Families unite in a 'healthy grief' to remember their children
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
SANDY — When Paul and Tina Fulgham pulled up to the Lone Peak Pavilion in Sandy Saturday, the place looked familiar.
It was a niece's wedding on Aug. 5, 2011. It was also the last time their whole family was together before their 19-year-old son, Logan, died in a car crash less than a month later.
"I danced with Logan on this very floor," Tina Fulgham said Saturday.
The Fulghams came from Tremonton. The families they were coming to meet came from all over the state, one from as far south as La Sal, to meet with each other and talk about their shared experiences.
United by their efforts with the Utah Department of Health's "Don't Drive Stupid" campaign, which is part of the larger Zero Fatalities initiative, all had lost children since the campaign started in 2007 and all had decided to help by sharing their children's stories to try and spare another child, another parent — another family — from their experience.
Though initially reluctant to take part in the program, Paul Fulgham said he and his wife left a meeting earlier this year with a good feeling. "Uplifted, after we shed some tears" and motivated to help.
"We left being willing to educate, to go to driver's education classes and work with our county and community," he said. "We want to educate the kids and keep his memory alive. ... We want to help parents to not have to go through these things."
Those involved with Zero Fatalities and the Department of Health attending the event all took their time to thank the families and emphasize that their willingness to help and to share is helping move them closer to their goal of zero fatalities on Utah roads. The numbers are going down, they said. Forty teenagers were killed in 2007. In 2011, it was 23.
"We go all over the state to share your stories and keep your children's memory alive," a tearful Stacy Johnson said. "Every year we bring these stories to the forefront so we can save lives. It is making a difference. Your stories are saving lives. Thank you so much for your courage, thank you for sharing your stories."
Logan Fulgham died Sept. 3, 2011 after his car crossed the center line on State Route 30 and collided head-on with an oncoming vehicle. He died instantly. A diabetic, his family thinks he may have gone into a diabetic coma.
"I know that (Logan) touched many lives while he was here and that he's touched many lives since," Tina Fulgham said. "We hope we can be part of Zero Fatalities, to help them and maybe those that are diabetic. ... We're thankful for this opportunity to be part of this."
The condition had kept Logan from serving an LDS mission, but Paul Fulgham said they were working on getting it under control so Logan could serve. He was a quiet kid, but he was a friend to all that he came in contact with and looked for the good in everyone, his parents said.
"We think maybe the Lord was preparing him," Paul Fulgham said. "He had another mission for him, different than the one we were working on."
He said he is not one who cries, but since his son has died he has "cried more than ever." It's not easy for him to be as emotional as he is now and he knows it will be difficult to speak often about his son, but he wants to do it anyway.
"(We can) make these stories come alive to the kids and it impresses them more," he said. "They might stop and think before (they get out on the road)."
Johnson said she and her team members ask students to pick a specific story to focus on that resonates with them. She read statements from students who said the experience has changed and impacted them.
She also introduced those at the event to Debbie Hill, whose daughter, Chelsie, was 24 when she died in a 2010 car accident. Hill said the crash would most likely have been relatively minor if her daughter had been wearing a seatbelt.
"She'd be here if she had her seatbelt on," Hill said. "She was a wonderful person... (we) want to keep that memory up and get the message out."
Hill has gone on to start a 5k fundraiser called Lace Up 2 Buckle Up: A Race to Remember Your Seatbelt in her daughter's memory. This was its second year.
"It's been rewarding," she said. "It is hard when we're telling the story, but I think all of us here share the sentiment that if it just helps one family, if we go to a class with 25 students and one child says, 'I'm going to put on my seat belt,' it was worth it. That was our motivation."
Tim Strebel, who lost his son, Blake, when he was struck by a driver fleeing police in 2009, makes school visits and said he has worked to see some good come from his son's death. But he said he feels that he personally benefits from the support and presence of the other families.
"I know some of you have had a longer time than I have to bear the sorrow and feel the hurt," he said. "I guess that's why I feel it's so important to meet with others who have shared our sorrow. It's a big support to me. I need to be with other people who understand what I feel."
Teresa Chapparo's 17-year-old son, Jose Ceballos, died Jan. 3, 2011 on a short trip between the elementary school where he tutored students and his high school. He was one of four sitting in a truck meant for three and was not wearing a seat belt. The driver of the truck Jose was in lost control while speeding and he was thrown from the window.
The next day, the Christmas gift he had ordered for his mother arrived, she said. It was a heart bearing the words: 'A mother holds her son's heart forever.'
"You're right," she said, thinking of her son. "Your body's not here, but your heart is here. He is here every day. We talk about him every day. We remember him."
She said she misses him and writes to him about "everything," like she would a child away at school. She also chooses to celebrate his life and the things he loves most.
"He loved to dance, so I keep dancing. He loved music, so I keep listening to music," Chapparo said. I do this because if just one kid reads this book and thinks, 'OK. I'm going to be careful,' that's good."
The event ended with instruction and discussion led by Kathy Supiano, a grief counselor with Caring Connections at the University of Utah. She told the families in attendance that "the way forward in a healthy grief is to remember."
"This is an opportunity to live out the good your children would have wanted through these stories. These stories are life changing. Before, the children were statistics and no one knew them," Supiano said. "Your child, your sister, your grandchild, while gone, is not a number. They are a story. ... A story that impacts the story of another human being. This is a powerful and good thing."
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