Katherine Shaw responds to Kernel alcohol story

My son died at Red River Gorge. My son was drinking. He was alone when he died. Since there were no witnesses, no person should boldly state, as the Kernel chose to in a Wednesday article, “That decision (drinking underage) led to his death …” It may or may not have. We weren’t there. No one was.

Lauren Fannin and Lindsey Harp were partying in town. It was raining hard, flood-hard. They did the responsible thing and called a cab to take them home. The two women were swept away by flood waters as they emerged from their cab. How can anyone claim that their death was alcohol-related? I might have been swept away myself if I could recreate the same circumstances at 5 p.m. just after getting off work.

Nine young people are listed in this article. Is the only reason Connie Blount not included in this list is because her case is still being investigated?

I think debating drinking and our attitudes in this country toward alcohol is a good thing. I also think we need to discuss the odd ways we cater to youth at the same time we undermine and devalue young people. We also need to address our perplexing need to cast all issues in black-and-white terms.

Why do we state every incident as either alcohol related or not, solely based on whether or not the person had a drink? For instance, the use of language (in this article) with the pictures is not very well thought out. I, myself, my personhood, cannot be X over the legal limit. My blood alcohol level can be. It is a fine distinction, but one that needs to be made. We tend to blame the victims. We should all know that life and death are much more nuanced and complicated than this.

Coming to a new attitude toward drinking may only be possible by comparing our behavior as a society with others. People often claim that Europe does it better. Does it really? If so, what can we learn from its society? I agree with UK President Lee Todd’s assessment of the need for studies. Are there any studies we can use to compare attitudes toward young people and their personal rights and responsibilities?

A friend of mine stated that one thing he noticed in Europe is that advertisements for alcohol don’t glamorize it. So if we are going to change the way we look at alcohol, we will have to let the well-endowed Budweiser twins find other work. Our advertisements tend to connote the idea that drinking will get me all the hot babes or guys I want.

In our representative republic, we are supposed to be an informed, decision-making populace. We are to be responsible for ourselves as adults. Adults are supposed to be responsible for their children and their actions. When do we allow someone to become an adult? How many times have we heard about the preposterous behavior of some 23-year-old and someone says, “He’s just a kid.” In what society is 23 considered juvenile? Give me a break! In some kind of twisted way, you can’t rent a car until you are 25, but you can die in war at age 18 and you can vote at 18.

Besides prescription drugs, we allow two legal recreational drugs: tobacco and alcohol, tobacco at 18 and alcohol at 21. You can’t drive until 16 and a half or 17 and you have to prove some level of proficiency in school before you are allowed to drive while paying astronomical insurance rates for the privilege.

What do all of these things add up to? When do we become adults in this society? When do we act like adults? Is that a hard and fast line? I think not. I have done stupid things throughout my life, some before and some after I became “an adult.” I might have died. Many of us can think of similar bad choices made that somehow didn’t end in death.

We are supposed to “educate, not legislate.” Our society seems increasingly bent on controlling our actions for the other-determined good of the people. I think that just makes us dumber and more dependent. Think “Idiocracy.”

My son made a mistake. It cost him his life. I grieve and mourn for him every day. His sisters and friends do the same. He was funny and smart and loved his friends and books and music and nature. He was a way better writer at 20 than I am today. I hate life without him. But I would never take away his freedom to make his own choices. I wouldn’t chain him to me. Then I couldn’t have had the relationship I did have, however horrifically brief. I don’t romanticize his life or his death. Losing him sucks. But he was an adult and we can’t control and protect the people we love.

Each face that is in the newspaper represents years of love that can’t be replaced, futures forever lost to us, voices on the phone, new memories that can’t be created together. Every time these faces are printed again with the circumstances of their death, wounds are re-opened, those left behind are in tears.

Trent DiGiuro’s dad was quoted in a similar way when he spoke at a journalism symposium on dealing with victims and their families about the effect of seeing the bloodstained porch where his son died over and over again, every time the case came back into the limelight (http://www.dartcenter.org/articles/special_features/hight_victims.php).

Resetting the drinking age to X will accomplish nothing without changing deep attitudes and behaviors in modern U.S. society. I offer my opinions not just as a mom to three adult children, but also from my years of working with young people. I was a long term youth group volunteer with one church, then a children’s pastor at another. I am a UK alumnus, having returned to school and attended from 2002-05. I love to be around young people, to encourage them and help them in any way they ask to navigate through life.

Life is difficult, sometimes joyous, sometimes tragic. We should be working together to value people and their rights and responsibilities in this society.