Two Stories from New Orleans

Denise and Duffy’s stories are interconnected. When Duffy’s son Madison died in a car accident in 2006 he sought out the company of other bereaved parents in the bereavement charity The Compassionate Friends.

There he met Denise whose son Nick had died in 2005 from the disease of addiction. They fell in love and have supported each other ever since, eventually marrying in 2012.

Of all the parents we met on our travels, Denise and Duffy have probably been amongst those who have been longest bereaved and thus can give some perspective on what the passage of time can mean for grief.

Work was my solace. It’s where I felt still in control

Duffy St Pierre

They both speak of being shunned by family and friends who expected them to have got over their loss within months. For Duffy this was especially hurtful though 

perhaps not unsurprising. As a father he had brought up two boys very much on his own, a role that didn’t fit easily with social expectations of masculinity.

“Work was my solace” he told us “it’s where I felt still in control”. Duffy is a tug boat captain and we can appreciate how the responsibilities of managing a vessel capable of pushing dozens of barges down the Mississippi can offer a distraction from his grief.

Denise had always feared the worst for her son. She compares his death (from a heroin overdose) to our son Josh’s “who was going along fine with his life and then suddenly he’s not here. Nicholas was doing things that made me fearful for his life”.

And the fact that he’s not suffering anymore, she claims helps her to deal with his death. That’s as maybe but there’s not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about him and she too feels the social isolation of not being able to speak openly of her son, an isolation compounded by a common perception of an addict being less worthy of compassion.

And try as she may Denise also internalised much of society’s attitudes towards her (you don’t look like the mother of an addict!) succumbing to her own feelings of guilt and shame – feelings that play such a large part in preventing bereaved parents from enjoying life again.

But of course she did and falling in love again is proof. It’s a myth that bereaved parents never move on, that they never get over the death of a child. We don’t want people telling us this, not just because its rude or uncaring, but more because we don’t want to believe it ourselves. And that’s fine, life and living on after a death is largely a matter of belief systems and of the choices we make of what to believe.

Both Duffy and Denise believe in a life beyond death but they have also chosen to make a life together built on the love they have for each other right now. A love that is strengthened by the common bond they have as parents of dead children.

“That’s what our life is about now” Denise told us “real good laughs and real good tears.”

They both now work tirelessly for the Compassionate Friends, Denise being the regional coordinator for Louisiana. There is one more thing we’d like to tell about Denise and Duffy’s story but you have to watch the video clip to find out…

That’s what our life is about now: real good laughs and real good tears.”

Denise Pezant


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