17 January 2013

Loss…and peace, and love.

Two posts in one week? I know, wow.

The MISS Foundation had a Board meeting over lunch today. On the third Thursday of each month, we gather as a Board – sometimes in person but often over speakerphone – to discuss the minutiae of running a foundation that wouldn’t exist in a perfect world because there wouldn’t be dead children. Many of my fellow members are bereaved parents themselves, and there generally comes a point in the meeting when we lose our collective ability to speak in the abstract. Something as simple as hearing the words "car accident," or "stillbirth," or "miscarriage," or the spoken name of a child that has died, alters the tone of the meeting – not negatively, but in a way that makes us aware all over again of our purpose. Whatever the trigger, this realization recharges and reinvigorates, and perhaps more importantly reprioritizes the cluttered to-do list that gets filed away in my mental Rolodex, along with grocery shopping lists, chores, errands, emails, appointments, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

Bereaved parents exist on a different plane than the rest of us, y’all. As surely as I’m learning anything from this experience, I am learning that parents who have lost children are just…broken. We use this word flippantly, so accustomed to throwaway commodities that we don’t think twice about pronouncing our belongings rubbish and disposing of them. People, though?  Not commodities.  Not throwaway; not disposable. These parents are still among us, navigating a life that is not only unfamiliar, but inconceivable. Pain and guilt punctuate every happy moment. They are passionate about preserving the memory of their babies, yet must live in a society that would really rather not discuss it.

Why is that? Why are we uncomfortable talking about a dead child, thereby acknowledging and celebrating the child’s life, brief as it might have been? Why do we insist that parents should “get over” their grief within a prescribed period, yet feel entitled to rehash every referee’s mistake in a bowl game played over a decade ago? Yes, I’m being hyperbolic. I’m being hyperbolic on purpose.

What, exactly, is a suitable period of mourning for a parent? Consider, for instance, a father who never, ever imagined that his child would predecease him. A mother who felt her daughter's kick less than 24 hours before being told that she had died, and who, instead of laying her sleeping baby in a brand new crib days after delivering her, laid her to rest instead. Just how long after these tragedies should this father, or this mother, be expected to move on, and never mention their child again outside a priest’s office or a therapist’s couch? How long before they should have to return to work, ability to concentrate intact?

Here’s your answer:  Most employers allow three to five days of bereavement leave; after that, an employee may or may not receive approval to take an extended leave period, but even in the best cases and with the most sympathetic and understanding supervisors, that length of the leave period is limited by the amount of vacation time the employee has accrued, if any. Though FMLA allows one to take extended leave following the birth or adoption of a child, or for a lengthy personal illness or that of a family member, it does not apply in cases of parental bereavement. We can agree to file that under "Things That Don't Make Sense," right?

I say all of that for a reason. MISS’s CEO, Barry Kluger, is the co-author of a bill that would extend coverage and existing benefits allowed by FMLA to employees that have experienced the death of a child.  Barry is visiting Washington, DC next month, and he’s meeting with lots and lots of really important people. The kind of people who can make life better for bereaved parents by ensuring that they have a humane period of mourning before being required to return to work. Please, please sign this petition.  Give these parents a voice.


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