My unbelievably awesome career as an Ohio State Trooper taught me, amongst a litany of other things, just how exciting, sometimes boring, frightening, daunting, challenging, stressful and rewarding life can be. And fragile.
As a new Trooper, I suddenly found myself recklessly catapulted from my comfort zone. With the flip of a switch, I could go from drinking a cup of coffee with more seasoned troopers in the reports room, to being alone and in the fight for my life on the berm of some dark, desolate, rural stretch of interstate with a monstrous hardened criminal (possibly a direct descendant of Paul Bunyan), drunk and high on drugs who was determined that he was not going back to prison, at least not tonight.
I quickly realized that these types of uncomfortable conversations were going to be a regular part of my professional life, and it also dawned on me that my ability to verbally negotiate myself out of difficult situations was going to be directly equivalent to my life expectancy. As a result of this conclusion, I decided to continue developing my self-defense skills. I increased my physical strength, ate healthier, slept better and even bought a self-help book titled something akin to “How to Deal with Difficult people...for Dummies”.
The book helped, some.
Testifying in criminal and traffic cases would also serve to test and expand my communication skills, even though I didn’t really think they needed tested or expanded any more than they already had been. As with most law enforcement officers, being berated by an aggressive, successful, prestigious well-known defense attorney could be a bit overwhelming, or at the very least, it usually wasn’t something that I ever looked forward to.
During a jury trial early on in my career, I was called by the judge to approach the testimony box. Right about now I was wishing I could just go back to wrestling Mr. Bunyan on the berm of that interstate. On the long walk to the front of the courtroom, I remember thinking that this must be exactly how sheep feel as they’re being herded into the back of a cattle truck. Long story short; Defense Attorney, one; State Trooper, zero. I immediately started saving for my next self-help book, this one titled “Learning to Testify in Court…for Dummies”.
The book helped, some.
Fortunately, the Ohio State Highway Patrol Training Academy prepared me very well for my career in troopering (a word not yet in the dictionary). The Patrol taught me very well on how to convince a grumpy drunk driver that his time was up. Fortunately, the Academy also taught me all the skills necessary to testify professionally and most importantly, with irrefutable honestly.
But there was one matter that no amount of classroom instruction could completely prepare me for and that was the dreaded task of delivering death notifications. Knocking on an unsuspecting family’s front door and explaining to whoever came to the door that their son, daughter, wife, husband, parent (or sometimes all of those) were just killed in a car crash. I learned very quickly that these dreadful conversations paled in comparison to trying to peacefully convince Andre-the-Great to turn around and put his hands behind his back, or by tactfully defending my actions to an arrogant defense attorney. Sadly, as State Troopers, we had a lot of these uncomfortable conversations as well.
The only book in the world that could help me develop the skills necessary to navigate death notifications with tact, empathy and compassion, was the Holy Bible. I used the Bible as my guide for everything I ever did as a State Trooper, including telling a mother and father that their children were just killed on their way to Cedar Point for a day of fun, or explaining to a new father that his wife and newborn child were just killed in a car crash and sadly, they wouldn’t be home for dinner tonight. Or ever.
The Book helped, a lot.
Always, on what I referred to as the long journey from the grieving family’s living room back to my patrol car, I thought how nice it would be to someday be in a position to do something that was more proactive in preventing these senseless tragedies from ever occurring in the first place.
It seems that so much of law enforcement is reactive in nature. It’s the old cat and mouse game; you see someone run a stop sign, you respond by stopping them and asking the driver (via a traffic citation) not to do that again. You see someone rob a bank; you stop them and ask them not to do that again, at least not for the next 18-24 years.
Upon my retirement from the Ohio State Highway Patrol, I decided to take action on my passion to do something more proactive to reduce the number of highway deaths that occur every day across America. For many reasons (the topic of a future article), I wanted to develop a program that reduces the number of traffic fatalities involving older drivers with diminished skills, and subsequently founded Keeping Us Safe.
One of the first steps in this endeavor was to write “Beyond Driving with Dignity; THE workbook for the families of older drivers”. This is a working workbook, full of exercises, check boxes, fill in the blanks and short answers, etc. The book is much more than a culmination of my own experiences, research and knowledge. It includes input from many, many experts, including physicians, legislators, nurses, attorneys, social workers, concerned family members and even an octogenarian!
Ideally, it should be worked through by the family and the older driver together; sort of a joint effort. Doing so allows the older driver an active role in deciding the course of their driving future. I have found that when an older driver is involved in decisions related to his or her driving future, they are much more likely to accept rather than to merely abide by any resulting decisions.
The workbook is designed to reduce the family’s emotion, opinion and speculation regarding their loved-one’s driving abilities, and reduces everything to fact (Just the facts, ma’am). It gathers information on your loved-one’s vision, hearing, memory, reflex and reaction time, medication, strength and flexibility and general health. It’s not by happenstance that the word “Dignity” is in the workbook’s title, as all of our programs are designed to help the older driver maintain his or her dignity through what can certainly be one of life’s most difficult transitions; that of a driving retirement.
Working through this instrument will help your family make driving-related decisions that are not only in the best interest of the older driver, but simultaneously find themselves in the best interest of everyone on the road. Our workbook was designed to be used by your family in the confidence and comfort of your own home, most likely seated right at your family’s kitchen table.
Don’t be overwhelmed by this undertaking and have faith in the process laid out in the workbook. Remember… amateurs built the ark; professionals built the Titanic!
It is my sincere hope that you will find this workbook invaluable as you begin to talk to your loved-one about their driving abilities. It is just possible that timely use of this tool can help keep one law enforcement officer from across our great country from having to deliver yet another unnecessary death notification to a loving family.
My wish is that in the end, you will find yourself saying:
The book helped, a lot!