Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Asa Hill's Legacy

Last Thursday, a seven year-old boy from Buffalo named Asa Hill was critically injured in a car accident. He died on Friday night, and was buried yesterday. Asa's parents have been a couple since high school but were not married. Asa often asked them to get married, and they always told him they would, but it just hadn't happened. Yesterday, at the end of Asa's funeral, his parents finally tied the knot.

This is one of those stories that leaves me speechless. It is fascinating and horrible and touching and sad all at the same time. I don't know what useful box to put my reactions into. And of course, it's not about me, or you, or anyone else, it's about Asa's family. They have to make the choices that are right for them, and it is none of my business to tell them what they should or shouldn't do, let alone second guess their choices after the fact. But it is interesting to think about the pros and cons of Asa's parents' choice to get married when and how they did.

On the plus side, we have the fact that Asa clearly wanted this. Families in mourning often talk about what the deceased would have wanted. In this instance, there wasn't much question that Asa wanted his parents to get married. They may well come to view their marriage as a gift he left behind when he died, and to the extent that they frame it that way that is all for the good. Their decision to marry now also reinforces their commitment to support each other in what has to be the darkest time of their relationship.

On the minus side, it is a frequent mantra of early crisis intervention that you should not make important decisions immediately following a trauma. Action feels better than inaction following a critical incident, and people are prone to do fairly rash things -- buy a house, quit their job, drop out of school, move out of town, etc. -- because at the time it feels like that will help. When the dust settles, often they regret those decisions. I don't know whether Asa's parents really had intended to get married and figured they'd do it now, or made the decision now. If it's the latter, that could be problematic. In a similar vein, it's possible that his parents will not see their marriage as a blessing bestowed by their son, but as a tangible reminder of his death. If so, that can certainly cause difficulty for them down the road.

At least anecdotally, the number of couples who split up following the death of a child is pretty high. Asa's parents' decision to get married under these circumstances could be a move against that trend, or it could make them more likely to be part of that statistic. Time will tell.

In keeping with my personal religious tradition, I hope that Asa's memory is a blessing to his parents and that they know no further sorrow. I also wish them 120 years of happiness in their lives together.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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