90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Friday, May 3, 2013

A Dad’s Fight: More Time Off For Grieving Parents

Barry Kluger and his daughter Erica, who died in a car crash at age 18. (Courtesy: Barry Kluger)

Barry Kluger and his daughter Erica, who died in a car crash at age 18. (Courtesy: Barry Kluger)

Barry Kluger knows the ins and outs of the Family and Medical Leave Act for a sad reason. His 18-year-old daughter Erica was killed in a car accident in 2001.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is the law that allows people to take up to 12 weeks off of work for the birth of a child or to care for a sick loved one.

It does not cover leave for bereavement.

Kluger is now head of the MISS Foundation, a resource for grieving families. The nonprofit says most companies provide for employees to take three to five days off after the death of a child, before returning to work.

Having experienced the loss of a child, Kluger set out to change the FMLA to allow parents to take up to 12 weeks off from work.

The Farley-Kluger Initiative has introduced this legislation on Capitol Hill several times before, but Kluger believes that this year, it will pass. The other half of the Farley-Kluger Initiative is Kelly Farley of the Grieving Dads Project.

Kluger told Here & Now the Parental Bereavement Act of 2013 has nine co-sponsors in the Senate and 23 co-sponsors in the House.

Among the supporters of the initiative’s measure is John McLaughlin, who lost one of his twin daughters in a car crash in 1997.


  • John McLaughlin, lost one of his twin daughters in a car crash.
  • Barry Kluger, president of the MISS Foundation. His daughter Erica died in a car crash at age 18.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Mlakes

    While I have great sympathy for this family, in the same situation, our family would get significantly less time off. My husband is worker in the auto service industry. In this situation, he would maybe get a week off (and they would count it as his vacation) and would not get any more time off. If he had to take additional time off, he would lose his job.  He earns considerably less money as automotive service technician then teachers make.  Consider all of those people who work very hard in the service industry and other areas, that make marginal money and have NO sick leave and minimal vacation time (if that!)

  • mairelena

    I have a lot of sympathy for grieving parents.  I cannot even think about what it would be like to lose a child, and mine are already middle aged.  When my father took ill, and he was elderly, I spent several days at his bedside in the hospital under family leave act, which would have been good for weeks.  As soon as he died, I had 3 days grievance leave. That’s not enough time to do any of the many things one has to do, much less grieve. We could use a little more humanity in our leave programs.

  • Hanna Neuschwander

    I recently had a miscarriage. My company has a bereavement leave policy that includes one week off for the loss of a child. I was not at all certain that they would “count” a miscarriage as the loss of a child, but I was completely unprepared to go back to work (I tried, actually, and upended up I curled in a ball crying under my desk). I emailed the HR office and, no questions asked, they granted me a week’s leave. It was essential to my recovery – as was returning to work when I was ready. Miscarriage is a largely hidden topic in our culture, but the grief is very, very real. -Hanna

  • Sberg1961

    I was in Human Resources for many years with a large corporation and had to deal with this situation all the time. Thankfully we had the opportunity for individuals to take an additional amount of time besides the standard paid bereavement leave (incidentally the loss of a child or immediate family member would have been a week) which was considered a personal leave. When my own mother died suddenly, the paid time off was barely enough time to deal with arrangement and travel time, let alone time to deal with the grief. I cannot imagine going back to work any earlier than at least a month if my own son died. It is also something that needs to be addressed as well for the death of spouses and partners as well as parents. It is not just the death of a child that may need the time off.

  • Cb

    A sad situation, but it’s not the government’s job to deal with every personal tragedy. If this, why not the death of a spouse? Where does it end?

  • http://www.facebook.com/julane.grant Julane Grant

    I am the author of When Your Friend’s Child Dies.  I wrote this book 8 years after my son (and only child) died at 22.  People don’t understand that a child is a child their whole life to the parents.  Maybe even more missed the older the child is.  I went back to work after the funeral a week later.  But I couldn’t make it more than 1/2 of a dayfor months.  I couldn’t concentrate, I just wanted to go home and scream and cry.  When a person also has outside conditions, like court, another person injured, or other things that delay the person being ableto grieve, it complicates the process.  Things NEVER get back to normal.  There is a new normal for all of these families.  It is not like losing a parent, a spouse or a sibling.  Those are all horrible and tragic but it is not the same.  I think I will send you a book.  Oh, and I also have a website for grieving parents, http://www.angelabode.com  There is a good page about Mother’s Day which is fast approaching.  22 years later, I still avoid all things Mother’s Day.  It is so painful.   

    • Guest

      Your explanation is so true. Thank you. 

  • Ann Gardner

    I was given a month leave after my 29 year old daughter, my only child, died of cancer in 2002.  She had been ill for almost three years so her death was not unexpected.  Ten days after she died I was on a plane for Italy where I joined a walking group, all strangers to me.    I knew that I needed to put one foot in front of the other, literally and figuratively, so that I would not become completely overcome by grief.  My employer was a large, publicly traded company, but the President was a member of the founder’s family and he knew my daughter.  He provided me with the air fare, first class.  I’m not sure what rules he bent for me, but his generosity and kindness were a gift of immeasurable value during an indescribably difficult time.  I returned to work with the knowledge that I would live and be productive, even though my heart was broken.  I am in his debt forever for giving me time and space to begin to come to terms with my loss.    

    • http://www.facebook.com/julane.grant Julane Grant

      You and Paul are both correct that hiding away in misery is not helpful even though some time is necessary.  Like you, Ann, I found doing something totally different with my life and with strangers gave me a break from my grieving.  Strangers can’t offer much compfort but sometimes we just want to forget for a moment and try to be ourselves.  I don’t know if the 3 month leave law is the right answer but the standard 3 day leave is not worth anything.  That time is all spent making arrangements.  So many believe that the funeral brings closure.  Not even close.  Closure never comes when losing a child but as time passes the memories we hold so dear become stronger and the pain eases.  Having marvelous friends really helps, too.  Some people I worked with when Darren died, still get together with me for his birthday in January.  And, it has been 22 years!  They will never comprehend how much this means to me. 
      Some parents have told me how they never got to say goodbye because their child died in an accident.  I think it would be more heartbreaking to know your child is going to die and feel helpless.  I think letting your child know every day how much you love them, can take the place of saying goodbye.   Check this out before Mother’s Day
      http://www.angelabode.com/mothersday.html   Warm hugs to you Ann, Julane

      • Ann Gardner

         Julane.  I too am blessed that my daughter’s friends stay close.  I am “Granny Annie” to one young family and that means the world to me.  Thank you for your kind words and I will check out the web address as you suggest.  Warmest regards to you as well.     Ann

  • Paul

    In 2008 my brother was in an accidental, no-fault head-on
    collision that left him in ICU for several days and his girlfriend with a
    traumatic brain injury which she succumbed to and passed away sixteen days
    after the accident. I also have been a small business owner with a staff of
    forty and have seen my fair share of births, deaths, and everything in between,
    so my heart does go out to the father that shared his story. However, I would
    also like to raise two points:


    First, grief isn’t necessarily best done within the four
    walls of your home. Oftentimes this can lead to a feeling of isolation, as was
    the case with my brother. He happened to be in between jobs during the accident
    and when he went home, even though he had family around, he stewed in his misery,
    guilt, and grief until the point that he felt it necessary to attempt to take
    his own life. It wasn’t till months later, when he decided to face the world
    again and step back into a job that I saw the first signs of his healing and
    the rebuilding of his life.


    Second, and probably more important to the issue being
    raised, is the difference between a birth and a death to an employer. Deaths
    are often sudden, unlike births (which usually leave nine months or so for the
    employer and employee to plan for twelve weeks or more of family leave). This
    allows the employer to find a temporary or contract worker or restructure the
    organization for temporary coverage of a critical position.


    While it is never fair for a family to loose a child, adding
    to the devastation that personal loss brings by forcing, through a legal
    mandate, the effects of the loss to ripple through small businesses, which make
    up 49.2 percent of private-sector employment (SBA), and affect owners,
    employees, and their customers is simply impractical and unwise. 

  • JCS in SATX

    We lost our 5-year old son after a 4-year battle with cancer. The last 4 months were spent at home in hospice care. My husband was able to spend unpaid time off work at home (as a pilot he would have had to travel to work). We are forever grateful for that time he was able to spend at home during our son’s last days. Three months after my son’s death he is now back to work, with no regrets.

  • Paige

    While I’m sure it is difficult to mourn the loss of a child, I feel like this segment seems to be placing more importance on the loss of a child than a parent, spouse, sibling, etc. My mother passed away when I was in my early 20s, and I got three days off from work. It’s never going to be an easy thing for anyone. I think grief counseling should be emphasized to help people cope with what they are dealing with rather than just thinking time off is the answer. And if it is given, it shouldn’t just apply to grieving parents.

  • Junkrigsailor in Missouri

    I used to work as an IT guy at a clinic where a nurse’s daughter died in a car wreckbon prom night. The nurse was still worthless 3 months later. The clinic would have been money ahead to have had her off without pay. Period.

  • Mike in VT

    I sympathize with grieving parents – I can’t imagine how I’d deal with the loss of one of my children.  However, this shouldn’t be a federal issue.

  • Divvydog

    Another important need covered by extending the bereavement of children age of one’s offspring is to include death by overdose.

  • guest

    I am immensely grateful for my district and my Union.

    My 12 year-old son was hospitalized for 4.5 months waiting for a liver, receiving a liver transplant, and due to many complications, following the transplant. After discharge, he needed dialysis and was so physically deconditioned after laying in the hospital bed for 30 days on tube feeds that he was in a wheelchair. It took 4 more months of rehabilitation for him to walk into his school and another month for him to attend school for a full day. He missed 90% of his sixth grade year.
    I had taken multiple leaves-of-absence from my teaching job when complications from liver disease became a major problem that, after the hospitalization, I had used all of my (unpaid) leave allowances. I am very grateful for my union and my district for working together to be as generous as they could be. Unfortunately, after discharge I was asked to come back or resign. With dialysis three days a week 60 miles away I was not able to return, so I resigned.

    I am aware that many people do not have the protection of their Union and the support of their employer the way we did so I must again say that I am very very grateful.


    Three days off for the death of a loved one is ridiculously inhumane. And it is a federal issue.

  • Annej

    I don’t want to sound insensitive, but why is it that once again those with children are asking for special privileges?  The death of a spouse, life partner, sibling, or best friend can all be devastating.  But death is part of the life experience, and we find a way to go on.  For what it’s worth, I speak as a person who recently lost a beloved spouse of 31 years.  

    • Guest

       Losing a child is completely unnatural and out of the natural order of the world.  You are insensitive, but only because it is impossible to comprehend the utterly devastating catastrophe of losing a child unless it has happened to you.  I have experienced many terrible losses at different stages of my life, but nothing even begins to come close to the permanently life altering disaster of losing my son.  It is my personal 9/11. 
      I hope it never happens to you.  If it does, you will understand.

    • Concerned Parent

      You obviously do not have children. Reading these comments has literally blurred my vision with tears. The pain these people have to bear is unimaginable to me as a mom of young children, or simply as a human being. I am surprised at your lack of compassion here.

    • Concerned Parent

      Let me also point out that the death of a child is unnatural in nature. We all expect people in our lives to die, yes…our family, friends, spouses, even ourselves…but NOT our children. We are supposed to go first , it is the natural order in life that even you refer to. Our children are simply not supposed to die, which makes it that much more unbearable for these parents. We have children so that they can LIVE. We have hopes and dreams that we hope they fulfill…these parents and children were robbed of that.
      Sorry for you loss, but you do sound insensitive. Your spouse lived long enough to be married 31 years. Many would consider you lucky. These parents likely wish their children lived that long. Did you consider any of this before posting?

  • Happy_Dancing_Monkey

    Having a Child or spouse or other loved one pass away is a horrible thing to have occur, but the government needs to but out not but in more.  A company/school/organization needs to make the decisions on how to handle these kinds of issues on their own.  And if you find there policies unpalatable then don’t work/patronize then.  The market will be forced to change if people would actually vote with their money and time instead of throwing cheap words at it.  I appreciate the guest for trying to do something although it is really not the right thing.  At least he is being proactive instead of whining about Walmart ethics and then shopping there.

    • dz

      LOLOL. You think that in this day and age, people actually get to “vote with their money” and not work at a certain company whose policies they disagree with? Where are all these compassionate, humane, responsible companies I can go work for?

      • Happy_Dancing_Monkey

        I have found that moving from one company to another in this economy is not difficult, simply keep your eyes and ears open and don’t go looking for a job only when you need one.  For instance keep your resume up to date, and pay attention to online job banks.  The jobs are out there if you have skills the companies value.  Might not be a bad idea to cultivate those skills.

  • http://www.farleykluger.com/ Barry Kluger

    I apppreciate all the comments, especially the ones who do not think it is a good idea. A few thoughts.

    Kelly Farley and I, as grieving parents chose to focus our efforts on child loss. Yes, losing a spouse, sibling and parent is devastating. We have decided to effect change in something we know about first hand.Those who have lost the above mentioned family members have just as much right to fight for what they see as inequities in the system and encourage it.

    Secondly: Business effect. I am fond of saying, as I did in the interview, the best assets of a company get on an elevator every day at 5PM. If you ask businesses(and FMLA is 50 employees or more)their biggest challenge is loyalty, morale and productive employees.They spend $$$$ to train and retain employees(people) but in child loss, they give them 3-5 days. What they get back is an employee who cannot function, productivity goes down, business suffers and they end up firing the employee.That’s just BAD business.

    Thirdly, those who grieve ‘can’ use mental illness/depression as a leave circumstance. That does several things: raises insurance rates, stays in a record and DOES add a stigma for the next job they apply for.Just today, the NIH announced they were distancing themselves from the psychiatric communities DSM. The DSM removed grief as an exclusion for mental illness. Grief is a common reaction to life cycles.

    I did not create the FMLA and no one wants MORE government but since it was created in 1993, it should have been fully vetted. It was an oversight.

    I AM dramatic in saying: nine months UNPAID to have a child, but 3 days to bury that child, is absurd.  I’m glad you all listened and cared enough to post. We may agree to disagree. I have walked that path that I hope none of you ever have to.

    • Jmacleod123

       Barry — I am so sorry for you loss.  Thank you for fighting for a tragedy that I hope I never suffer.  

  • Mike0707

    John McLaughlin Is my teacher and I feel his pain.

  • Dw4949

    Part of me thinks it is sad they we need a law and companies can’t just be reasonable and compassionate and take each case on an individual basis.  How can you put a time on mourning a child.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joanne.q.osborne Joanne Quinn Osborne

    It is illogical not to include spouse, parent and sibling loss in trying to change the FMLA.  First, it would be discriminatory to include one bereaved group  and exclude the others.  Second, there is strength in numbers and it would be wise to join forces to effect change. 

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 1 4 Comments

Breastfeeding Gets A Boost From Philadelphia Hospitals

The city's major birthing hospitals have stopped sending new moms home with baby formula, to encourage breastfeeding.

August 29 Comment

World Championship Tug-Of-War Is ‘A Thing Of Beauty’

This weekend's competition in Wisconsin is a bit more intense than it was in your grade school gym class.

August 29 Comment

Repelling Mosquitoes With A Natural Sticky Patch

The Kite Patch releases odors that block the bug's carbon dioxide receptors, sending them in another direction.

August 28 3 Comments

Catching Up With The Polyphonic Spree

The choral rock band out of Dallas, Texas, has been thrilling audiences with its live performances for over a decade.