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June 3, 2017

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What It's Like to Grow Up with Loss

 

{Editor’s Note: An open letter to the Class of 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 as well as any millennial protesting the Presidential Election results of Nov. 9, 2016}

 

So, you think you know loss because your presidential candidate didn’t win? Until you have had to put your toys way and stop playing because people are grieving downstairs in your home, loss is just a word.  Until you have curiously sat at the top of the stairs and listened through the doors to the tears of family and friends, loss is just a word. Until you have had your mother tell you “we need to go out” because a mother’s cries downstairs are so heart wrenchingly loud they can be heard through closed doors and windows, loss is just a word. 

 

Our dad is a funeral director; was a funeral director. He retired earlier this year after more than 50 years in the business, so we guess he’ll always be a funeral director. We grew up in a Victorian, above the funeral home in a small town. There wasn’t anything we could do outside the confines of the house that our parents didn’t know about by the time we reached home. 

 

Our summers were spent at the Jersey Shore. Our fall Sundays were always about family and football. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? The truth, though, is from very young ages we knew loss; grief and heartache. Death is one hell of a teacher. 

 

Everyone experiences loss differently. No one knows this better than a child of a funeral director, who sat through film after film about teenage suicide; discussions at the dinner table about the families who were mourning and stories of what they had lost.  It wasn’t just someone who had died.  It was a father, a mother, a sister, a brother, an aunt, an uncle, a friend etc. –  personalized stories as though trying to get us to understand how different, but alike we all are. 

 

It must be hard to understand loss when you’ve never experienced walking away from a sport or other activity without a trophy or certificate just for participating. For the rest of us, the trophy or the certificate is called life. And in the game of life, loss is something we all encounter. The children of funeral directors, however, see the worse moments of a person’s live and experience true loss – real, raw grief – upfront and personal in a way few others will ever understand.

 

These are just a few of what we experienced BEFORE we reached college age:

  • The woman who carries a child to term and must deliver a stillborn child. 

  • The woman who carries a child for nine months only to be told the child will not survive due to something they couldn’t diagnose during the pregnancy. 

  • The family who watched their two-year-old have a heart attack on a carousel and die in front of them because of an undiagnosed genetic heart defect. 

  • The mother who gave birth to four children and lost three of them in six years; one to suicide, one to a drunk driver and one to cancer.

  • The bride whose mother fought cancer for months only to pass away the morning of her daughter’s wedding. 

  • The father who took his son boating to celebrate his 10th birthday and ended up donating his son’s organs that same day due to a boating accident.

  • The parent of an AIDS patient in the early '80s who didn’t just lose a child but at that time family and friends. 

  • The parents whose son was blindsided while driving home after finishing his shift as a police officer.

  • The husband and father of a woman and a four-month-old son murdered by his jealous ex. 

  • The parents of young men and women who went overseas to fight for your life and freedoms who come home in flag-covered caskets. 

 

This is loss. Equating your candidate losing a presidential election to this kind of loss is beyond our rational comprehension. College administrations bringing in grief counselors and puppies to help you deal with your 'loss' is beyond our rational comprehension. You don’t know loss. What you know is called poor sportsmanship.

 

 

Please, don’t say we’re not compassionate because we were raised by a man whose life work was compassion. A man who would get a call from the medical examiner or a family at any hour of the night or day to remove a loved one from a home; pick up a deceased loved one at the airport, or bury a person who didn't have anyone else in Potter's field. A person no one showed up for or claimed; that others wouldn't bury because there is no money in a Potter's field burial. A man who hosted AIDS Buddy meetings in our home-  when the rest of the world was calling it the gay plague - so people suffering from the disease didn’t have to die alone. A man who taught us how to show kindness, compassion and courage in face of a disease that sent millions of people shunning gay men and women in the 1980s.

 

This is loss. This is compassion. This is what it’s like to grow up with loss. This is us.

 

Final Thought:

 

You don’t have to like it but you must accept it and move on. Calling for the rape of any woman is disgusting. You won’t be 20-something forever. One day, you will have children. Would you want someone screaming that about your daughter?

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