Jenna's Dad Print E-mail

20010111(San Diego Reader January 11, 2001)

I had only begun to follow the renowned grief specialist Dr. Ken Druck and the grief he bears for losing his 21-year-old daughter, Jenna, when he called one day to say he was with two dads he wanted me to meet because their kids, roughly the same age as his, had also died. He said if I aimed to tell the whole story of families and the horror of losing their children, there was no better way than to hear it from these men, who were "raw, brutally honest, and in constant pain." He emphasized men, because I'd be close to their psychology and, a father myself, I might "get" (understand) some of their sorrow.

Dr. Druck had "got" it, full-fathom. He had lost Jenna, whom he calls "the finest human being I have ever known," while she was studying abroad with Semester at Sea, a cruise-ship campus that voyages to various sites around the world. Beginning in the Bahamas, crossing the Atlantic to Africa, then on to the Far East, the ship docked in Madras, India. There she and a group of 55 students flew to New Delhi to take an overnight bus south into the mountains. Their destination: the Taj Mahal, the world's most beautiful monument to love.

But the sleep-deprived driver lost control of the bus after passing a slow-moving vehicle on a curve. The bus rumbled over the edge and careened down an embankment. Jenna and three other female students were killed. To honor his daughter, Druck has built his monument to love, the Jenna Druck Foundation, where he leads-and participates in-support groups that help parents, grandparents, and siblings grieve their losses.

When we met, Druck hugged me, then I shook hands with the two dads-Ralph, whose daughter died violently last year, and Kevin, whose son overdosed on drugs 18 months ago. (Both men's names have been changed and some identifying details of their children's deaths have been left out at their request.) "He killed himself," said Kevin, without gloss. His face was careworn, his look distracted. We sat in floral-patterned wrought-iron chairs, painted creamy white, in a corner of the Casa de Bandini, San Diego's colonial Mexican restaurant. For two hours, the four of us devoured chicken quesadillas, chiles rellenos, chips, salsa, flan, drinks. Nothing prepares you for interviewing three fathers who've lost their kids. Though I felt lucky to be the odd man out, these men are the ones who "don't fit." They are cut off from a world whose norm is intact families, laughing, strolling, arguing together, God-awful-apparent everywhere these dads go. The most devoted man I have ever met is Ken Druck. The most anguished would be, after one evening in his company, Ralph. A middle-aged workhorse, he owns his business, travels, and plays golf as often as he can. After quick "hello"s, he pointed a finger at me: "You don't ever want to know what I know, you don't ever want to stand in my shoes. And, funny thing, I can't blame you. If I knew someone like me, someone going through what I'm going through, I'd run the other way."

Kevin and Ralph mostly made statements, asked few questions. When I settled into their pace, I risked a statement myself. How awful it must be, to be in Old Town, with its cantinas and mariachis presiding over dozens of families: Surely there weren't three other men talking about their dead children here, tonight. Ralph said he understood, agreed with me, to a point. "There probably aren't three men talking like we are. But I guarantee you, there is a mother or father here who lost a child once and is dying inside. Faking it as we speak. Who's put on the mask. The clown face."

"But it looks to me as though the loss is written on yours," I said.

"Are you kidding? I wear the clown's face all the time," he said. "Nobody knows I'm dying."

That afternoon, Druck had taken a call from Ralph who told him he didn't want to live anymore. "The act cracked," Ralph told Druck. "What's the use?" After 14 months, he wasn't getting any better, and no one unless they've experienced what he has understands him. There's no possibility of dating or romance. Ralph is divorced; he talks to his other daughter five times a day. "What's the use?" Druck had ended our chat earlier and tended to Ralph, one of many limps for whom he is the crutch.

"My life used to be balanced and steady," Ralph told me, gliding a flat-line hand through the air. "But now it's a roller coaster of schizophrenia," and the hand began undulating in steep dips and rises like a day-traded dot-com stock. Now, at 8 p.m., seven hours after calling Druck about ending his life, he'd changed his tune. No, he really didn't want to kill himself. He loves life, loves beautiful things, loves hitting the shit out of the golf ball, loves being with his friends. Much of the time. Today was just another day when the pain had so exhausted him that he couldn't get out of bed. The only recourse was to call Druck. Druck got him going-get up, take a shower, brush your teeth, find some clothes (don't worry if they're dirty or don't match), find your keys and meet me at . . . . Ralph pointed that finger at me again and said, "Ken, here, has saved my life. This man's a savior."

He said when he first met Druck, a man with whom he knew he had a horror in common, he wanted confirmation. "Don't lie to me," Ralph said, pissed and angling for a fight. "Tell me the truth. I'm fucked, aren't I?"

"You're fucked," Druck replied.

Now pointing that Gothic finger at Druck, he said, "That was the best God-damn thing you could have told me."

Kevin and his son had lived together, ate dinner out most evenings. But the closeness didn't choke off the drugs: The first time his son smoked crack he was addicted. Kevin was told by friends and counselors that crack was almost impossible to beat. Intervention would help but he believed that a father's love for his son would be the major antidote if the kid was to kick the habit. Kevin remembered one person telling him that "an addiction was not possible to control. But I'm a man, a father, and that's what fathers do. We fix things, we make things right for our children. I thought I could save him." Not long before his son suicided, Kevin said his boy came to him and confessed, "'Dad, you can't save me.' I said, 'What do you mean, we can lick this.' A few days later he was dead. I thought I could save him. But I couldn't. And he knew it."

Ralph and Kevin described lives not totally tanked in sorrow. For instance, their minds often slip into a "brain-hole" forgetfulness, misplacing keys, letters, credit cards. Each carries at least one cell phone and makes frequent calls, usually to another son or daughter. They can forget the trauma when they're sleeping and dreaming. (Ralph has been on sleeping pills since his daughter's death.) Kevin told us of a recent dream. Lying in bed, he saw a baby floating in space, which was slowly swaying down toward him like the free-floating feather in the beginning of the film Forrest Gump. The baby at last landed on his chest. He felt an immensely powerful softness, a balm and a mystery. "What do you make of that?" he asked us.

Sometimes there's humor. To women, "we're ridiculously unavailable and undependable." Who in the world would ever go out with them? This "joke" quickly turns serious because these single men say their darkness is too much of a burden to wish on any woman and, thus, the only woman possible would be someone who knew, firsthand, the gravity of their loss. Can only grievers love grievers? Druck said he has led sessions for parents of lost children and their new partners, that is, people who have married the bereaved. At one workshop Druck looked at the new spouses in attendance and said, with irony, "What is wrong with you people? Do you have any idea the kind of misery you are marrying?"

Sorrow takes a brief holiday when they dwell on faith. "Twenty years ago, I got spiritual," Ralph said, "and if not for that I'd be a dead man now." All three said they believe in life beyond this life because that's where they hope to reunite with their children. They don't associate it with a "better place," with heaven, certainly not with hell. Hell after this life would be a mere continuation. Living on for the sake of dying is a paradox, the one hope in their hopelessness they can point to that softens loss. The possibility of a reunion is the root of their faith. Kevin expressed it like this. "I'm at this train station. And I'm waiting for a train that I know is never coming in. But I'm there and waiting for it as if it is coming in. I think of myself as always standing there and waiting. And when I die, I'll still be waiting at that station, and then the train will finally come in. And on it will be my son."

Do you ever get tired of talking about the pain and the person you've lost?

"Never." "Never." "Never."

They chorused the word; print can't render it.

There is no such thing, they say, of their over-possessing grief. It comes at them, wave upon wave, tsunamis under gale-force winds. The onslaught Druck calls "choiceless." What is "choice-full" is what they choose to revisit and remember. To never grow tired of talking about it is the most choiceless choice they can make. If nothing else, the talking holds them upright, through another day of waking up, surprise! fingers and toes still moving, ready and not ready to face sixteen or twenty or twenty-four incompressible hours through which they can never grow tired of talking about it.


Ken Druck didn't know he would start a foundation for bereaved parents. Not until four days after Jenna's burial when, he tells me, he was on his knees, asking her for guidance. He didn't want to live; he had nothing to live for; he was pleading with her: "What do you want me to do?" He remembers being in an "amazing" state of shock. All filters fell away, those screens that allow us to watch violence on television and in movies with immunity. Such defenses evaporated. "My daughter was on the news every night, on CNN. It wasn't somebody else."

That day Jenna spoke to him. "'Dad,' she said, 'never stop being a dad to the daughters. Too few of the dads stay connected to their daughters. Too few fathers have a hand in their daughter's lives. It's so important for a father to mentor his daughter. Dad, you believed in me, and that meant everything to me. On the basis of that belief, your hanging in there with me, your seeing me through the times where I felt I couldn't go on, all this [meant] I was able to fly. Don't stop doing that. Stefie,'"-Druck's other, younger daughter-"'needs you. And don't ever stop being a dad to all the girls.'"

Joining his plans for a foundation was Joelle James. A vibrant, teen-focused organizer, who had mentored Jenna as a young girl, James heard Druck wanted to honor his daughter with some tangible tribute. She sought him out: "When do we get started?" Druck remembers James "propping him up" for the first year or two of the foundation's existence. She helped him set up file cabinets and sharpen pencils, some days just listening, talking, catching the tears. Within a year, the pair launched the first Young Women's Leadership Conference, a day-long event to recognize and encourage high school girls who show leadership skills in uncommon ways. This conference was one of Jenna's many dreams. Eventually, in the foundation's third and fourth year, Ken Druck began using his background in men's psychology to form support groups for the families of some 600 kids who die in the county each year. (Ralph and Kevin are part of a dads group that Druck facilitates.) Dads, grandparents, siblings, young adults, Druck's umbrellas the whole program as Families Helping Families.

In groups grievers learn to help one another "from within" and not rely on traditional therapists, the "well-meaning" clergy, or so-called "grief counselors," often opportunists drawn to an airline crash or a school shooting more for the action than to help. Druck says the untrained bring a "sickening array of positive-think, of 'get over it,' of 'follow the grieving process' as though the 12 steps of a recovering alcoholic can solve any problem." Grief can't be quantified into recovery. Grieving adheres to a process that is organic for each person or group of persons who listen to and support one another's deepest sorrows. In the last two years, Druck's work for bereaved parents and siblings has expanded. He was one of the first people called to Columbine. Declining the invitation, he told them that the families would really need him once the camera crews left, once the politics of guns took a back seat, once the shock wore off. He was right. Druck has held three workshops in Littleton and plans on returning.

Druck formed the foundation to honor his daughter and to deal with his pain. For the latter, he himself received little help. He recalls groups and facilitators that, though "well-intended," knew nothing about the white-hot and gray-numb emotions of sorrow. "People had this idea that we could somehow think our way out of grief. But it's not in your mind," he insists. So much in bereavement psychology is bull, an over-intellectualized cabal of wounded healers and dealers, the "one-size-fits-all mentality." He says it has taken him four years to understand his own path and how to respond to, let alone how to help, others. Grieving families are best at helping one another, Druck says, because their loss is wild and dangerous, follows no medical model (doctors "really don't get it," he says), and requires something our society refuses to face-the "twin conspiracies of silence and sanity." In America "deep grief is too scary, too dark, so we keep silent about it by telling people to get on with their lives."

Sanity is another burden. Our economy relies on a productive workforce, and an ongoing sorrow cancels efficiency. Ask people who've lost a child how long it takes to gain back half of their original concentration. Grievers, Druck says, "have to go a little crazy as part of their pain."

Druck is a champion poly-phaser. I watched him move at a breakneck pace, helping others' grieve while still toiling the turtle walk of his own sorrow. He'd speed the freeway in the fast lane, take phone calls from parents, read directions out of his day planner, plus tell me in Homeric detail of the pain of losing his daughter-all like a shuttle diplomat. At our first meeting, he came toward me with a limp; he had just wrenched his knee in a competitive soccer match. At 51, he's got a body whose exercise appears to be all lower-limb. My felicitous mother would have called Druck's rotundity "husky." His limp draws my concern but he brushes it aside. "I'll be all right." Druck is eager to talk, and "talking about it" is his empire. Pushing a sentence till the third ring of his cell phone, he'd say, "Excuse me," like a man who's got all the time in the world. He'd take a call from a frantic parent (to whom he'd offer a soothing, 'Hey, buddy,' or 'I'm here, as long as it takes,' and I'd feel from him the parent's frenzy calm down on his insistent, controlling, salubrious voice) and then, with me, he'd pick up the beat and bead of our conversation. Druck's bereavement is not a sometimes life, an office mode. It is life-his life.

Or put it another way. From attending to those who are living a life and living a sort of death-in-life, a magnanimousness-what some might call "too much&quo;t for any parent or psychologist or chimera of the two to shoulder-has risen in him as a river rises in flood. Forces outside him, cruel and benign, have called him to be larger than he would have been. Had he not lost his daughter.


A child of Jewish parents, Druck grew up in New York and Connecticut, more a cultural Jew than a religious one. His appreciation of Judaism centers on family closeness. He graduated from the Fielding Institute with a Ph. D. in clinical psychology. Druck earned a living first in private practice, then in corporate consulting. In the mid-1970s Druck began what became a 20-year crusade on behalf of male psychology. He focused on the problems a post-World-War II generation of men had with their emotionally absent fathers. He led one of the first large-group men's workshops in the United States, called "Alive and Male." Soon after, Druck's self-help classic The Secrets Men Keep came out in 1985. He appeared on Oprah Winfrey, Phil Donahue, "Hour Magazine" with Gary Collins, and he published many male-oriented articles in Reader's Digest and Parade Magazine.

The author photo on the back of Secrets (close to 15 years old) reveals a man with an animal-like avidity-mustached, matinee-idol-handsome, soft-oval-faced but squirrel-eyed-aware, a bold nurturer who appears guileless and smirkless. That countenance still exists, but now at the frayed and draining-out end (or is it the middle?) of grief. Today in that face is a rapturous and worn single-mindedness. From it comes a voice, one that is gentle and measured when he reminisces about Jenna's precocity or counsels a mother on the phone, one that is loud and bad-dad when he lectures grievers to use their sorrow to loosen morbidity's grasp.

Of those who know him well, there's admiration mixed with solicitude. His sister Roberta says Ken runs the foundation as a way to "be in the grief, forever." Grief is his life, she told me on her yearly visit to San Diego from New York. "There's not a family event that goes by in which Ken doesn't say, 'Jenna would have said or done this or that had she been here with us today.'"

Candace Lightner, whose daughter, Carrie, was killed by a drunk driver in 1980 and who in her rage started Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, or MADD, also knows the largesse of Ken Druck. Lightner, a recent friend of Druck's, told me in a telephone interview that during the summer of 1999, she helped co-facilitate the workshop in Littleton. The idea was to serve parents of the Columbine tragedy and any others who wished to attend. Several Columbine families did sign up, but only one mother, Dawn Anna, attended. Lightner said Druck is a "very loving, very supportive individual, who is still in the very active phases of grieving for his daughter, which comes across when [he is] working with other families, whereas I'm twenty years beyond," she paused, "into the grieving. The families felt a great deal of bonding with him. He's very open about his pain and his grief, which many men are not. He's very comfortable with that, and it comes through in what he does." Druck calls his two-day workshop, "How To Survive the Loss of a Child." Lightner said "those attending believed Druck related more directly to their trauma and pain," while she brought laughter, asking them to remember the funny, odd-ball things about their children. She also brought answers. "They asked me a lot of questions about 'How did you get to where you're at? How long did it take? Will we ever laugh again?' My presence meant you do get better."

When her daughter was killed, Lightner got angry, formed MADD, and didn't grieve. About this, she said, she "cautions" Druck "constantly," fearing he may put work ahead of sorrow. "What happens when you immediately get involved with a movement is it tends to keep the child alive. And you tend to postpone aspects of your grieving process. You may deal with your anger aspect for the next five years because that's what works for you. Or denial, or whatever. In my case I was so immersed in MADD that I didn't have time to grieve, and it sort of postponed the pain. Grieving the death of a child is one of the most God-awful pains you ever want to go through. I'm not one who's gung ho about pain. It wasn't until the man who killed my daughter was arrested again for hitting another young woman [who wasn't killed] that a lot of this came back to me and I found I wasn't functioning as well. One of the reasons I made the decision to leave MADD [in 1985] was that I realized that I needed to grieve for her."


By all accounts Jenna Anne Druck was an extraordinary girl and young woman. Born in Colorado, in 1975, she and her family moved to San Diego's North County in 1979 where her father continued his practice and her mother became a psychotherapist. Right off the bat, Jenna stood out as a leader. Her sister Stephanie recalls Jenna "putting herself in so many situations of having to lose." These included running for class president and captain of her soccer team. "She wanted to prove that she was number one," Stephanie says. "And she was." Jenna always sat in the front of the class, cultivated relationships with her teachers, even in first grade.

At 9, Jenna was named San Diego's Young Woman Entrepreneur. At 12, she joined Joelle James' Super Camp program, designed to encourage achievement and leadership in young women. James recalls the girl's possessing a "vibrancy and an ability to connect that's unusual for a young person. She seemed to have that ability that older, wiser people have"-to be direct and focused. Jenna wasn't scattered but "present. Even if it was for a few seconds, it caused me or anybody else to feel special. That's an incredible gift." The pre-adolescent Jenna wanted to help those who didn't have "the opportunities she had had."

Jenna's desire to lead continued at Torrey Pines High School, where she was a class officer and an honors student. Jeanne Jones was her counselor. Jones remembers Jenna as "full of life and full of love. She gave of herself completely, always made time to make every person she touched feel like he or she mattered." Jones said the teen's sensibility was a nurtured "Druck family value." Jenna also had "an innate radiance that defined who she was." She possessed a "very unusual combination" of "exuberance and love." She was "selfless," refusing activities and allegiances that would merely look good on her application to college, Jones said. This enthusiasm to give to others was "part and parcel of her being. She had no other choice."

College was decided when she was selected as one of America's Future Leaders in the prestigious President's Leadership Institute at the University of Colorado. From hundreds of applicants nationwide, she was one of ten fellows. At the university, she pledged pi beta phi, earned their National Spirit Award, and was elected their youngest president ever. Two summers before her death she and her father traveled to Washington where Jenna wanted to meet Senator Dianne Feinstein. Jenna planned on a "back east school" to study law, so she thought it a good idea to volunteer as an intern in a senator's office. She didn't think of beginning with a phone call or application, her father remembers. She wanted to meet Feinstein in person. During the meeting, the senator was impressed with this 19-year-old's seriousness and savvy; she signed a photograph to her that said someday she (Jenna) would be filling her shoes in the Capitol.

In the summer of 1995, at 20, Jenna was hired as a talent-cum-stage manager for the MTV Video Music Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Druck says Jenna was attracted to the "pace and efficiency of music production, where things don't linger." In the music business she met doers whose "wit and pace could keep up with hers. I don't know when she slept." She also liked the music business because she saw "how power is used constructively to improve life." Marked with growing self-confidence, she returned to the President's Leadership Institute at Colorado University and debated visiting presidents of corporations (among them Coors, Celestial Seasonings, Pier One Imports) brought in to address young leaders. Jenna asked about their policy of hiring minorities, for example, or what programs there were for young employees, or how they were bettering the lot of people in other countries where they profited from their labor. A larger psychic and physical geography was drawing her.


In January, 1996, Jenna Druck, like 100,000 other American college juniors each year, began her semester abroad. Her trip would be different-a 100-day sea-and-land journey with 500 students aboard the 2300-ton S.S. Universe Explorer. Run by the University of Pittsburgh, the ship takes students on the adventure of a lifetime, studying about and traveling to places like Salvador, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa; Mombasa, Kenya. Jenna had asked her dad if she could go. True, the trip was expensive she told him but, when he heard that she hoped this voyage would help her decide her career direction, Ken Druck said of course.

Jenna's roommate on the trip, Amy St. Clair, remembers that Jenna was well-stocked for the voyage with all-weather clothing, medicinals, and her pencils, crammed in the nooks and crannies of her suitcase. Pencils were her gift to children at every stop. St. Clair recalls Jenna as making the most out their stops. "Every country we visited, she would be the one who came back and wrote not only about her experiences, in her journal, but all the things she wanted to do about what she saw. She was the one person on the ship who was engaging people in conversations about doing instead of seeing. Like the young kids in Africa."

Jenna was strongly affected by their visit to a shanty town in Cape Town, South Africa. Here the school children had nothing, no pens, paper, supplies, books. Jenna began giving out pencils and succeeded in setting off a near riot: Far more children than pencils, the children started fighting each other for possession. Though Jenna's generosity was chastised by a teacher, she began, back on board, writing letters to influential Americans and her parents to help these kids. Among those she wrote to were the presidents of Coors, Celestial Seasonings, and Pier One Imports. They responded with donations. She also enlisted the aid of her sorority at the University of Colorado, which kicked in money and supplies. In Eagle, Colorado, a teacher continues collecting school supplies for Africa in what's called the Jenna Druck Pencil Project.

Before the Explorer docked in Madras, India, students had chosen one of many in-country field trips that the program sponsored. On these trips they'd learn about the culture, the economics, and the history of India. They'd also receive credit. Jenna's trip, with 55 other students, included a stop in Varanasi, a flight to and tour of New Delhi, and another plane ride to Agra. There they'd tour the Taj Mahal, the 17th-century white marble monument, an emperor's tribute to his wife who died in childbirth. In New Delhi the students discovered their evening flight to Agra was cancelled because it had been over-booked. Ken Druck believes this is where the tragedy began. He now understands that student-abroad programs routinely hire local companies which, as a rule, overbook flights and re-schedule them with cheaper alternatives. To this end, the in-country tour company hired two buses and, allegedly, two drivers who hadn't slept in 48 hours. Druck says the head of the tour company decided these drivers would go all night so the students would get to Agra on time. This was, for Druck, the high point of stupidity. He says that had he, had any of the other parents, had someone responsible at Semester at Sea known about traveling at night from New Delhi to Agra on the most treacherous road in India, "any reasonable person" would have insisted that the students get a hotel room and wait, either for daylight or for another plane.

There were two busses, and the 55 had to get on one or the other. Once loaded, they moved out for the six-hour ride. They began maneuvering what is perhaps the most heavily trafficked, narrow mountainous road in the world-the Delhi-to-Agra highway also known as the Grand Trunk Road. Even at night the road is packed with luxury cars and diesel trucks jockeying for position with donkey carts and bicycles. The noise, the exhaust-spewing trucks, the pothole-covered road, combine with drivers who push over-filled tourist buses to the Taj Mahal as fast as possible. As one writer notes, "Basic rules like stopping at a flashing red light or yielding to on-coming traffic when attempting to pass are routinely ignored-or simply unknown." With such danger it's no wonder 65,000 people die every year on India's highways.

What's worse is that on this one highway 1600 deaths occur each year! Of this road's record, the young people on the two buses had no idea. On the first bus with some 35 students was St. Clair; on the second bus behind them was Jenna, Sarah Schewe, Cherese Laulhere, Virginia Amato, and others.

On the way, there were several near misses, when the bus passed slower vehicles on curves. At one point one of the boys on board stood up and yelled out for the driver to slow down: "He's going to kill all of us!" Along the ride, Jenna was writing in her journal about the day she'd spent at Varanasi, "experiencing," Druck says, "the cycle of life and death, watching children be born on the Ganges, watching bodies be burned on the Ganges."

The bus driver kept pushing, passing more vehicles on curves. Trying to get back in his lane, he swerved to miss yet another vehicle, was blinded in the headlights, and lost control. The bus careened down an embankment, overturning in a ditch. Seven people were crushed to death. Five Americans: Jenna, Sarah, Cherese, Virginia, and John Wilson, husband of an educator at the University of Pittsburgh. Two Indians: the driver and a tour guide.

"It's debatable whether they died instantly," Druck says. "Several people said Jenna died instantly. One or two of the other girls didn't die instantly. Many were injured. It was a horrific scene. One of the boys named Andrew-the others were too afraid it would catch fire-crawled back in the bus and pulled the bodies out. The parents later met with Andrew, to thank him. He tried to resuscitate all the girls. Unsuccessfully. Four dead girls, one of them still breathing. But, in bad shape. It was a disaster scene. There was no hospital anywhere nearby. The kids had broken backs, broken legs. A lot of kids were messed up. Eventually they laid the bodies out on the dirt road. Only to be photographed and appear on the front page of the Indian national newspaper the next day. Like meat, dead bodies on the side of the road. One of those bodies is my child."

On the bus that day Jenna had befriended a young woman named Bridgit. She told the Drucks that Jenna, ten minutes prior to the wreck, had exchanged her seat, further back in the bus, with Bridgit who was sitting in the spot up front. This was the seat in which Jenna died.

"My daughter's death was preventable," Druck says with fury. "My daughter's death was the result of negligence, of people putting money over safety. My daughter died on the watch of the University of Pittsburgh Semester at Sea program. Shame on me if I don't do something to prevent one family from going through what we went through and what we continue to go through-shame on me for not doing it." Druck describes the program's response to the accident as "nothing less than despicable." One week after the deaths (the bodies had been flown back to the United States), the families of the young women received in the mail an announcement to "Meet the Kids" in Seattle at the end of the voyage. When the bereaved parents asked how the wreck occurred, the Semester at Sea people became defensive. "It got litigious," Druck says. He recalls sitting "across from the director of the program in deposition, who when asked if they'd do anything differently said they 'would do nothing differently. Accidents happen,' he said. There's not one change planned or proposed in their program."

About pursuing a lawsuit, Druck says, "The parents wanted safety standards to be implemented. That was what we wanted. We didn't want money. A million dollars is not going to bring Jenna Druck back. A million dollars doesn't mean shit." He seethes at this thought, his voice anchored on a lead-weight tone. "No one has ever stepped up and said, 'Your child died on our watch. I'm so sorry. I'm sorry. I know your family will live with this every day for the rest of their lives. Jenna's life is lost to her. I will never forget this. I will work and devote the rest of my career and profession to making sure that this never happens again, in as much as that is humanly possible.'" Here Druck pauses and raises praying hands before his chest: "I would say, 'Thank you. You honored my daughter. Goodbye.' But I won't ever get that. So my guess is that it will go to trial."

That afternoon, when Druck tells me the story of his daughter's death, we are on the veranda of the Hilton Hotel looking onto Mission Bay and the concrete paths beside it. We pause as a young girl goes by, wearing a purple crash helmet, fast-pedaling her bicycle and tilting side to side on the training wheels. It's then that Druck ends the story by saying that was "the day all time stopped." The moment he knew she was dead "not only changes things for all time in this life. If there is such a thing as other lives, it changes for all time in a soul [and] in the lives of all souls. So the magnitude of what happens cannot begin to be known. Your nervous system would never care to know it. Such is the death of a child." Druck says he believes if science could measure what happens in the instant a parent hears that his or her child has died, then "I can guarantee you'd see a major structural change in a person's cells. Every cell in the person's being is transformed. Part of the cell dies, part of the cell is shocked. That shock is a buffer to another part of the cell which needs to find a way to live on because it's programmed to live. There's a recoding that comes over every cell of your being."

And yet another paradox blooms. "Just as your child's life has been lost to them, just as your life has been lost to you, you're suddenly faced with the moment-to-moment, day-to-day, year-to-year challenge of reconstructing something in its place. Which is not particularly what you wanted to be doing. But that's what you're going to be asked to do. And then to somehow justify that you're continuing to live although your child has died. You're going to get to go on? How is it that I get to go on and she doesn't, just doesn't make sense. I've lived my life. I had marriage, kids, a career, traveled the world. Her life was just blossoming. How can that happen? It's just not right."

At this point, I have to respond. "Never have I had to think about justifying my life. My life is justified. It doesn't need to be justified." One indication of how far apart Druck and this ear are.

"I have to give purpose to my life," he responds, "in a way that honors my daughter, that moves the beautiful agenda she had in this life forward."

"Is that the justification?"

"It allows me to get up every morning." After a long pause, for which the wind over Mission Bay clicks its heels, Druck's eyes are a quivering glaze of tears. "It never stops hurting," he says. "I'll never stop missing her. You resolve that that is the way it is, and you resolve to do what's next. It's the price of loving somebody so deeply, so completely."


A support group for parents who have lost their children is what Ken Druck calls "a; club nobody wants to join." The Jenna Druck Foundation sponsors several such groups-one for grandparents, one for siblings (teenagers and younger), one called "Living Losses" for parents whose kids have not died but whose lives are lost (drug addicts, runaways, criminals doing time), and one soon-to-be-launched program, organized by 22-year-old Stephanie Druck, for young adults. All these groups are private, their confessions confidential. Druck, however, did approve my coming to one adult meeting.

Before my visit, he introduces me to the ongoing physical and psychological nature of their grief. The pain, once the first half-year of shock wears off (this is also the time non-grieving people think the parent begins "to heal"), Druck calls invisible. "You've been devastated and shattered. Since it's not physically measurable, others don't understand when you're truly in crisis. You've got an invisible broken heart." Druck says the griever often wishes to die out of sheer inertia. He says such sorrow doesn't sink in with the parents because no one has testified to it enough so, as a society, we "get it." "The medical equivalent of what they're going through would [be] tubes going in and out of their bodies in the emergency care unit, trying to save their lives. They don't realize they're in absolute red-alert crisis. But nobody's telling them that and there's no sign." Deep grief produces breakdowns in people's immune systems, biochemical transformations, like depression. Physical signs include loss of concentration and appetite, terrible disturbances in sleep and mood, hyper-sensitivity followed by periods of numbness.

Druck believes the only effective way to face loss is via a group that possesses an "organicism," developed within and by the grievers themselves. This process, different for everyone and every group, can neither be taught nor institutionalized. It can be learned, and then, only by the grievers on their timetable.

At a San Diego North County church every two weeks a parents' group meets for two hours. In a newly built wing, next to the daycare play area, is a clean room, half-carpeted, half-tiled. Most of the parents bring their surviving children for a concurrent sibling meeting run by Scott Johnson. In another building, the kids do different activities-artwork and games in organized blocks of time-that concentrate on the loss.

I watch as parents arrive, at and past the starting time. (Each is wearing the pinched look of grief William Hurt wore in The Accidental Tourist.) "Welcome," Druck says, and soon I'm hearing from 12 women and one man about losses that range from ten weeks to four years. Teen and young adult deaths come in car wrecks, one from road rage, suicides, murder, a brain tumor. Two younger deaths-a nine-year-old, an 11-year-old-are from leukemia. Druck asks that I introduce myself, then listen and observe, take no notes. I should open up about my feelings, too. Which I do by saying that the hardest part for me is never knowing what to say to a person who's lost a child. One woman's advice is not to offer any to the griever. "Say instead that you can't know what the person is going through, but you can listen and you can withhold judgment."

Druck asks each person to tell his or her story briefly, then respond to this question: If this group were being held solely for your benefit, what would you ask the group for? As they go around, the women haltingly or confidently tell their tales; they don't look to him as guide even though he is guiding them. Druck prompts them with questions; congratulates their courage for coming and speaking; asks others if, on certain points, they'd like further discussion; seeks levity with an occasional story, like the one about the bereaved parents' picnic that revolts passersby because the group seems to be drooling all over their food.

The women speak, their fear and anger liberated from rumination. One woman says how "ripped off" she feels, it's just like rape. One woman blames herself for not having acted soon enough to save her daughter from a viral infection. One woman speaks of meeting the man who now carries the donated heart of her son, of laughing and crying simultaneously when she placed her ear on his chest and heard her son's pounding presence. One woman describes her loss as "unthinkable, unspeakable, inconsolable." One woman recounts her struggle to get her daughter to the kids' group because she continues to act out in school. One woman blurts the one truth that ironically sustains her: "I know he's always going to be dead!" One woman-whose teenager was pursued to her own front yard by a road-rage maniac who slammed his vehicle into hers and killed her-says that when she saw her current home she was certain that this was the house she was meant to live in, so how is it possible that three weeks later "after I picked it out, my child would die there?" One woman warns us of people who are open to remembering the good aspects of her kid but not able to hear how horrible things are now. Which is why she keeps coming back to the group: To voice the monstrous thoughts that nobody else wants to hear.

I feel invisible, though hovering. My function is to help pass a new box of tissue. At odd, vacant-eyed moments, we watch the tissue box bobbing like a puppet against the floor while each tearful person pulls and pulls, trying to free the tissue from its boxed-in folds until, finally, each takes hold of the box with the other hand and frees the sheet, first one, then another. Later I read the product's ad-pitch: "Softly tissue is made in a special way with soft fibers on the outside and strong fibers on the inside."

I wonder where the men are. Druck reminds me later of the dads group, in which the men are "learning how to surrender." Here, however, several women talk about being "doubly ripped-off" by unavailable men: Their job, so think many men, is to get over the loss and get back to work, back to normal. One husband after a month of grieving told his wife that she'd turned into a bitch because all she did was cry about the dead child. Four of the 12 women tell about the breakup of a marriage or a relationship; for these four, the lost child was not related to the husband or partner. Women not in relationship express fears of being alone. What men would want to date these women once they know their stories, their fragility? They label themselves "damaged goods." How often do they victimize themselves by putting on the mask that says, "I'm getting over it," when, in fact, they aren't?

Several women say that to avoid sorrow they have flung themselves into work and created successful businesses. And yet they know this has been an avoidance. The more work replaces grief, the worse grief gets.

Perhaps the most plaintive are those who remember a murdered child. They are sickened by the thought of watching the "piece of shit responsible" be defended in a criminal trial. One woman testifies that such a burden, though real, is ultimately a side issue. No burn of revenge returns the child, no hail of justice makes up for missing him or her. It seems that for people who "forgive" those who've killed their children, it is done not out of goodness but exhaustion.

Druck the facilitator usually tells about his week, but this night the group's size and long stories leave him no time. Instead he is present in the questions he takes notes on and summarizes at the end.

How do we react to any superstition or premonition that continues to haunt us about the death? How do we deal with the feelings that the child's life had only so many years in it based on some power, good or evil, to take it away? How do we feel about recognizing that we weren't the ones with that power? Where are our children? Are they here, with us, in the room? Have they gone elsewhere, where we'll never find them until we die and join them? How much do we want to join them right now? Why is there so much mixed up in our heads between remembering the child alive and dead? And then these even heavier emotional questions for which there is also no clear answer: What do we do when we know others who've lost children are showing a deeper, more incomprehensible pain than we are? Is it true, the greater the pain, the greater the love? What happens if we feel guilty for getting on top of our grief? Must we always suffer because suffering is the only sign of the love we bore a son or daughter?

In the meantime, Scott Johnson is letting the kids in the sibling group out to catch up with their parents. Johnson, who joined the Jenna Druck Foundation last summer to organize a child and adolescent bereavement program, has a seven-year background in hospice work at Grossmont Hospital. He uses art and play activities as a means to get kids to express feelings about loss. A kind, rueful man with a silver-grey beard, Johnson tells me that when he first counseled parents about a dying relative during house calls, he noticed the children were always absent. Where were they? "'Oh, we sent them next door while we have this talk,' the parents would say." Johnson felt the young ones' pain was being ignored, locked behind a "taboo about death and kids." Bereavement counseling for the young, one hundred years ago, he says, "wouldn't have been necessary. We had role models teaching us about grief. Often when someone died, they'd lay the body out in the hall. If you had a large family, invariably, one of them would die every few years. You'd be familiar with death. It would be okay to cry, to be upset, to be angry-all the different ways to grieve." He notes perhaps the one good aspect of managed care is to return death and dying to the home, where all of us, as it were, must be outpatients.

In the kids' room, I read the sign-in sheet: Name, Who Died, and When. The young ones have been continuing an art project, drawing the name of or a picture of their departed siblings which a church group is going to transfer to cloth for a group remembrance quilt. Johnson says during his sessions he gets the kids "to do something with their hands, so they can talk." The activities help them express a lightness, even a happiness, about their survival. It's not a contradiction for Johnson. "Play helps normalize them," he says. "Otherwise they isolate and think they're going crazy because they miss their sister or father who's died." The talk and the play leads children to express locked-up emotions but, Johnson believes, there's something more. They're making sense of a world which doesn't make sense because that world took a brother or sister. He says bereavement for a young child is more cognitively difficult than it is for an adult because the child's understanding of death is simple: If a young boy has bad thoughts about his older sister, who then dies in an airplane crash, the boy will connect the two and blame himself. Often this blame is terrible because most children feel they are at the center of a caring universe. How do surviving children fit death into the positive feelings received from parents who have loved and protected them, especially when they think, Johnson says, "one, that I'm special, and two, if I'm special, then I'm exempt from ever having to die""?Johnson cites several new studies that suggest 90% of adolescents in trouble identify a loss or a death-family member or friend-concurrent with that trouble. To escape grieving a loss the "solution" is drugs, crime, alcohol, promiscuity. These Johnson insists are the consequences of "not having grief support."


Outside Ken Druck's dark-stained wood home in Del Mar, a half-mile from the Pacific Ocean, sit two four-foot tall concrete Buddhas. These statues and Druck's front-room window overlook the broad, reed-filled Penasquitos Lagoon, fed by the aptly-named Soledad Creek. Under the driveway's lean-to and in sharp contrast to the Buddhas is a canvas-covered Harley-Davidson, which Druck bought in 1990 and uses as his "warrior toy.&quo;t Having worked predominantly with male psychology, Druck believes men are "slowly domesticated, taught to be good boys and nice guys, so it's hard to keep the little boy alive, the playfulness, the brattiness, the obnoxiousness. As well as a sense of adventure and freedom." Thus, the hog is his "antidote to the domesticated man."

The bike is another means to remember Jenna. When he first brought the Harley home, a kidding Jenna jumped on the bike, throwing her legs around the seat. Her boot heel dented the gas tank. "I was so upset with her at the time. My new Harley. Today I cherish that dent. Every time I look at it I smile." This was her warrior moment. Druck rides the Harley to the cemetery. "Can you imagine what a Harley sounds like in the middle of the cemetery? There's an edge of irreverence that I know Jenna connects with."

He stares out the picture window at the shining wind-dappled water in late afternoon sun. Calmed, he says, "One of the metaphors for how I see the rest of my life has to do with the river of life. Moving down the river of life, I took a huge, unexpected turn. Now it's caused me to look to the end of the river. My daughter's river ended. Where the river met the ocean. Here I am living not at, but somewhere close to the end of the river of life. My greatest image of joy and death is a picture I have of reaching the end of the river of life, looking out to the crimson sunset, and Jenna's hand is reaching to me. I take her hand with the greatest joy. I don't pretend to know what happens when we die. Sometimes I believe in a spiritual afterlife, other times I feel I'm staring into the abyss. I can't tell you which is true. But that image gives me tremendous joy, the possibility of reuniting with Jenna."

I ask him what's kept him from going there, from dying himself.

"I've died over and over again in the crash," he says. "I've been in the crash a thousand times, every micro-second with her. I have died. My life as I knew it died. A great deal of the joy I anticipated died. The ability to connect with my daughter on this plane died. I have also lived-possibly been more alive and awake than I've ever been, in the last four years. So paradoxically I have died and in that dying become more alive than ever before. I have a keen sense of what is real and what is filler. What's real is the love, the love that passes between us. That's the only thing that's real. The rest of it is going to the movies, going through the motions, work, having a job. It's also in those moments, cultivating love. What Jenna calls the 'enormity.'

"When I heard Jenna saying things to me-'Jenna? Are you here?'-I had a choice: to believe in accord with my profession that I was becoming delusional or psychotic, or that something in the medium of telepathy, something we don't have a word for, was happening. I compare it to the idea of cyberspace 100 years ago. If I had said we could communicate intimate thoughts in this space that doesn't exist 100 years ago, I would have been locked up. I believe it's possible we may discover spirit space, a realm in which people communicate through the veil of what we call death."

As part of his eulogy at his daughter's memorial service Druck said this: "Jenna lived a fuller 21 years and has left a clearer legacy than most of us do in a lifetime." It was, considering the time and considering Lightner's latter-day remembrance, a prescient moment. Druck was already, four days after Jenna's death, focusing not on how she died but on how she lived. And yet I also wondered if he, with his foundation, had enlarged his daughter in death to some heroic or mythic status that may conflict with who she was and how she lived.

"Have I created a Jenna museum? Have I idealized her?" he re-phrased it.

"Yes." (It bugged me that I, too, might be giving idealization legs by re-telling the saint-like stories I had heard from those who knew her, whose tears were ever-present and could not be faked.)

Druck, to my surprise, had thought this through as well. He said in writing a book about her he'd been afraid of making her into the Second Coming. Presenting Jenna to those who didn't know her, Who would believe a teenager could be "this insightful, loving, aware? I pulled back," he said. "I talk [in the book] about the very real aspects of her being a kid. Her struggles, her fears, her being a drama queen. She would call me down to her room, this, my strong andndependent kid, and she'd say, 'Dad, I'm scared.' There was a very human, vulnerable side to her."

Whenever Druck mentioned his fears of hero-worship to Jenna's friends, they reminded him that she really was unusually devoted and gifted. Minimizing her is unfair. She needs to be maximized because that's who she was. Her sister Stephanie, who admits her bias, agrees. "Jenna had an aura. People wanted to talk to her, be around her. You just can't glorify her too much." Stephanie believes that "there wasn't enough here for her to do. This earth was not enough. She had everything going on in her life and [it was] never enough. She had too much to offer for this life." Stephanie says her sister is with her. "Where is she?" I ask. "On my shoulder. Not all the time because she's got a lot of other things to do. But she's here. She's my angel. I don't have to say 'Jenna, I'm going to have a hard time, I need you to be there for me.' She's there even before I think it."

And so, for the bereaved parent, there's no simple shield to wear against the diminution or the amplification of a child's memory. "You're screwed either way," Druck said. "If you remember a way your child suffered in his or her life-they say that a parent is only as happy as his unhappiest child-or remember some wonderful triumph, they got you coming and going. Because it's all gone. Parents go back and forth with the need to memorialize their children. What's not as well understood as the process of idealizing a child is the de-idealization of a child. Because-I have three huge notebooks filled with thousands of cards, and I couldn't read them. It was too painful for me to read them. If I wanted to idealize and embellish and go on and on about my daughter, it was too painful. I have had to learn how to disengage from the Jenna who was in that life. I have had to re-engage with the Jenna-who she is, where she is-now.

"Where is she?" I asked.

Druck patted his heart. "Right here."


On a Saturday each spring, the Jenna Druck Foundation hosts the Young Women's Spirit of Leadership Conference at UCSD. Nearly 400 girls, ages 15 and 16, attend, usually selected by teachers or counselors in their high schools. The girls choose among a half-dozen workshops, whose titles include "Reality Check" and "Act and Be Confident." They are also feted at a mentor luncheon where in small groups the girls talk with some of San Diego's professional women leaders. The 8-hour conference is Druck's way of continuing what Jenna and several friends in high school had planned, a leadership conference that would give to others what they had enjoyed. The most innovative part-Jenna's idea-was to invite girls not chosen through the traditional means of student achievement in academics, government, sports, or clubs. Thus most would be acknowledged as leaders for the first time.

Joelle James plans and runs the event; Ken Druck presides over it with his usual, intense yet bearish love and encouragement. He tells me, before the day, that I will witness an event "carefully choreographed" to present leadership skill-building workshops that infect the girls with feel-good energy. The conference will provide multi-level guidance: "life-skill development; an awareness of what they're going to need in their toolbox to achieve their personal goals; a sense of how to identify what those goals are, ones derived from their own hearts and passions rather than the cookie-cutter set for them."

Druck is right: The conference is a celebration, beginning with his welcome and a video of Jenna's life that sensitize the girls to the foundation's bereavement programs. Druck gently reminds the girls of something Jenna told him when she was their age, namely, that girls always obsess over the same three things: "about how their bodies were too much this way and not enough that way; about guys-they think that's where the prize is, with guys-and about trashing other girls." This conference, he crows, won't be about those things, and the girls cheer, glad (it appears) to be free of such demands for one day. It is curious to watch the video shape an emotional response to the conference before the young women have begun their workshops. The rallying cries of "You can do anything you want!" elicit an openness to life and career possibilities that the eight-hour conference then taps.

Throughout the day I marvel at the intermixing of girlhood and womanhood. For example, during a lunch of fruit and croissant-wiches, the girl who lives in most of them seems swallowed up or pushed aside by the initiatory formality of the event. At each of the tables girls busily eat; some in fact seem very hungry (how many are dieting?). But most are eating with more care than normal. They're more polite, more careful, aware that the day is not only about them but also about the expectation the conference and its leadership focus have for them. Though starving, they're trying not to chew too rabidly. One I watch is chewing with adolescent fury. But her hand masks her mouth which, of course, draws more attention to the fact that those jaws are working like a Ferrari piston. The sound in the vast ballroom over lunch is hushed-no shouting, no laughter, no giddiness. It's serious. This is adulthood. Initiation into the pros means first to act like one.

It occurs to me, from my perch, that the conference is saying to these girls that the society, the professions, the families, the companies you will lead and organize in the future will include you in a defined role but also as an individual. Druck and James have caught these girls, even for a day, as they leave one body for another. When I pull back and watch each troop of girls sitting so grown-up, I'm struck that this conference is giving something to Ken Druck which he may or may not realize. His conference is embodying the stages of womanhood, from called-out young leader to mentor to workshop leader to Teacher of the Year, that Jenna herself perhaps would have gone through.

This father's daughter is never far aw At the door to the theater where the hundreds of young women enter for the plenary events, there's a fresh bouquet of pink roses-Jenna's "Strength of Heart" flower-with Jenna's photograph leaning on the vase. In it she seems to herald us with virginal wisdom, a white blouse, thick, mid-parted hair and a beatific look. One eye seems dazzled by the day in her honor while the other eye feels lighted by an inner star. Today there's a soccer ball with flamboyant signatures of the U.S. Women's Soccer team, including Brandi Chastain and Brianna Scurry. That ball sits atop a brass candle-holder behind the flowers. Next to the vase burns a candle. The small, poetic tableaux venerates something larger than girlhood. Several young women hold Ken's hand during the day, and one, I hear, tearfully says, "It is so nice that you're doing this for your daughter."

The most poignant moment comes when the 370 young women, many in heels and tight sweaters and lip gloss, giddy-to-prim with excitement, assemble on the steps of the Price Center's inner courtyard for a photo. At the center, down in front, is Jenna's Dad. At the sight I think of Druck's oft-told line, "When you lose a daughter, every young girl becomes your daughter."