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?
Jim, Kelly, Ernesto, Bryan, Scott, John, Bill, David, and every other Dad out there. We share a common and horrible bond, and it is an unfortunate honor to have met all of you in one way or another. You have given me strength, courage, and allowed me to hold my head up with dignity after the death of my son, Colin.
As a dad who lost a child, I know exactly where Jim is coming from. I never really thought about it until I read Jim’s post, but he’s right, how can such a tragic event(s) in someone’s life be viewed as “a pleasure”?
I guess it’s all about how you use the pleasantry, “it’s been a pleasure”. Two people, who somehow connect by chance or by grace, are able to share a common bond, even though the death of a child is in fact, as I see it, a pleasure. Not in the sense of something to enjoy, but an opportunity to connect with someone who understands unequivocally what you’ve experienced.
I’ve “had the pleasure” in meeting several dear friends, who like my wife and I, lost a child. If it had not been for our mutual loss, we would never have had the opportunity to have met. Albeit a paradoxical friendship, one that truly is a pleasure as we support each other through a common bind that many cannot fathom.
Scott – I can’t even begin to tell you how many great people, friends, I have met as a result of allowing myself to be vulnerable by telling my story and pain with honesty. Being transparent so others can realize they are not alone has opened me up to so many more people I would have never met. People who continue to inspire me and motivate me to continue this project, there is a huge need for people to connect.
I am sorry about you losing your daughter. I agree with your sentiments. In my grief work, a common saying that I hear is that losing a loved one, especially a child, often changes our ‘address book’. I have found myself gravitating toward other parents who have lost a child, and as you say, there is something unequivocally unique in these new friendships. Almost as if a veil is lifted and there are no false pretenses – sort of levels the playing field and truth and realness are paramount.
The other side of the coin are people we we meet or even know who just aren’t able to handle the space of our loss – what I call the ‘runaway factor’. I actually write about this in one of my recent blog posts in The Orange Balloon.
I am sorry to hear about the loss of your daughter. She sounds like a wonderful woman who energized others around her.
I am glad that those words rang true to you as well. Things are definitely different now and my perspective on life has been totally changed. Yet as you correctly put it, its a bit of a paradox. Thanks, and keep well.
It’s an unfortunate honor to meet you, Jim. I lost my daughter, age 24, suddenly, this past Demember 29th. She was an incredible young woman and wife who had a zest for life that couldn’t be surpassed…snuffed out in an instant. No fould play, no drugs, just a mysterious rare disease called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. She laid down and never woke up.
“They understand things a bit deeper than the average joe getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks.”
That’s the phrase that caught my eye, because it’s true. It’s almost as if a layer of fog has been lifted, allowing me to view life in a new way. I don’t care so much about the things I used to care about, it goes much deeper than that. I obviously care about my wife more because Allison was our only child, but it goes beyond that.
Things that used to irritate me no longer do. Things that used to make me mad only irritate me now. But at the same time, while I’m more tolerant, I’m less tolerant. I can’t seem to quantify that, it’s just a feeling I have. Perhaps over time I’ll come to understand what that means…right now I only know it’s true.
Thanks for the article and giving me something else to think about.
I read Jim’s article a couple of times and never picked up on “They understand things a bit deeper than the average joe getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks.” Mainly because I take that statement for granted. All bereaved parents understand things a little deeper than the average person. We know what it takes to go on every day, to get out of bed. We know the strength that we all have, and at times the pain we carry. Thank you for pointing that out and reminding me of this.
I’m so sorry for the loss of your Jillian. Great article. I like your greeting…it’s appropriate.
God Bless You,
Thanks for the kind words Bob.