Tender time

  • Timmy Connors

  • Never forgotten: A tree outside of Archbishop Ryan High School has been dedicated to the memory of Timmy Connors. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • A father’s mission: Martin Connors stands under a tree dedicated to his son, who was killed after being hit by a car in front of Archbishop Ryan High School. His father is now working to revise the current laws to allow a parent whose son or daughter has died to take off up to 12 workweeks from his or her place of employment for bereavement. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­tect­ive Mar­tin Con­nors, 48, nev­er thought he would be­lieve the words of grief coun­selor Mickey Hirsch: Con­nors would even­tu­ally help oth­er griev­ing par­ents whose chil­dren had died. 

It has been more than two years since Con­nors’ son Timmy died after be­ing hit by a car after the school day had ended at Arch­bish­op Ry­an High School. Timmy was 15 years old. 

Con­nors de­scribes his son as gentle and heart­felt; he re­counts Timmy’s as­pir­a­tions to be a film dir­ect­or and writer, learn about Greek and Ir­ish myth­o­logy and de­fend the hon­or of oth­ers.

“He was a good kid and still is a good kid,” Con­nors said. 

Timmy ad­mired and de­veloped an act­ive curi­os­ity for her­oes, namely Spi­der­m­an, but es­pe­cially the po­lice of­ficers and fire­fight­ers who risked their lives in the Sept. 11, 2001, at­tacks. Con­nors re­calls his son con­sol­ing him on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Don’t cry, daddy,” Timmy said. “All those po­lice and fire­men that died when the build­ings fell on them will be re­placed by their sons.”

Timmy was just 6 years old.

“He had an old soul,” Con­nors said.

“[On the day of the ac­ci­dent,] I re­ceived a call while com­ing home from the po­lice academy and was told my son had been in a car ac­ci­dent,” Con­nors said. “I was ex­pect­ing stitches and Timmy apo­lo­giz­ing for hav­ing a broken arm or leg.”

Shortly after ar­riv­ing at Aria Tor­res­dale Hos­pit­al, Con­nors was taken in­to the fam­ily room where he was in­formed Timmy had died. It was at this point that his griev­ing began, a price, Con­nors said, that no par­ent wants to pay. 

But in time, Con­nors began to act on the words that Hirsch, who is bat­tling can­cer and still run­ning his own con­tract­ing busi­ness, had told him; Hirsch’s son Kev­in died at the age of 26 be­cause of H1N1 (swine flu).  

In his heal­ing pro­cess, Con­nors con­tinu­ally blogs about his emo­tion­al jour­ney and memor­ies of Timmy on his site, “Forever Fif­teen- Timothy’s Strength.” Not only are his entries avail­able to oth­er griev­ing par­ents, but it was also through the In­ter­net that Con­nors was able to reach out to dads who, like him, had also used writ­ing as a power­ful tool for heal­ing as well as a means to be pro­act­ive. Ac­cord­ing to Con­nors, he con­tac­ted Kelly Far­ley, res­id­ent of the Chica­go sub­urbs, on Face­book. Au­thor of Griev­ing Dads: To the Brink and Back, Far­ley him­self is a griev­ing dad whose chil­dren died in 2004 and 2006. He self-pub­lished his book in 2012; the work in­cludes in­ter­views of dads who dis­cuss the psy­cho­lo­gic­al and emo­tion­al pangs of griev­ing be­cause their chil­dren have died from vari­ous mis­for­tunes and tra­gedies. 

“Most guys don’t tell each oth­er how they’re feel­ing,” Far­ley said. 

This in­hib­i­tion in com­mu­nic­a­tion as well as paucity in lit­er­at­ure on guid­ing fath­ers whose chil­dren have died served as im­petuses for Far­ley’s con­tinu­ing ef­forts in writ­ing on this top­ic — aid­ing a com­munity of griev­ers who needed the re­sources to cope.

For Con­nors, the Fraternal Or­der of Po­lice, Arch­bish­op Ry­an High School and sur­round­ing schools in Port Rich­mond, where he and his fam­ily live, were sup­port­ive of his and his fam­ily’s needs. Spe­cific­ally, Con­nors said he was “for­tu­nate,” as he was able to take as much time off from work as he needed for be­reave­ment, which in­cluded be­ing able to util­ize ac­crued va­ca­tion time.

Oth­er par­ents, Con­nors said, are not so lucky. And so forth, Con­nors de­cided to reach out to help in­di­vidu­als whose chil­dren had died. But, he was not alone in his de­cision. 

The power of the print ex­ten­ded bey­ond Far­ley and Con­nors’ con­nec­tion. Pri­or to Far­ley and Con­nors speak­ing, Barry Kluger, pro­pri­et­or of Kluger Me­dia Group and CEO of glob­al griev­ing or­gan­iz­a­tion the MISS Found­a­tion, re­searched ma­ter­i­al on griev­ing dads and found Far­ley’s web­site, Griev­ing­Dads.com, in 2010. Kluger, a pro­lif­ic colum­nist and Ari­zona res­id­ent ori­gin­ally from Long Is­land, already had been writ­ing about his daugh­ter, Erica, who had died in a car ac­ci­dent in 2001. Both Far­ley and Kluger had re­ceived cor­res­pond­ences from mul­tiple griev­ing par­ents ex­plain­ing the hard­ships of the in­ab­il­ity to take time off from work to grieve and con­sequently los­ing their jobs for hav­ing to do so. Cur­rently, the Fam­ily and Med­ic­al Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 out­lines that if a per­son has a child/gives birth to a child, a 12-work­week ab­sence from a place of em­ploy­ment is per­mit­ted, ac­cord­ing to the United States De­part­ment of Labor web­site. However, ac­cord­ing to Kluger, in­di­vidu­als whose son or daugh­ter has died re­ceive a cus­tom­ary three to five days off for be­reave­ment. Kluger said this cur­rent prac­tice is, simply, a bad busi­ness de­cision. 

“The best as­sets of a com­pany get on the el­ev­at­or at 5:00,” Kluger said.

Kluger and Far­ley had a meet­ing of the minds. They de­cided to cre­ate an on­line pe­ti­tion to Con­gress in 2011 en­titled the “Far­ley-Kluger Ini­ti­at­ive,” which pro­poses to re­vise the cur­rent FMLA to al­low a par­ent whose son or daugh­ter has died to take off up to 12 work­weeks from his or her place of em­ploy­ment for be­reave­ment.

In the sum­mer of 2011, U.S. Sen. Jon Test­er of Montana is­sued the Par­ent­al Be­reave­ment Act of 2011, ac­cord­ing to the sen­at­or’s web­site. In Decem­ber 2012, U.S. Rep. Steve Is­rael of New York in­tro­duced a bill of the same nature.

Moreover, Con­nors said that the sig­ni­fic­ance of ad­voc­at­ing for a griev­ing par­ent’s right to a re­spect­able amount of time away from work elim­in­ates un­ne­ces­sary strain on his or her grief as well as en­ables the par­ent to still be a vi­able, con­trib­ut­ing mem­ber of so­ci­ety. Honored, Con­nors is as­sist­ing in the ini­ti­at­ive with Far­ley and Kluger, par­tic­u­larly through his writ­ing. For ex­ample, Con­nors has ad­di­tion­ally writ­ten ed­it­or­i­als for the North­east Times as well as NEast­Philly.com to pub­li­cize and so­li­cit sup­port. 

For Con­nors, this is in no way a self-serving ef­fort.

“I can nev­er leave an­oth­er griev­ing par­ent be­hind,” Con­nors said. 

Hirsch was right.

“I’m glad he [Con­nors] found something he can sink his teeth in­to,” Hirsch said.

The work of Kluger, Far­ley and Con­nors is pay­ing off. Moreover, their ef­forts and ex­per­i­ences have paved the way for the ad­vocacy of Test­er, Is­rael, U.S. Sen. Richard Blu­menth­al of Con­necti­c­ut and oth­er crit­ic­al polit­ic­al sup­port. A vic­tory took place Feb. 5 of this year, the 20th an­niversary of the FMLA; the Sarah Grace-Far­ley-Kluger Act was in­tro­duced to the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives—now with more than 30 co-spon­sors, in­clud­ing U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-13th dist.), ac­cord­ing to Con­gress.gov. Co-spon­sor­ship in­cluded only Demo­crat­ic rep­res­ent­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to the site.

But, the work is not done. Be­sides ad­voc­at­ing for the par­ent who is cur­rently out of work after los­ing a job due to be­reave­ment, Con­nors planned to join Kluger and oth­er griev­ing par­ents on Oct. 8 in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to meet with mem­bers of Con­gress to push the cur­rent bill in­to the hear­ing pro­cess, and hope­fully, ac­cord­ing to Kluger, a floor vote. The trip, though, has been post­poned to a later date be­cause of the gov­ern­ment shut­down.

Con­nors en­cour­ages in­di­vidu­als to con­tact their loc­al polit­ic­al rep­res­ent­at­ives for sup­port of this ini­ti­at­ive. Cur­rently, more than 64,000 in­di­vidu­als have signed the pe­ti­tion to en­dorse this cause.

“[I’m] pay­ing it for­ward to help an­oth­er par­ent who may not be as for­tu­nate as I was,” Con­nors said.

And in his for­tune, there are a “ton of memor­ies” with Timmy. 

“Timmy was my hero,” Con­nors said. ••

In­di­vidu­als can ac­cess Con­nors’ blog at timothy726.blog­spot.com and sign the pe­ti­tion for the ini­ti­at­ive by go­ing to www.far­leykluger.com 

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