Time for Congress to recognize grief

In 2013, 31 House members and 10 Senate members took a bold and courageous step towards beginning the healing process for the families who have lost children by signing on to co-sponsor the Sarah Grace-Farley-Kluger Act (HR515) and The Parental Bereavement of 2013(S226) in Congress. Sadly, not a Republican among them.

In 2011, fellow grieving parent, Kelly Farley and I, began a petition to Congress to amend the Family Medical Leave Act to add loss of a child as a qualifying condition.  Currently, you receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, family illness, your own personal illness or to care for an injured service member.  Yet if you lose a child, most companies grant 3-5 days of Bereavement Leave. Imagine: 12 weeks to have a child, but just a few days to bury and grieve for that child.

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With the support of 65,000 petitions and 20 national organizations, the lawmakers took a long, hard look at how the loss of a child affects Americans; ALL Americans. Democrat, Republican, rich, poor, White, Black, Hispanic, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. Death pays no attention to political affiliation, race, culture or faith. It didn’t matter in Aurora, Newtown, Portland and the Navy Yard. Everyone was somebody’s child.

Grief has no half life. We know we will never return to a normal life but rather a new ‘normal,’ and it’s this journey for the parents who follow us that needs the full support of our politicians in Washington.

Objections from those who have sat on the sidelines include the cry: “We were sent to Washington to support the business owners and corporations.”  What better way to underscore that promise than making the employer/employee relationship a true bond? 

So, let’s take compassion off the table for a moment.  An employer invests thousands of dollars to train an employee and when that worker loses a child, they are required to return to work, barely able to cope with the overwhelming tragedy. That employee suffers on the job, productivity drops, co-workers are not able to understand or deal with the pain, their performance suffers and soon, the investment in people goes out the window because of their reluctance to realize that such anguish affects the bottom line. The best assets of a company get on the elevator every day at 5 p.m., so why not protect that asset?

A ten-year old study by The Grief Recovery Institute pegged the economic impact of lost productivity after the loss of a child at $32B. In today’s dollars, figuring yearly inceases, that figure is now $56B.

That’s just bad business.  Requiring a quick return will cost companies in the long run.

While DC debates budgets, social programs and health care, I believe there is one issue that defies labels, and that is the loss of a child. Lobbying must give way to love, confrontation to compassion, strife to support. I walk that path with those of you touched by this tragedy.  I ask Congress to join us in that journey. If not now, when?

Kluger is co-creator of the Farley-Kluger Initiative to Amend the FMLA. He runs Kluger Media Group, a crisis management/public relations firm.