Fighting for grieving parents
By David Sharos For Sun-Times Media February 8, 2013 3:50PM
Kelly Farley is a local resident and author who has fought for the rights of grieving parents. | Submitted
Updated: March 11, 2013 6:44AM
Naperville area resident Kelly Farley takes his personal mission seriously.
Farley was in Washington, D.C., a few days ago working as a catalyst for change regarding the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act, which currently does not include the death of a child as reason to qualify for benefits.
Farley’s campaign, which some may argue seems grassroots in nature, has still managed to reach national scope since he began working to raise awareness of the issue back in 2011. To understand Farley’s trigger mechanism, however, requires looking back to five years before that.
“My wife and I lost a child in 2004 and another in 2006 due to some genetic disorder condition and I had a lot of trouble dealing with the grief of those losses,” Farley said. “Men are always expected to be tough and just sort of plow through.”
Repressing the grief through work and other diversions didn’t work, and Farley’s life began to unravel due to depression and a growing apathy about everything. But three years later, a conversation with a homeless gentleman who had lost a son in 1991 led to Farley beginning to take action and give his life a purpose again.
“I was working in real estate at the time and this guy was doing a few odd jobs for me, and we had this brief conversation at the bus stop one day, and I could see how this man’s losing his son could have led to the unraveling of his life,” Farley said. “It triggered this grieving dads project that I started through a blog, and within a few days, I was hearing from people all over the world.”
Farley said from the outset, he knew his blog and stories he was reading from others would become a book, and in June of 2012, he published “Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back” with help from David Dicola. Stories in the book were collected based on phone interviews Farley had with those who read his blog as well as face-to-face interviews with others he traveled to see throughout the country.
One of those meetings took place in Scottsdale, Ariz., in 2010, when he met Barry Kluger.
“We started the Farley-Kluger initiative to change the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 to include the death of a child for one of the reasons to qualify for the benefits outlined,” Farley said. “Most people get only three to five days of bereavement leave under their employers plan, and this change in FMLA would allow for 12 weeks of unpaid time after an employee’s child dies.”
The two men traveled to Washington, D.C,. to lobby for the change in September of 2011, with another trip in March of 2012, and again this week on Feb. 4, the 20th anniversary of the original signing of the FMLA of 1993. A petition that was introduced in January of 2011 now has more than 54,000 signatures and two bills were introduced this week, one in the House of Representatives by New York Congressman Steve Israel and the other in the Senate by Jon Tester of Montana.
“We also have 19 national organizations that are supporting the cause,” Farley said.
Farley’s book includes the story of former Chicago resident Kermit DeLashment, 46, whose son became the 500th murder victim in the city in 2008. The single father who also has a daughter has since moved to Hazel Crest. DeLashment said Farley reached out to him through a mutual friend and that initially he rebuked Farley’s efforts.
“It might have been a year after he first contacted me that we finally met and talked over breakfast and he asked me for permission to include my story in his book,” DeLashment said. “In my case, my company was a lot more flexible with my leave and sort of bent the rules, but it would have been a lot easier for me and others if a law permitting that was already in place.”
Not-for-profit groups like the National Office of Compassionate Friends in Oak Brook, a national child loss organization, can’t take a position on Farley’s initiative but their mission seems to reflect a similar purpose.
“We think every person in the family that has experienced the death of a child needs time to better cope with what happened to them,” said Wayne Loder, public awareness coordinator. “There should be ample time for recovery and not having to worry about work.”
Farley’s initiative for change can be found at www.FarleyKluger.com