05 April 2015

( reflections through a rearview mirror )

by bethany grandy

some of my happiest childhood moments were those spent riding in our steel blue station wagon as we embarked on a day of dysfunctional family fun. some of you may demur at my suggestion that sharing a confined space with family members for any extended period of time is enjoyable. yet, for me, those moments were the most transformative of my youth. in many ways, those car rides were the catalysts for my transition into adolescence, during which i was exposed to love, laughter, fighting, and forgiveness. as i blossomed into a worldly adolescent, i felt ever thankful for such memories which have shaped my life impermeably and forever.

as the youngest and smallest sibling of the grandy clan, i was always relegated to the backseat—situated squarely between the bodies of my brother and sister, as well as within the surveillance parameters of the rearview mirror. more often than not, my father was the one steering the wheel during these long drives. i felt his incredible power so viscerally, yet, through mirrored reflections, his silent struggles were illuminated. in the framed reflections of the rearview mirror, i saw him clearly for the first time.

warning: objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

all essay photos courtesy of bethany grandy

i may have been too young or stubborn (or both) to fully appreciate it then, but sitting directly in my father’s line of vision bonded us in profound ways—ways i cherish more and more with each passing day. i can so vividly remember how, in an effort to make me smile, my dad would glance back at me through the rearview mirror, stick out his tongue, and then quickly turn his attention toward the road without my mother, brother, or sister ever seeing. of course, this would elicit a whiny reaction from me like, “moooom, dad stuck his tongue out at me !” to which she would feign disbelief and playfully scold, “jace, stop it !” my dad would give a guilty wink to my mother in the passenger’s seat before returning his attention to the road ahead. those moments—when a smile danced across my father’s lips and  joy reflected from his eyes—are evergreen in my memory. our laughter played as the soundtrack to his smile—and happiness, like the winding road ahead, seemingly endless.

but not all memories are this quintessentially golden. in the nine years since his passing, i have compelled myself to purge the blind spots of my memory where the more painful memories dwell. more than once, i had a front row, backseat to the escalating tensions between my parents. i remember the wild eyes and frustrated sighs that were ominous precursors to every argument. although their fights almost always ended in forgiveness, tangents of these explosive exchanges have stayed with me—burning red in my memory. during these fights, tears streamed down my cheeks, like raindrops across the windshield during a storm. how good-natured conversations could turn volatile so quickly, i never understood. nor did i desire to. i only remember regretting those moments and silently praying for them to subside. my father had a fire in his heart, but sometimes, too often, it became an excuse for arson.

for thirteen years, i watched as my father adjusted the rearview mirror to every conceivable angle until it reflected some kind of lost hope that he could latch onto. maybe he, too, was attempting to eliminate the blind spots in his life—and there were many of them. or, perhaps he was, as i still am, searching for comprehension in something that is vastly and utterly incomprehensible. i can still remember how, when he thought everyone in the car was sleeping, he would angle the mirror toward my brother, sister, and i and gaze at us with tender bewilderment. during those precious moments, my father reflected the very best of us, just as we reflected the very best of him.

as i adjust my own rearview mirror while driving, i am consoled by the reciprocity i see in its reflection. indeed, i am the fragmented whole of my father’s fragments—a cracked mosaic crafted from the shards of his shattered soul. i am nostalgic for the moments and the miles that bonded us as father and daughter, but in memory, i am forever intimately and unconditionally connected to my father.

( brendan’s band: a new nonprofit for hearts in need )

by jennifer hetrick

the seventh of april this year is one of the most painful time-related, heart-tugging reminders for the family of brendan traylor of rural boyertown. on this day in 2014, they discovered that he had stopped breathing after proudly venturing home from rehab in florida a few days earlier, working hard to heal after delving into heroin and prescription drugs the previous summer while spending time with fellow teenagers. he had been 18 when his family lost him.

not everyone in this world has the strength to turn pain into an effort moving toward peace, when tragedy carves its way into the soul-knowledge of those who lose someone they love to the ends of this earth. but traylor’s grandmother, pat erb, shifted her grief into giving. she and several other volunteers created brendan’s band as a nonprofit in the boyertown community as a way to not only educate locals on the serious drug problem that’s been under our noses, often at the hands of ignorance and living in bubbles of an easier world—but to serve as a multi-faceted resource for anyone who has stumbled into the devastation of how drugs are permeating our community. brendan’s band keeps families aware of all phone numbers relevant for getting help for their loved ones who are addicted, something erb and her family had a complete runaround with when they originally found out brendan was doing drugs. parents reach out to erb and other members of brendan’s band when they make this same heartbreaking discovery about their own children because when they’ve heard about brendan’s band, they know that she and those who volunteer with her are people who will truly understand their horror, lows, and desperate need for being around those who realize what they’re going through in what they’ve learned and wanting to help their kids. brendan’s band also helped to finally nudge pennsylvania’s legislators to update the state’s drug database, which had been let go for several years until erb began working to get local newspapers to put this information out in the headlines. by last autumn, the database received approval for updating, which took 60 days to complete. now, if someone tries to buy something like sudafed in one pharmacy, the purchase is recorded and noted with their identity so that if the person tries to buy it at another pharmacy, the transaction won’t be allowed to happen.  

( all photos courtesy of kristie springman )

brendan’s band’s name is tied to brendan’s love of music, paired with 
the idea of banding together to support hearts around drug use )

erb has also been mentoring a 16-year-old girl who has been clean for more than a month from heroin. 

brendan’s band’s members appear at community events and offer educational material about drugs, resource hotline numbers, information for bringing lock boxes for prescription drugs into homes, and the addresses of local police stations where old prescription drugs can be disposed in drop boxes.

erb and her daughter, brendan’s mother, kristie springman, learned months before brendan died that young people who are taking heroin don’t usually admit to it but instead say things like, “i feel sick.” parents often think their kids have just caught the flu or other viruses because they just don’t expect their kids to do drugs. and not believing that kids who come from good, loving homes will give in to trying out drugs is the na├»ve factor which keeps more and more families finding their way into devastation that could be prevented if drugs were not so easily accessible. it is often said that where teenagers are, you can find drugs. 

brendan had said a hard no to drugs at least two or three times earlier in his life before the reality of peer pressure finally made him decide to try prescription pills and later heroin. while out of rehab months later, after the family realized something wasn’t right and arranged an intervention, he felt elated that he had worked hard to get off of drugs, since this is far from easy.

brendan’s family knew him as a kind, loving, strong-minded teenager, something that isn’t always easy to say of young people today. one police officer who knew him began to shed tears when he learned brendan had died, commenting on how respectful of a person brendan had been to him. but when heroin and pills cut through, the chemical need changes everything.

a new support group called the next right step started in boyertown and will soon be joining the pottstown area as a resource to families whose loved ones are going through addiction. julie umstead is organizing these support groups to ensure that no parent or family member is alone in this struggle. to find out more, call her at 610.323.2328.

more information is online at www.brendansband.com and newsnotblues.blogspot.com.


julie umstead is a mother in lower pottsgrove township who recently started a support group called the next right step. it is for families who have loved ones currently going through addiction of heroin, pills, or some other form of drugs. there will eventually be support groups at four different churches in the pottstown and boyertown areas so that weekly meetings are available for parents and other family members who may need a place to turn to about these struggles on a regular basis.

the first meeting happened at trinity church at 250 sweinhart road, boyertown, pa 19512 on tuesday, march 24. future next right step support group meetings are scheduled for april 28 and may 26 at 6.30 p.m.

umstead is in the process of getting the remaining three church locations set around the area. she will be announcing the others very shortly, once she has the arrangements confirmed. to reach her, call her at 610.323.2328.

insights from kristie springman, what she learned from her son's circumstances:

•people want to talk about it, these painful stories parents learn
•locking up all medications is crucial
•addiction is recovery, jail or, death
•heroin and pills don't discriminate
•addiction and recovery is forever
•addiction starts at any age
•a 30-day stint in rehab isn’t a quick fix
•jail is not a cure
•addicts have to create a new normal/life for themselves for a successful recovery
•addiction is a disease, just like cancer.  nobody wants cancer.  nobody wants to be an addict.
•you don’t know you’re an addict until you take that first hit, and then it’s too late
•recovery is possible
•how hard it is to not enable
•having a loving family, lots of friends, a two- parent household, all the money in the world, or if you have children--these things do not prevent addiction
•brendan’s death did not stop his friends from using, even though it felt like it'd be a wake-up call
•teenagers think they’re invincible and that addiction and overdosing will not happen to them
•once you have a loved one who is an addict, you won’t ever get that same person or relationship back
•everybody’s rock bottom is different
•when you think it’s not your child, it’s your child
•you can’t control the addict--the drug controls the addict
•addicts are liars, thieves and very manipulative

when brendan was in rehab, i thought this was all behind us, that he’d come home and be “cured” of this addiction. i didn’t know this was a lifelong thing. it was like walking on eggshells when he came home. i felt like the only time i could breathe was when he was at his outpatient therapy or his NA meetings because that’s when i knew he was safe.

brendan was so proud that he got his 60-day clean tag on april 5th, 2014. on april 6th, i believe he was in celebratory mode and over-celebrated with the prescription pills. he never thought death would happen to him like so many other teens.

there was not one time in brendan’s life that i was ashamed of him, and i was so proud of him for staying strong and getting help.