An Unfortunate Honor
By Jim Santucci
It has now been 150 weeks since Jillian left this world. Much has transpired since that time. I have gotten myself involved in many great non-profit groups focusing on the care of children and families going through similar situations that I have experienced. I have investigated, applied to and been accepted to a graduate program in social work. I have changed jobs after working for essentially the same organization for 19 plus years. I have started a new job in a company with a mission of meeting the needs of families and kids. I have taken up hiking and even started playing softball again. I have gone to the state capital and took part in a lobby day for pediatric palliative care. I have gone on long walks and spent numerous hours writing in this and other journals about my feelings and thoughts about Jillian’s death and my own journey through grief and life. It has been rewarding to do all these things. Perhaps that is what Jillian intended for me upon her departure. I feel as though I have actually become a new person in a lot of ways, but there is still a lot ahead of me. I look forward to it as much as I look forward to seeing Jillian again.
But through all of this, over the last 1,000+ days, the most significant element of all of this is the people who I have met. There have been so many. Many are other parents who have lost a child as well – and labeled as bereaved parents just like me. These parents have a special place in my heart. I think about them often and have forged great friendships with many of them.
As a parent who has lost a child, what do you say when you meet another parent or couple whose child has died? I have wrestled with this concept. What is appropriate in this politically correct focused world? To me it isn’t at all about political correctness, but it’s about honor and respect. It’s about breaching the sacred. It’s about our children and the pain we both feel because of their absence.
Most times when I meet a new person and I am genuinely glad to have met them, I usually say, “It is a pleasure to meet you, or I am glad to meet you.” But when you meet another parent who has lost a child is it really a pleasure? “I’m glad to meet you” just doesn’t seem like the right thing to say. After all, the only reason your meeting is because both of you have lost children. Both would certainly choose to have their child back instead of meeting this new acquaintance. The rub though is that after you meet, my experience has been that it was almost as if it was set up from the get go. The parents I have met are incredible and amazing. They have lost a child, and they are still standing. They are resilient. Their outlook on life is deeper. They understand and value things from a different perspective. They realize that life is very short, yet can be full of amazing lessons and journeys. They wrestle with not being judgmental and often bite their tongues when their friends with living children complain about the little things. They advocate for other parents and families who have experienced or will endure similar loss. They get sad and cry in the middle of the day when they remember a special thing about their child. They understand respect and boundaries. They cry for others who experience loss. They show a great appreciation for life and have a deep compassion for others. They understand things a bit deeper than the average joe getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks.
It is truly a pleasure and an honor to meet these parents. Yet at the same time, your meeting is based on an incredibly unfortunate set of circumstances – the death of your children. It is a paradox that I certainly won’t figure out in my lifetime, but do think it gives me insight into choosing the most appropriate greeting. So, here’s what I will say from now on: It’s an unfortunate honor to meet you. I think that just about sums up the entire sacredness and truism of meeting another bereaved parent. An unfortunate honor.
The above was sent to me by a fellow grieving dad and friend Jim Santucci. I met Jim about a year ago as part of the grieving dads project. I thought this would be an excellent article to share with all of you.
Thoughts, feedback or opinions?