Dismay for Certain Students as Graduation Approaches

23 03 2011

The University at Albany will see roughly 3200 students from 25 departments walk across the Entry Plaza Lawn come May 15, families and friends cheering.

Two students who will have no one to watch them march are Adam Brown and Hal Halper, both 22.

An estimated one in ten people will lose a parent by the time they are 25. By UAlbany enrollment figures, that’s a potential 1,300 of our peers suffering such a tragedy.

Brown, right, with his brother Mike and their Mom several years ago

Brown’s mother Lynn, 59, died suddenly last August– less than three weeks before Brown was to leave for a year abroad in Japan.

At 11:16 on a Saturday morning his brother called. “I remember his exact words,” Brown recalls.  “‘Adam, I cannot believe I have to do this over the phone. I am so sorry I cannot be with you to tell you in person and cry together. Mom’s gone. Tara found her this morning in bed and she’s gone.’”

Debra Umberson, a professor of Sociology at the University of Texas-Austin, has studied the dynamics of family loss extensively. Her 2006 article, “Parents, Adult Children, and Immortality,” published in Contexts Magazine, states “the death of a parent is the most common form of bereavement in adulthood,” and that several survey takers felt the moment they lost their parent was the first time they “achieved true adult status.”

Hal with his mom in 2009

Halper has experienced this loss twice.

While a senior in high school back in Brooklyn, Halper’s father suffered a massive heart attack overnight. He was 79.
Roused by his distraught mother at 6am, Halper checked to see if his dad was breathing at all. “We both knew that he passed in his sleep,” he remembers. “It was horrifying, but we grew closer than ever from that and we had the best five years… really appreciating each other after the loss of my father.”

This fall, just one month after being diagnosed with an advanced form of Leukemia, and just two days before Thanksgiving, Halper’s mother Janet, 75, died.

It is particularly difficult to reconcile the fact that so many college students are not as independent from their families as they believe themselves to be. Twentysomethings like Brown and Miller are still finding their way as adults. Most would be shocked by the adversity Brown and Miller are now grappling with.

Brown was the primary caregiver to his mother, who was disabled, for 14 years. He was also named executor of her will. There was money left for him, but not nearly enough to cover everything. Brown, who previously worked part-time as a pharmacy technician, took a second job as a surgical associate at St. Peter’s Hospital in order to pay off the some $20,000 of expenses. “I temporarily withdrew from school to deal with my mother’s estate and the bills that needed to be paid,” he explains.

Brown admits that his academic ambitions were hampered by the passing of his mom. “I have trouble finding the drive to keep going in school because I know that I won’t have her here to make proud.”

He completed his coursework in Human Biology last year, but is only partway through his degree in Japanese language studies. Brown expects that graduation, whenever it may be in the future, “will make me feel as though I lost her all over again. She was so excited to see me walk, to see me be the only one of her children to graduate from college. Now I won’t have that.”

Halper, on the other hand, has thrown himself into various commitments at the University. Seven classes, three theater productions (including the upcoming Cabaret), and honor society serve as distraction from his still fresh wounds.

“My mother always said, ‘Life is ten percent of what happens and ninety percent of how you react to it,’” he says emphatically. “I am trying to chose to have more good [days] than bad.”

Halper is dejected thinking of the milestones his parents are going to miss. Most of all, he says, “I wanted my parents to be there to baby-sit… To tell my children stories of our family history, which I always loved to listen to myself.”

It is often said that death brings people together– but Brown and Halper have experienced the opposite.

Brown, the youngest of five, has also dealt with changes to his relationships with his siblings Mike, Matt, Shannon and Taralyn, since the loss of their mother. Communication broke down amongst the five of them, but Brown and his brother Mike have made the effort to speak daily, “because we feel as though we are all we have left in terms of family.”

Halper is currently at odds with his (much) older siblings, Arnel and Laura, who are trying to undermine their late mother’s wishes and close Hal out of any inheritance. “I will not be attending family holidays. I don’t want anything to do with them,” he decided. “I have my chosen family who care for me a trillion times more than my own blood.”

Holding on to the memory of their late mothers has gotten them through the most emotional time in their short lives, but both Brown and Halper acknowledge that this kind of loss is not one that will fade.

“It is [a] lasting pain I deal with all the time,” Brown says. “She was the reason I woke up in the morning. And when I lost her, I felt as though I had nothing to keep going for.”

“I have had a great life and am forever grateful for the privileges, but I would give up money, appearance, success and whatever else for my mother back.” Halper confesses. “I think that grief can last a lifetime, but I hope it doesn’t.”





15 responses

29 03 2011
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very nice publish, i certainly love this website, carry on it

30 03 2011
Flor Plitt

An attention-grabbing discussion is price comment. I feel that you must write more on this matter, it won’t be a taboo subject but generally persons are not enough to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

24 04 2011

Please remove this article. It is one sided and inacurate. Statements made by Hal Halper are false. It takes away from the truee struggles of the other student. As a journalist, you should investigate the facts before publishing. Hal has a history of mental problems including Syzophrenia like his REAL Mom. Yes, he was adopted. He failed to mention this as well as other things we were told by him. He scammed you for sympathyand is spreading that rumor. The Halper’s always took care of Hl and provided for him.
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