During my tenure as School Superintendent of District 90 schools in River Forest, I was blessed to have an amazing school board led by parents who cared passionately about bringing the best educational outcomes to our children and community. One of those parents was Kristin Coe, who served on the board of education for eight years. I always knew I could rely on her raw intelligence and ability to move things forward to advance our agenda, including the passage of an important referendum to help ensure the financial viability of the district.
When I read a recent post of hers acknowledging the five-year anniversary of the death of her son Hunter, my emotions ran high. As someone who has experienced significant loss in my life, I’m sure there is no word in any language strong enough to describe the despair and heartbreak a parent feels when losing a child to suicide.
At the suggestion of a counselor in the LOSS program (Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide) at the Catholic Charities of Chicago, Kristen has written a beautiful piece on hope in reflection of the past five years since Hunter passed. After reading Kristen’s words, I found myself once again amazed by her resilience and wisdom. One of the most poignant lessons that can be learned from Kristen’s piece is the idea of reframing our notions of grief and joy. She writes:
“Since grief comes unbidden, and can strike at any moment, I wonder the corollary – can joy also? And how do we get to the place that just as grief can capsize a moment (or a day), joy can steady (or even enrich) it instead?
…For me, stealing moments of joy from the mouth of mourning are most often rooted in reflective joy – seeing genuine happiness in the faces of our immediate family. On a strictly personal level, I find that simple acts of kindness are as capable of stopping me in my tracks as grief was once (and sometimes still) able to do. “
Resources, organizations, and individuals that help us find our way through grief are crucial for survival in our darkest times. The importance of access to mental health support and early intervention cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to our children.
The Coe family has responded to their grief by picking up the pieces and establishing a fund that will carry on Hunter’s legacy through helping children in need: The Hunter Quigley Coe Be the Boat Fund (www.betheboat.org). Since 2016, this incredible fund has distributed over $110,000 to two local entities: Hephzibah Home (www.hephzibahhome.org), a residential program for children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect, and the Infant Welfare Society (http://www.childrenscliniciws.org/), a medical and dental service provider for children at/below the poverty level.
I encourage you to help support Be the Boat, which has transformed the lives of children in such a meaningful way. It is difficult, yet powerful, to make a difference in the world after such an unspeakable loss. I am in awe of Kristen. I am in awe of she and her husband Mark’s commitment to making a difference and helping others to know there is HOPE.
© Tyra Manning 2020