Susan Rudzki to Receive Jefferson Award for Volunteer Work
Squirrel Hill resident Susan Rudzki was been named as recipient of the 2018 Jefferson Award in honor of her volunteer work helping bereaved families who have experienced the loss of a child. She is one of 25 volunteers who have been selected for this honor. She will receive the Jefferson Award bronze medallion at a reception and ceremony May 9, 2018 at the Heinz History Center. The Jefferson Awards are a national program that was started in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Susan has been helping bereaved parents for 25 years. She draws upon her own experience of losing her son Gregory at the age of 10 to a misdiagnosed heart condition. She participates in an annual Death and Dying Seminar at Children’s Hospital and volunteers with the Supportive Care (hospice) Team there. She has served as volunteer and board member with Cribs for Kids for over 17 years, offering peer support to parents whose infants have died of crib death, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. She’s an advisor to the Pediatric Palliative Care Coalition, a group that works to improve the care of dying children. She gives an annual talk to students at the Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science. She also counsels parents privately through word-of-mouth referrals, from friends and neighbors.
At Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, future pediatricians learn from some of the leading national experts in pediatrics and numerous specialties. Widely recognized as one of the top pediatric healthcare facilities in the U.S., Children’s provides superlative clinical training. Every December, Susan Rudzki is invited to Children’s to speak at Grand Rounds. In simple language, she tells her story of Gregory’s death and shares what she has learned, about grief, healing and living beyond profound loss. To the young doctors, Susan says: “When you stand in front of parents and tell them the worst news they will ever hear in their entire lives, imagine that it is your child, and it is you hearing the news. The words that you say must be chosen carefully, because they will never be forgotten. It’s okay to shed a tear, to reach out and touch or hug them. You will forever be a part of their story, so leave them with a positive memory.”
As a mother who has survived the death of her child, Susan has empathy and insights that professionals cannot provide. She believes that listening well is the best thing anyone can offer a grieving parent, and that letting them talk about their child is a gift to them. “When I speak about Gregory, I’m giving myself a gift. Telling his story is a chance to talk about him. It keeps the memory of him alive, and it helps me.” Helping other parents, says Susan, is mostly about giving them hope. “If nothing else, talking to me provides them with hope: the hope that they can survive this. I’m just like them, I felt the way they feel, and I’m still here. It’s a different life, but there is life beyond the grief.”