For too long, too many have considered bereavement as simply a mental health issue. When a family member or loved one dies, those grieving experience a deep sadness as their lives are changed fundamentally forever. Conventional wisdom tells us a bereaved individual or family will eventually “get over it,” “find closure” and “move on.” But, those commonly held myths are far from the truth.
Research continues to show that a loved one’s death isn’t something that we just “come to terms” with. Researchers tell us that bereavement grief makes us more prone to cognitive decline, disease and premature death. It can lead to financial loss. And it can tear families apart.
What’s more, federal policies and programs can compound the experience, further victimizing mourning Americans who need more than our thoughts, prayers and casseroles.
For example, of the two million bereaved children in the United States, Social Security Income is not reaching all children leaving those in need with lower levels of economic wellbeing and educational attainment. Or, for example, two fathers Barry Kluger and Kelly Farley have advocated for nearly a decade to protect newly bereaved parents from being fired from their jobs. Imagine losing your child, then your job.
Over the last three weeks, Evermore has been calling Congressional offices, meeting with staff and sending materials to dozens of staffers. And here’s the good news: Capitol Hill is listening, and lawmakers are beginning to understand that bereavement isn’t just a mental health issue, but an issue — and an American issue — that demands serious attention. The question is: will they act?
As deaths from suicide, overdoses and mass casualty events increase, members see how bereavement and the lack of a public health response is impacting their own communities. These discussions come as lawmakers consider appropriations bills and updates to the Family and Medical Leave Act, which currently does not provide time off for workers after a child’s death.
Here’s where Evermore is making big strides in bereavement care.
Appropriations committees address bereavement
In appropriations committees in both the House and Senate, spending bill proposals recommend that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seek information from its agencies about their bereavement care activities. Those agencies include the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, for example.
According to the proposal, the agencies would be tasked with examining their own activities to advance bereavement care for families, including risk factors for survivors and whether policies and programs in place help or hinder coping and processing. Agencies would also be charged with documenting what resources they are providing to the professional community as well.
If approved, it would be the first time the agencies have studied how they address the bereaved and could pave the way for future spending bills that fund new efforts to support those who are grieving.
FMLA expansion could come
Congress hasn’t built upon the Family and Medical Leave Act since it was passed in 1993, and that’s led to many workers not having the right to take unpaid leave or unable to afford unpaid leave when it is available. For many grieving parents, in particular, the law doesn’t carve out an opportunity for them to take time off without fear of losing their job.
But that may be about to change. In February, the House Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing to talk about FMLA expansion, including bereavement care. In her opening remarks, Rep. Alma Adams, a Democrat from North Carolina, talked about the number of cases where the act does not cover workers who need to take leave, specifically calling out “family members taking time to grieve a child’s death.”
Research continues to show that the death of a child is one of the most severe and prolonged trauma that anyone can experience, which is why it is critical for Congress to recognize child death as an eligible event for FMLA job protection.
Evermore is having an impact here too. We submitted a statement for the record on the importance of including a child death as an eligible event for FMLA.
Our request is three-pronged.
- We want the U.S. Department of Labor to conduct a survey on bereavement leave for all employers with more than 50 employees.
- We’d like the FMLA to be expanded to include a child’s death as an eligible event, so parents have time to mourn.
- And we’re asking Congress to increase the age of a child to 26 in the law to make it parallel with the Affordable Care Act and tax law.
“As a modern society, we should no longer have to slog through death alone with few resources,” Mulheron said. “We can reimagine a tomorrow where people have the support they need in their own communities — whether urban or frontier America — and where professionals have robust supports, resources and benefits to move this work forward.”
Added Mulheron: “There’s still plenty of work to do, but this is a shared human experience, and people know that. We’re thrilled that offices are listening.”