After tragic loss, Kovaleskis help people find hope amidst grief

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 8 August 2018 at 6:53 pm

New book by Kelly and Jay Kovaleski has advice for ‘Navigating Life’

Photo by Tom Rivers: Jay and Kelly Kovaleski hold a copy of “Navigating Life – Living With Purpose After Catastrophic Loss.” They were presenters at a workshop on July 28 in St. Louis for the Compassionate Friends, a national organization in its 41st year of supporting bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents.

ALBION – An Albion couple that lost their 15-year-old son to leukemia 7 years ago has written a book about their loss and the grief-stricken process to find hope after a tragedy.

Kelly and Jay Kovaleski, both teachers at Albion Central School, have published “Navigating Life – Living With Purpose After Catastrophic Loss.”

Their son Nicholas died on June 29, 2011. He was courageous in his fight against leukemia. He showed great determination, working towards his goals in football, swimming and tennis, and giving of himself by helping at home and through Boy Scouts.

Nicholas adopted “Live with Purpose” as his motto when he was 11.

“Teens should know they have been placed here for a reason,” Mr. Kovaleski writes in the book. “They were created by God for a purpose and need to use these very lives in order to fulfill that purpose.”

The cover of the book by the Kovaleskis includes a photo of a compass. In working through grief and finding direction in life, the couple urges readers to consider the four directions – north, south, east and west.

• North: Who and what people love the most, their particular talents – “What gets you up, your why,” Mrs. Kovaleski said.

• South: Unexpected detours, deep hurts

• East: Where are you going – success is based on hard work, learning, training, tenacity and persistence

• West: Your past, formative moments that have shaped your life – through reflection and gained perspective guide future choices and decisions

The Kovaleskis have been leading “Live with Purpose” workshops where they use a compass and have participants reflect on the four directions. The new book takes people to a deeper level, while sharing the Kovaleskis’ journey.

Mrs. Kovaleski, an elementary intervention teacher, said many people are carrying deep hurts and grief.

“The wilderness is so thick, getting through to the other side has no time line,” she writes in the book.

With their compass exercise, they encourage people to pursue their “north,” the people and activities that give them peace and joy.

Mrs. Kovaleski said many people have unresolved grief. She has used journaling and prayer for comfort since her son’s loss.

Mr. Kovaleski takes an early morning run to process emotions and have his quiet time. Mr. Kovaleski, a physical education teacher and coach at Albion, would like to share the message with youth groups, schools, churches – people of all ages.

The couple along with their daughter, Michayla, and son, Matthew, were presenters on July 28 during a national conference in St. Louis for the Compassionate Friends. (Michayla, 19, will be a sophomore at Nazareth College majoring in dance. Matthew, 17, will be a senior at Albion. Older brother Thomas, 24, is a sergeant in the Army and is based at Fort Riley in Kansas.)

Compassionate Friends created this display with a photo of Nicholas Kovaleski for his parents’ presentation on July 28.

More than 1,000 people attended the three-day event in St. Louis which offers support for bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents.

This was the first time the Kolaleskis presented their workshop at the Compassionate Friends conference. They have attended in previous years. The Kovaleskis were told to prepare for about 35-40 people. They had 150 at their 90-minute session and have been invited to be presenters at Bereaved Parents of the USA and they will be filming a video on Sept. 15 for the “Open to Hope” show in New York City.

Jay and Kelly said they don’t present a “how to” manual for working through grief. Everyone goes at their own pace.

They first tell people to “breathe” and know they aren’t alone.

Kelly battled anxiety attacks after her son’s death. Her husband has been a “rock” and couple has been united, grieving in their own ways but always staying together.

After a tragic loss many marriages end. The Kovaleskis were determined not to lose each other.

They urge people not to simply move on from a loss. It will remain with them the rest of their lives.

“There will always be a part of you that is grieving,” Kelly said. “You’re not healed. You’re able to move forward. You can’t do grief wrong, you just have to do it.”

Jay said the family appreciates the support from the Albion community since Nicholas was diagnosed with leukemia and the years following his death.

The family is grateful for the opportunity to share their son’s story and how they have been able to work through their grief.

“This is part of our purpose,” Jay said at their home in Barre on Tuesday morning. “To be a beacon to somebody else is so rewarding.”

Their book, Navigating Life, is available at The Book Shoppe in Medina, Amazon and through the Kovaleskis’ website,

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