By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Before presenting a home video of her daughter to Havre High School students on Monday, Mary Haydal said, "Look at it, and see if you see a meth addict."
On the screen was a beautiful girl, sitting at a keyboard and laughing.
Haydal went on to describe her daughter's life briefly: Cassie was on the honor roll, was a volunteer, worked two jobs so she could go to Paris with the French Club, played basketball and wrote a sports column for the Miles City newspaper. On Nov. 14, 2000, Cassie, 18, died of a massive heart attack brought on by methamphetamine use.
For more than three years, Haydal has traveled around Montana and to neighboring states to share the story of her daughter's death. In Havre, she will tell the story four times. She met with Havre Middle School and Havre High School students Monday, and today she will make a presentation to teachers, and another to parents and members of the community.
She will speak to the community today at 6:30 p.m. in the Havre High School auditorium.
Haydal's story focuses on the day of her daughter's heart attack, the day Haydal expressed concern to her daughter after Cassie missed curfew the night before, and had obtained a promise from Cassie that the family would have a talk in the evening.
Her daughter went into the bathroom, and then Haydal heard a crash. Haydal found Cassie collapsed and turning blue. In the days that followed, the family learned the cause of their older daughter's collapse, and later had to make the decision to end life support for her, all the while trying to help their younger daughter understand.
Before Haydal ended her story, she said to the HHS audience, "When you make your choices about drugs and alcohol, those are your choices, but you take the rest of us with you."
When Haydal reached the conclusion of her story - the moment Cassie's heart monitor flatlined - she repeated, "Cassie made her choice about drugs and she took the rest of us with her."
Haydal ended her presentation with a journal assignment and a quiz. She asked the students to write down a special trait they have and a source of stress in their lives. Finally, she gave a quiz on 12 different drugs, naming side effects, and asking students to call out the drug that causes it.
Haydal said that part of the presentation had been her younger daughter's suggestion.
Haydal has never marketed her talk. She said she has always been invited by people who had heard her story. The first time she told it publicly was in Helena, for the purpose of urging the state to provide more meth treatment centers. Teachers who were in the audience asked Haydal to their schools so she could tell her story.
This year Haydal quit her job and is focusing exclusively on the talks.
"I came to the conclusion I couldn't do two jobs. My passion was really for the drug talks. My family supported the decision," she said.
Haydal visits one, sometimes two schools a week during the school year, she said.
Sometimes she thinks she wants to stop, but feedback from teenagers and from parents has encouraged her to continue.
"I've had parents call me ... (and say) 'Now it's hit our family,'" Haydal said. In one case, it was a parent who had taken Haydal's card two years ago and held onto it.
Haydal also has students approach her after a talk seeking help, she said. She always refers those kids to a specialist.
Tonight's talk with the community will focus on helping parents learn the signs of drug use. Haydal is on the governor's drug and alcohol policy board, and she works with experts so she has good information for people.
HHS senior Dustin Norden said Monday's presentation was inspiring. "I really have to help people stop" using drugs, he said.
Sophomore Molly Proctor said the presentation was informative, and different from other drug presentations she's seen.
Students were also reminded of friends that they knew who had died as a result of substance abuse.
"It was kind of depressing. I've had really good friends die," senior Cole Horinek said. "It's a good thing to be forced to remember," he added.