By Seth Eisenberg
There is no term to describe a parent who has lost a child. While “widow” evokes sympathy and understanding for one who has buried a spouse, there is no equivalent to refer to parents who have said a final farewell to a beloved son or daughter.
Life’s most agonizing experiences transcend language, as John Travolta and Kelly Preston would surely attest in the moments Jett Travolta is in their hearts and minds.
Jett was 16 when he died tragically on the first Friday of 2009. The family had just celebrated the beginning of a new year at their vacation home in the Bahamas. No one could have imagined the horror that would face one of the planet’s most adored couples whose exceptional talents brought joy, laughter, drama, and entertainment to millions.
The Centers for Disease Control reports more than 16,000 teenagers die each year in the United States, most of which are preventable according to federal health officials.
Approximately one in four teen deaths are due to cancer, heart disease, and other life threatening physical conditions, with 48 percent resulting from accidents, 13 percent homicides, and 11 percent suicides.
Few couples traumatized by the loss of a son or daughter have the resiliency of John Travolta, 56, and Kelly Preston, 47, required to bring another child into the world. The couple announced this week that they are expecting a son, which Travolta called “a miracle.”
One of the common misperceptions considered by couples in PAIRS relationship and marriage education classes is: “If you are in pain, I believe I should be able to fix it. I don’t know how to fix it, so I feel inadequate. I distance from you.”
For many, that belief is central to what keeps loved ones from reaching out to each other during times of grief, pain, and loss. From hospitals where the ill and afflicted so often agonize alone to homes, churches, and neighborhoods where facing the inability to offer words of comfort, hope or healing to those who suffer may lead us to turn away, we are too often absent when our presence and love is most needed.
Loving another person requires intentionally surrendering our heart to the nature of life and the knowing that for each of us and those we love, it is a temporary gift.
The strength shown by John Travolta and Kelly Preston, in the face of agony, to return to the embrace of each other, grounded in faith and love for their daughter, accepting both the uncertainty and certainty of life, is a lesson worth learning.
Seth Eisenberg is President and CEO of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education for more than a quarter century.