Two dads, one mission: Better bereavement leave

Kelly Farley and Barry Kluger are the dads behind the Parental Bereavement Act.


Evermore is dedicating this Father’s Day week to bereaved dads who will always be fathers.
 

Kelly Farley and Barry Kluger met because of a horrible coincidence: They knew what it was like to mourn a child.

For Kluger, it was his 18-year-old daughter Erica, who died in a car crash in 2001. For Farley, it was two children — his daughter Katie, who died by miscarriage in 2004, and his son Noah, who was stillborn in 2006.

The two met several years later after Farley launched a blog that covered his own experience grieving the death of his children, and Kluger invited him on his talk radio show.

As they chatted about what they both had been through, the two fathers started talking about finding an issue they could work on together. That discussion eventually turned to better bereavement leave for parents mourning the death of their child. Soon, they became the dads behind the Parental Bereavement Act.

“Your employer will give you three or five days of bereavement leave, if you’re lucky. That’s just not enough time. You bury your child, and you’re expected to get back to work the next day. We didn’t think it was realistic.”

Updating FMLA

Right now, the Family and Medical Leave Act gives eligible employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or a sick family member, but not to grieve a child who has died. And private and public employers aren’t doing much better. An industry survey shows that 69 percent of employers give parents just three days off after a son or daughter dies. It’s barely enough time to plan a funeral.

In 2011, Farley and Kluger crafted the Parental Bereavement Act, an update to the Family and Medical Leave Act that would allow parents to qualify for unpaid leave when a child, who is under the age of 18, dies. Twelve weeks, they say, is not enough time to fully mourn a child, but it’s a start.

“It gives them time to assess what has happened to them and, maybe, start the grieving process,” Farley said.

 

Not so fast

By the summer of 2011, the two dads got some great news. Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana, introduced the bill in the Senate. They hoped for quick action, which hasn’t come. But the bill has continued to get backing from lawmakers through the years. And, in February, it received bipartisan support in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

Supporters said it was time to help grieving parents. Senator Martha McSally, a Republican from Arizona and a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate, stated in a news release:

“Parents coming to grips with the loss of a child should not have to worry about anything other than taking care of themselves and their loved ones,” said . “It is critically important to ensuring mourning parents have the peace of mind to be able to take the time they need while going through the grieving process.”

Representative Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia and a co-sponsor of the House bill, added in his press release:

“Expanding the FMLA to include parental bereavement is the most compassionate action we can take to do something, no matter how small, to help bereaved families. This legislation is a good start to make a positive change and I’m proud to support it.”

The latest endorsements make Kluger and Farley hopeful once more.

“We continue to build momentum and support, and a couple of weeks don’t go by without another senator or another representative signing on,” Kluger said. “We’re hopeful, but we’re looking at the bigger picture because there are so many people who have a stake in this.”

Uphill battle

Despite the bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, the two know that they still have an uphill battle. As the country grapples with an opioid epidemic, mass shootings and other pressing issues, helping bereaved parents isn’t top of mind for many.

Kluger and Farley continue to build momentum and support, and say that a couple of weeks don’t go by without another senator or another representative signing on.

“Bereavement leave is something where people say, ‘That’s a pretty good idea,’ but … the passion is not there,” said Kluger, who wrote a book about his daughter and her death called “A Life Undone: A Father’s Journey Through Loss.”

But, they say, it’s still worth the fight.

“I made it through the dark tunnel, and it is my responsibility to be an advocate for parents who follow in our footsteps,” said Farley, who now travels the country to work with grieving fathers and is the author of the book, “Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back.”

Say something

To move the bill forward, Farley and Kluger are encouraging more people to speak out. So far, through an online petition, more than 120,000 people have sent messages to their lawmakers in support of the bill. There, parents also are sharing their own experiences after the death of a child.

“Three years ago we lost our first born. My husband received one weekend, then back to work,” wrote one mother. “How can you return to work when your mind and heart are somewhere else completely. We needed more time!”

Another mother wrote that her child’s father was fired for missing work to pick up their son’s ashes.

The two dads also encourage people to directly contact their representatives and share their own stories about why they support the bill, so that it gets the attention it deserves.

“I’m not discouraged,” Kluger said. “But I’ve learned the way it works. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

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