From Pain to Purpose
I became speechless the moment I met Dawn Finbloom. By some "coincidence” I ended up having coffee with her days after my first newspaper column, “No Permanent Damage,” went to print. In it, I wrote some time-tested advice to help college students avoid making poor choices – choices that could land them in jail or the hospital. Ironically, there I was face-to-face with someone living the reality of a bad decision that had caused the ultimate “permanent damage” to her son, Brett. He had recently died of alcohol poisoning a week before leaving for college.
I was immediately struck by Dawn’s smile and cheerful spirit as well as her business-like attitude. Pulling my notebook out was not the plan but became a necessity as she poured out information. While jotting notes, I tried to concentrate but kept getting pulled back into the reality of the situation – here was a mom who had just lost her son. I wondered how she was even functioning just a few weeks after his death, let alone spearheading a cause to educate young adults on the dangers of under-aged drinking.
My note taking came to an immediate halt as she told me about her trip to Bed Bath & Beyond to return Brett’s college dorm supplies. “I didn’t want to make the cashier feel bad so I just told her that there was a ‘change of plans’ when she asked for the reason for return,” she said. At this tragic time, Dawn was worried about the cashier. My dumbfounded state was interrupted only by the clock when our meeting ended and she was off to her next stop – the cemetery. Before leaving, she mentioned she would be picking out the headstone, saying, “It will probably be green, Brett’s favorite color.”
Numb. That’s how I felt as we parted and throughout the day, as my thoughts returned to this strong, compassionate mother trying to move forward without her only son. Later that night, Dawn appeared before me again as she gave a presentation at the Promising Futures benefit. After the event, I met her husband, Norm, as I learned more about their “Make Good Decisions” cause. It all seemed surreal and exhausting, but, as Norm shared, “It’s what keeps us going. The quiet days are not the good days.”
We left together, reliving the tragedy with each step toward the exit as well-wishers offered their condolences. In the parking lot the Finblooms insisted on accompanying me to my car. “That’s just what we do. That’s who we are,” Norm said. How true. Here was a couple who, even in their darkest time, was caring for everyone else – a community, our children, and even a stranger like me.
Today, years later, the Finbloom’s work continues with presentations and events to spread their story to raise awareness on the dangers of underage drinking, drug use, and destructive behavior. Since Brett’s death in 2012, they have reached over 50,000 adults and students, giving 70 presentations in 2015 alone. At the same time they have been instrumental in expanding and educating people on Indiana’s Lifeline Law to encourage underage drinkers to “Make the Call” for a friend in need of medical attention due to alcohol or drug use. Since their work began, over 75 lives have been saved and similar Lifeline Laws have been enacted in other states.
Thank you, Dawn and Norm, for your passion and selfless commitment as you chose to turn your pain into purpose. Brett lives on through your work, and I’m sure is smiling from Heaven.
For more information on the Finblooms’ work, visit Make Good Decisions.