||Country Gazette Article 2/6/09
Mother works to use her daughter’s death to teach a lesson
By Heather McCarron, STAFF WRITER
PLAINVILLE - "It was like a scene out of a movie," she began.
Her gaze shifted toward the window of the Starbucks in the Plainville Target: A place where, perhaps, the still-fresh grief could not take her over so easily, and she could deliver her message unimpeded.
A place without attachments.
Beyond the glass, icebergs of snow drifted in the parking lot, where cars and people slogged through sloppy wetness — oblivious as a mother unraveled her heartbreaking story.
Three months after losing her beloved, 17-year-old daughter, Taylor, Kathi Meyer last week spoke candidly about her loss, and her mission not to let it be meaningless. She is determined, she said, to hold up her experience to the world to show teens and their families what drinking and substance abuse can do, to let them see the tragedy it can create.
And, ultimately, she hopes, to save others from living a similar story.
"It can happen to me. It can happen to you. And that’s what I want people to grasp. I want to make it so nobody else’s parents have to go through this. I want to make it so nobody else’s friends have to go through this," she said.
As she recalled Oct. 20, 2008, three days after her daughter wandered away from an underage drinking party in the woods at the former Norfolk Airport and drowned in a swamp, Meyer didn’t seem to be looking through the window at Starbucks or seeing the parking lot and the people and cars moving through it.
Her vision was turned inward.
"State troopers coming up the road, dust trailing out behind them," she continued, wrapping trembling hands around her venti-sized cup of coffee.
The cruiser pulled up to where Meyer, family and friends were waiting. "One of the troopers got out of the car," she said.
She had had a feeling — call it a mother’s intuition — about what he was about to tell them: "We found her ... she’s gone."
Meyer described crumbling to the ground, pulling out the grass, supporters moving around her.
Something she would not wish on her worst enemy.
And then the slew of arrests afterwards, as police in Plainville, Wrentham and Norfolk broke up numerous underage drinking parties — some held in memory of Taylor.
"When the kids did that," Meyer said, "that’s what started it."
But not anger at the kids for whatever role they may have played at that post-Homecoming party where Taylor, a senior at King Philip Regional High School, was last seen alive. It was anger, rather, that they just didn’t seem "to get it," and — much to Meyer’s dismay — some of their parents didn’t either.
"I don’t have any resentment toward these kids," Meyer insisted, as she defiantly forced back threatening tears. "I just want them to learn."
Meyer, a Realtor and single mother with an 11-year-old son, Logan, and a 20-year-old son, Zachary, has already begun to act on the posthumous lessons her daughter has to teach her peers: About good people making bad decisions, about taking alcohol seriously, about watching each other’s backs, about not being afraid to turn to parents or other adults no matter what the situation.
Earlier this month, on Jan. 9, Meyer was joined at North Attleboro High School by Attleboro District Court judge Gregory Philips, and North Attleboro Selectman Paul Belham — a long recovered alcoholic who started experimenting with alcohol as a teen. The three spoke to the senior class about underage drinking and its potential consequences.
Taylor’s story was the highlight of the presentation, and a large portrait of the smiling, blonde teen served as a backdrop.
"I told them ‘if it could happen to Taylor, it could happen to you. You all think you’re invincible. Taylor did, too,’" Meyer said. "I said to them, ‘I want you to picture me your mother, your grandmother, your father. Picture me your parent.’"
She described the day she learned of her daughter’s death to the students, and the days that followed, while Belham and Philips discussed other aspects of underage drinking and substance abuse.
It was a presentation that left a definite impression, North Attleboro High School principal Bob Gay said this week.
"Kathi Meyer is a remarkable woman. She possesses so much strength," he said. "The day she came and spoke to our students, I will tell you she left a very strong impression."
He said when she was done, and the students were told they could return to their classes, "There was silence. It was like being in a church at a funeral or a wake. It was just so powerful."|
Meyer has been invited back to the school, where her nieces are students, next Thursday, Feb. 12, to speak to the junior class, and on March 10, the school is planning a similar presentation for parents.
"She really does not want her daughter Taylor’s death to be in vain," Gay said, adding, "Hopefully it’s a lesson they (the students) will remember for many years to come."
Meyer isn’t stopping with North Attleboro. Norton High School has slated her presentation, for both students and parents, for March, and in April, she will visit Bishop Feehan High School in Easton. She is also hoping to schedule a session at her own daughter’s school, King Philip Regional High School.
Meyer last week said she doesn’t blame the kids for her daughter’s death.
"They’re all young. They all made a bad decision," she said. "My whole point is, bad decisions. All made by alcohol."
In the aftermath of Taylor’s death, Meyer confided, there were some not-so-nice things said about Taylor. Even questions about how the teen’s family could have missed the cues of a young person who was trying out alcohol.
But Taylor wasn’t a troubled teen, Meyer said. "She was normal. She wasn’t a derelict."
Yes, Meyer admitted, Taylor did have a run-in with police because of drinking, though Meyer thought the experience had deterred her daughter from further incidents.
"I knew she drank before. She had something happen at school probably a year or six months before this happened," Meyer confided, describing how Taylor was pulled aside by the school resource officer at a football game because she had had a drink, caught because she was helping a friend who had become sick.
"She was grounded for a month," Meyer said.
Not only that, she continued, Meyer asked the police to keep her daughter in the cell at the Wrentham Police Department for nearly two hours after they called to inform her of the incident. And then, after picking her up from Wrentham, she said she then took Taylor to the Plainville Police Department, where they agreed to keep her another few hours.
"I wanted her to sit and stew for a while," she said, to think about what had happened.
"I never would have known that Taylor drank as much as she did," Meyer confessed. "As the parent, I was totally oblivious to it. Honestly, I didn’t think Taylor could get herself into this kind of trouble. She was a smart kid."
She paused, fingering the lid of her coffee cup, before adding in a quiet voice, "it’s just a shame … it’s just a waste of a life. There was no reason for it."
Meyer said, in hindsight, she would have insisted on being a part of Taylor’s circle on Facebook, a social networking Web site. She had had access to Taylor’s account on another social Web site, My Space, but hadn’t pursued similar access with Facebook.
"If I had seen her Facebook account, I would have had a heart attack," Meyer admitted. "So, just for parent awareness: Be aware of their computers."
As she shared her story, Meyer talked about the surreal days following the discovery of her daughter in 24 inches of water.
The scratches and bruises on Taylor’s arms and legs.
The missing shoe.
"It was clear she was fighting to get out," she said, tears brimming again.
Taylor’s blood alcohol level was .13, Meyer said; ".08 is when you get arrested. But you don’t get alcohol poisoning until you get to 3.0."
Meyer is "99.9 percent sure" that Taylor passed away the night of Oct. 17. "Because if she had sobered up enough, she would have gotten out of those woods. She was a tough chick. There was nothing wimpy about her … because of the alcohol in her system, that’s why she couldn’t get out of the woods."
And it was because of the alcohol in their bodies, she said, that her friends at the party let her go.
"We’ve got to teach the kids about alcohol and how it can affect their brains," Meyer said. "They’ve just got to get it. They really do."
Meyer wears something pink every day — Taylor’s signature color — including memorial wrist bands in three shades of pink that variously read, "In the arms of the angel. TLM," and Taylor’s motto in life, "Live, Laugh, Love."
"Did I mention how much I hate pink?" Meyer asked.
But it’s the language her daughter’s memory uses to communicate with her, producing "big pink sky" when Kathi Meyer needs it most, when her grief presses in close. Reminding Meyer of her dear daughter every time she sees it.
"Unfortunately, for me, my end result is my end result," said Meyer. "It’s just not changing, and it’s hard."
But, she said, she must carry on. Get up every morning, get dressed, go to work, love her sons, spread Taylor’s lesson.
"You have to go on," Meyer said. "I have an 11-year-old son … and Taylor would kill me if I sat here and just balled my eyes out. I know that. I couldn’t do that to her, or to Logan."
But it’s not an easy thing.
There have been the moments spent curled up in Taylor’s bed.
And the days when she didn’t want to leave the door to Taylor’s room open, wanting to keep her scent there.
And, on a recent "bad day," the four hours spent parked by Taylor’s plot at the cemetery, sitting atop Taylor’s car, wrapped in Taylor’s blanket and listening to the last CD in Taylor’s player, until a "big pink sky" appeared to bring Meyer some comfort.
And there are, still, the briefer visits to the cemetery four or five times a week, "just to chat" with her best friend.
"The biggest thing for me is, I still picture her going through the door. I think that’s the toughest thing," Meyer said.
Straightening, an expression of strong determination took over the mother’s face.
"If I can save one freakin’ life from someone making the wrong decision…" She paused and sighed, shaking her head.
For her, in spite of her loss, there is this hope.
"Hopefully," Meyer said, "hopefully Tay will make a difference."