Carmel family the face of Indiana’s expanded Lifeline Law
Grieving parents work tirelessly to make sure others don’t have to endure loss of a child to alcohol or drugs
By Terri Spilman
A year-and-a-half after Brett Finbloom’s death from alcohol poisoning, his family remains on a journey of healing.
They focus on spreading his message, “Make good decisions,” which they credit with saving at least six young lives and giving a second chance at life to another.
But tragically, it took the death of eighteen year-old Brett in August of 2012 to raise awareness of a need that Indiana’s recently-expanded Lifeline Law hopes to fill. It’s the ability for young people to contact authorities without repercussion if they see a friend in danger from drug or alcohol abuse.
‘Make good decisions’
Brett’s parents, Norm and Dawn Finbloom, have become the face of the Indiana Lifeline Law through their work with the Indiana Youth Services Association and the updated version of the law which recently passed the legislature this year.
Last year, the Finblooms gave 30 presentations to church groups, high schools and universities in the hopes of educating students and parents on the dangers of underage binge drinking, the awareness of amnesty laws and knowing the signs of someone in medical distress.
“We really decided that ‘Make good decisions’ is our main thing, and I think that’s important for when we go into the schools because our message is that you don’t want to need a life line for yourself,” Dawn said. “You don’t want to put yourself into that type of situation where you drink too much, too fast and you have a medical emergency – but if you have a friend or you see someone who has had too much and they are having a medical emergency like that, you want to make the call right away.”
The Finblooms also worked with the University of Oklahoma – where Brett was planning to attend college – to pass a statewide medical amnesty law in Oklahoma similar to the Indiana Lifeline Law.
‘Teenagers can make mistakes’
A 2013 study published by Mother’s Against Drunk Driving found that most alcohol-related teen deaths are due to such factors as homicides, suicides and alcohol poisoning, yet most educational efforts simply focus on the dangers of drinking and driving.
“That’s the message we gave to our son, too. ‘Don’t drink and drive. Don’t drink, but if you are ever somewhere and you make the mistake and drink, call us. Don’t ride with somebody else who has been drinking,’” Dawn said. “That’s what we really talked, talked and talked about. We didn’t really think about drinking too much, too fast and dying from that.”
When the Finblooms give their speech to students, it is not delivered in a finger-pointing, indignant manner, and they try to remain respectful of the fact that they are speaking to a group of millennials – the generation of social responsibility.
“They are good people. I don’t want them thinking they are scum of the earth. There are some good teenagers – they are all good,” Dawn said. “Brett was good, but good teenagers can make mistakes, too.”
‘Capability of saving lives’
One such group of teenagers plays on the Carmel High School boys soccer team, of which Brett was a member.
And the team, led by junior P.J. Gibson, was just awarded a $1,000 grant by Youth as Resources to hold a Brett Finbloom pack-the-house event this fall to raise awareness of the Indiana Lifeline Law and the Make Good Decisions organization.
“Because this year’s junior class did not have a strong connection with Brett on a personal level, the Lifeline Law may not be as strongly imprinted in the minds of our class and the classes below ours at Carmel High School,” Gibson said. “We are doing this project in order to show those who are not aware of Brett’s story just how important making good decisions really is, while also showing them how the Lifeline Law has the capability of saving lives.”
‘Wish that it wasn’t that way’
The Finblooms not only lost a son, their daughter Jenna lost her big brother.
Grief counseling from Brooke’s Place continues to be very helpful for Jenna, and she has a terrific group of friends – as well as a special group of Brett’s friends referred to as “The Five Sibs” – who treat her like their little sister.
“They email her, call her, visit her and take her out for special fun times,” Dawn said. “They have continued to be there for Jenna from the moment that Brett passed away.”
And perhaps one of the most poignant reminders of Brett’s legacy is a letter that the Finblooms recently received from the man who was able to undergo a life-saving organ transplant as a result of receiving Brett’s liver.
“He wrote the perfect letter of thanks,” Dawn said. “His letter brought tears of course, but they were tears that were grateful for the gift of life that Brett was able to give to another.”
It is important for the Finblooms to know that their son will be remembered and that his early tragic death serves a purpose.
Dawn has coined the term “sappy,” a combination of “sad” and “happy,” to describe holidays and special occasions in their new normal.
“We feel that we will forever have a level of sadness in every moment,” she said. “We truly wish that it wasn’t that way for us, but it just is when you lose a child that you love so very much.”
“We still smile and laugh as much as possible, because we know that Brett would want that and we need to give our daughter the best of us that we can give her,” Dawn said. “She deserves our best. We are very fortunate to be surrounded by many amazing friends from our past and new ones as well.”
For more information on Make Good Decisions and the Indiana Lifeline Law visit www.indysb.org/inlifelinelaw