Philadelphia Police Detective Martin Connors, 48, never thought he would believe the words of grief counselor Mickey Hirsch: Connors, who lives in Port Richmond, 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, 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-work week 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 local news outlets.
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. ••