Barry Kluger lost his daughter Erica in 2001. He is a former media executive and is President and CEO of The MISS Foundation, a global bereavement organization (www.missfoundation.org). Kelly Farley lost his daughter Katie in 2004 and his son Noah in 2006. He created the Grieving Dads Project (www.grievingdads.com).
Dear parents of the Sandy Hook School tragedy, Like many of you, we have watched the nightmare that came out of Newtown, Connecticut over the last few weeks. Some of us look at the horrific event and believe the pain the parents are feeling is unimaginable, while others understand what this pain feels like. We speak from experience. We know the pain of losing children, and even though our losses were several years ago and in circumstances far different, we can relate to the parents who now grieve over the Sandy Hook tragedy.
We are both bereaved fathers who lost our children (Erica Kluger, Katie and Noah Farley) in 2001, 2004 and 2006. We each have translated our losses into actions designed to give other bereaved parents more time to grieve. In 2011, we established the Farley-Kluger Initiative (www.FarleyKluger.com) to amend the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 to include death of a child. Right now, you get up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off after the birth of a child, but only a customary two to three days to bury that child.
No doubt, most managers and the companies are compassionate enough to provide such parents much more than two or three days of bereavement leave. But sadly, we have learned in the course of our efforts on the Farley-Kluger Initiative that many parents feel pressure to get back to work immediately, for fear that doing otherwise might cost them their jobs.
The grief that comes from the death of a child never goes away. It lasts a lifetime. It eventually lessens in magnitude as we learn to deal with it, and we survive in spite of it. We all know what to do when we lose a job, but we have no idea what to do when we lose a child. No one and nothing, even our faith, prepares us for what we will feel or will have to do. The dynamics of such invisible wounds are universal. Sometimes we are unable to feel at all or cry, or we cry, but feel we should cry more.
That’s why we want to change the law, and why we are taking steps to advance that change early in the next session of Congress. We have sent petitions with more than 41,000 signatures to members of the U.S. House and Senate and met with more than 45 legislators, including many in the Connecticut delegation. Next month, we will be back at it, only now representing the parents of the Sandy Hook School victims.
Hundreds of thousands of parents over the centuries have lost a child to illness, accident, war, murder and suicide. Each story is heartbreaking. And all of you now belong to a club no one wishes to join, and only those of us who have walked in your shoes understand the indelible sadness. Though Newtown is unique in its terrible circumstances, you will never be alone, nor should you ever be forgotten.
We ask all of you — and others who were spared tragedy — to join us in this fight to make a difference. We never know when we, too, will have to walk this path.