickle! You’d laugh at the thought of someone ripping out perfectly good stuff and starting over because it wasn’t their taste. I think the same way, probably got it from you.

The kousa dogwood tree out front that you helped plant so many years ago is beautiful this year. It’s such a delicate pink and cream. And so many blossoms. I guess that’s because we had a warm winter. Or a wet spring. Or maybe both. You and mom would love it.

You’d both love the birds here too. You should see the huge woodpecker on the oriole feeder right now, stealing all the oranges I just put out. He’s really pretty. So are the orioles, of course, who often share the feeder with other hungry birds. Sometimes I go out to Kensington, one of your favorite parks, and let the birds land on my hand. I often think about how you would enjoy doing that. Mom too.

Hey! Have you noticed that Katie and I camped a lot last summer? We’re planning on doing some this summer too. Can’t believe it’s already the middle of June. I guess if we’re going we should get to it. Katie says she’s glad you taught me all about camping, because she just loves to be out there in the woods, and she sure loves sleeping in her tent. Remember the old heavy green army tent the whole family used to sleep in? Well, tents today are a lot different! And they don’t smell so much either, which is a good thing.

Speaking of Katie, you didn’t get to meet her. You remember Bonnie, right? The sheltie-girl without the tail? Well, Katie is sort of like her but on steroids. She’s wound like a top, and definitely over the top, but I bet you’d enjoy her antics.

And did you see that your third child has grandchildren now? You would have loved these little kids, they’re so cute! And fun in small doses, you know? You could have played with them on weekends and then enjoyed the peace of the lake after they went back home. I’m sorry you didn’t get to experience that. But I figure you’re smiling now anyway.

There’s not a lot of news, dad. We’re all doing fine, partly because of the way you and mom raised us. We’re thankful for what we have, but we sure do miss the two of you.

I was thinking about what picture of you to use for this Father’s Day post, realizing that I don’t have any recent ones, that there won’t be any new photos ever again and that made me sad. So I guess I’ll just use a few of those I’ve already posted, sort of a celebration of your life.

But gee, I wish I could take a photo with you today.


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Memorial Day – don’t forget the dogs who served

The War Dog Memorial

Katie here.

You probably expect me to spend this post complaining about how mama abandoned me to go hang out with a cat! And I would, but I have more important things to talk about.

Happy Memorial Day!

Like dogs.

Especially dogs that served our country, some even our local communities, and are buried and honored at a very special War Dogs Memorial Cemetery.

Since today is Memorial Day my Aunt Karen, her dog Deuce, and mama and I went out to visit it this morning. (Aunt Karen provided my patriotic attire.) It was pretty amazing.

More than 400 dogs!

I felt very honored and almost overwhelmed to be visiting these amazing dogs and paying my respects. Deuce says he felt the same way. These were very special dogs, loved beyond measure, who worked hard at their jobs and who are honored here in this beautiful place not too far from where I live.

Deuce paying his respects.

We spent a long time walking around, reading stones and thinking about these heroes.

Only 2 years old when he died in 1931.

If you are ever near South Lyon Michigan you should stop by. I guarantee you’ll have a better appreciation for all the work these dogs did while they were alive.

Eleven tours of duty!

And then, if you’re lucky enough to have a Prince or Princess at home, give them an extra dog biscuit today. On me.

Deuce stops to visit Cody, a therapy dog just like him.

Talk to you all later…it’s a holiday and that calls for a nap!

We thank them all for their service.


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Safety first

Safety is no accident!

Those of us working for truck safety appreciated all your support and kind words as we worked together to increase the safety on our roads. It’s been a tough few days for us as we gathered with determination to make a difference, many still raw from recent loss.

But it was amazing too.

I saw people with grief fresh on Saturday, sobbing through the initial telling of their stories, grow to tell those same stories calmly and firmly at the press conference on Tuesday. Friendships were forged that will last forever. People know they are not alone and progress is being made

Working the halls of Congress.

One of the most exciting things I saw during the conference was a short video clip of a side underride guard being tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In the first clip a mid-sized car was sent into the side of a semi trailer at 35 miles per hour, the standard speed the IIHS uses in test crashes. Without a side guard the car slides right under the trailer, the car’s safety features useless because the front of the vehicle doesn’t collide with anything. Air bags don’t deploy, the test dummy heads strike the side of the trailer. Death is probable.

In the second clip a side guard has been attached to a semi trailer, and the car sent speeding toward the trailer. The front of the vehicle crashes into the side guard, crumpling as it is designed to do. The passenger compartment is protected, in fact after the crash the driver door still opens and the occupants would have been minimally injured.

The passenger would survive!

Success!

Side and rear underride is a major safety issue, and one that The Truck Safety Coalition is focusing on this year. For many of our families it’s proof that finally someone is listening. So many of their loved ones died by sliding under a truck and finally we are making progress to stop that from happening in the future. The guard we saw is affordable, relatively light, and easy to install. And future iterations will be even lighter and more affordable. We believe that soon you’ll see them on the trucks driving near you on our nation’s roads.

I’m proud to be a part of this year’s Sorrow to Strength conference, proud to walk the halls of Congress, meet Members, talk to staff, support safety. Regardless of the political climate there is good work that will be done, good people to work with, good ideas that will be supported.

It wasn’t easy. My feet are tired and so is my head but my heart remains strong and my vision is clear. The roads are safer because of people like us, groups with no agenda other than safety. It takes work. But we’ll work on it forever.

Because safety is no accident.

Spreading the news.


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There will be tears

Today was day one; the first official day of the Truck Safety Coalition’s Sorrow to Strength Conference, held this year in Alexandria Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington DC.

Alexandria is beautiful. Yesterday evening my husband and I walked a few blocks of the historic shopping district, me trying not to trip as my bifocal glasses distorted the already bumpy brick paved sidewalks.

I watched the families, decked out in shorts and flip flops eating ice cream and laughing. I wished we were here on a vacation.

Pretty row houses.

Instead I spent a sleepless night going over my opening remarks, worrying about people’s arrival times, how to coordinate lunch, whether or not this person was going to get along with that person. Turns out I worried needlessly, as is often the case with me. Still, I can’t seem to help it.

Day one went really well, if you can call listening to story after story of horrific truck crashes, death and injury while wiping tears from our eyes going well. This year we have at least four new families, most of their losses are within the past 18 months. It was hard for them, extraordinarily hard, to stand up and tell us about the crash, and then later in the day tell us something special that they miss about their lost loved one, or about the loss in their own life if they were a survivor.

Pretty hotel.

It takes courage for families to show up at a conference like this, let alone speak aloud of unspeakable tragedy.

But I know that once they get that story out there, shared among other families who have suffered similar pain, they will begin to feel a tiny bit better. There’s no greater group of people to share their tragedy with than the families here. And tomorrow will be a bit easier as we’re focused less on our loss and more on getting change done. We’ll be learning about talking to politicians and media and agencies.

We’ll be gathering our strength for the fight.

During one of our sessions today a long time volunteer told the new families not to worry about understanding everything. “We’ve got your back,” she said. And she’s right. We’ve got these new families in our hearts and in our memories and even after we head home next week they will still be with us. We’ve got their backs and always will, And in two years when they come back to the conference, they’ll be in a position to help the next wave of new families.

Feels like a summer night.

Because there will be new families here at the next conference, and our hearts will break all over again to see their fresh and raw grief. But we’ll have their backs and the backs of the families after that and the ones that come after that.

We have to make at least some of this stop.

As one volunteer said today, speaking to us all, “Make your voice heard. Make sure they hear you in your meetings. Show your emotion, let them see your grief. They owe you that much. Make them hear.” We’ll be on the Hill Monday through Wednesday. I hope you can hear our voices all the way out where you all live. We’re going to be making a mighty sound.

And there are going to be tears.

Shared by another Truck Safety Volunteer on Facebook tonight:

“Tears are how our heart speaks when our lips can not describe how much we’ve been hurt.”

I felt you with me all day long Dad.

Younger dad.


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Why I go to Washington

I’m packing my bag, getting ready to go to Washington DC for the Sorrow to Strength conference. I’ll be with other families who have lost loved ones to preventable truck crashes and some people who have survived such crashes themselves. It’s five days that we look forward to and dread all at the same time.

It hurts.

Still, if you ask any individual attending, they will tell you straight away that the reason they work to make our roads safer is because they don’t want another family going through the pain and grief they’ve been through. They don’t want another family suffering because of something that is so preventable.

Tonight I’m listening to the 10:00 p.m. news as I zip the suitcase shut. The television is on just for background noise, I’m not paying much attention, more interested in making sure I don’t forget to take something important.

And then I hear the words ‘semi’ and ‘fatal’ and ‘construction zone.’

And I reel around and stand still as the story unfolds. You can read about it here.

There is construction on a stretch of freeway that I travel regularly. Today cars were slowed to merge into the construction zone. A semi lost control and rear ended the cars ahead. Two men are dead. A woman was airlifted in critical condition to a hospital. Doubtless there are other injuries, certainly other people who were terrified.

It’s early yet, and we don’t know the entire story. But regardless of the details the truth is that tonight there are new families facing a long journey through loss and injury. Their worlds have just imploded. A semi running into the back of cars slowing for construction is the definition of a preventable crash. I hope that we can connect with these families when they are ready. Meanwhile, I’ll travel to DC and try to be heard.

Because this is why I go to Washington.


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Storms brewing ahead


Today I took the dog for a walk at a local park. The clouds were heavy, dark, and hanging low over the fields and ponds. I felt melancholy and I wondered why.

And then I remembered.

The time is coming for me to attend another Sorrow to Strength Conference in Washington DC. The Truck Safety Coalition hosts the conference every two years; I’ve been to six of them since dad was killed by a sleepy semi driver in 2004.

The conference is a time for families to join others, all of whom have been damaged by preventable truck crashes, to share their stories, gain support, and learn about truck safety issues. Some families are struggling with permanent injuries, others are grieving the loss of loved ones. And some are trying to deal with both injury and loss.

It’s almost too much to fathom, all those people in one room.

But it’s a good thing too, because you won’t meet a better group of people to support a family in the throes of grief. These are people that know how it feels to get that call or to sit next to a hospital bed knowing that life will never be the same, but hoping for at least a semblance of normalcy sometime in the future.

It’s a difficult conference to attend, but it’s called Sorrow to Strength for a reason. We begin filled with sorrow, and leave, after several days, stronger for having been together. We’ll be talking to Congressional members, agency employees, and the media about truck safety issues. The current political environment in DC is not particularly conducive to regulation these days. But we aren’t giving up finding compromises that make our roads safer for everyone.

Everyone has trepidation as they head to DC for this conference. Attending dredges up all the old memories and emotions. Even after almost thirteen years I still get anxious thinking about the crash, anticipating the questions, planning for the meetings.

But then I think about dad. And so many others that I’ve come to know over the years. There will be new families attending this year, there always are. They are stark reminders that every year, every month, every day that goes by without solutions more people are being injured and killed. This is no time to let politics get in our way.

Wish us luck.


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On loss and spring


I’ve been to a lot of funerals held in winter and I used to think the hardest thing in the world was to walk away after a winter graveside ceremony, bowed with grief, huddled in a coat against the wind and rain or snow. Though you knew your loved one couldn’t feel the cold it was just so hard to leave them there in the darkening light of a winter day.

I used to think that was the worst.

But yesterday, when a local family had to leave their young man behind in the cemetery, the sun was shining and the bright blue sky was filled with puffy white clouds. It was a perfect spring day.

And now I wonder. Maybe losing a young life in the midst of the hope that is spring is the worst.

Yesterday a family had to come to grips with a life ended way too soon. I don’t know them, or the young man gone, but I understand their shock. Accidents happen, but never to your family. Never to someone with an infant and a wife and loving parents and a huge extended family.

Never just as spring is blooming with promise.

How can someone just be gone when so much around us is bursting into life? How does a young wife with an infant son survive without the loving husband, the doting father, at her side?

How does a family walk away from a new grave, bowed with grief, when bright blue skies are smiling down? It just seems wrong. Certainly the sky should be crying too.

But this young wife is strong, and she has a strong family to help her. She has good friends to listen and provide support. They know that sometimes the road takes an unexpected turn; they know how to navigate grief. They’ve been there before.

She’ll be OK eventually. And her son will grow up surrounded by people who will tell him about his daddy. How he loved his family. How he will always be there in their hearts.

It takes family and friends to get through grief filled but beautiful spring days when life is bursting from every tree and shrub, every bulb and seed, but tears are hiding behind every eyelid.

May the beauty of spring moving on into summer give some comfort to a family whose hearts have been broken once again.

And may that tiny little boy know that he is truly loved.