Marc Schupan’s grief over his son leads him to write letters and tell the story

Even as a boy, Seth Schupan shared a love of hockey with his father Marc. Later, Seth overcame a serious injury to get back onto the ice.

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Whoever survives a test, whatever it may be, must tell the story. That is his duty.
Elie Wiesel

Jeanne and Marc Schupan. Photo by Carolyn Kennedy, used by permission.

Most everyone agrees the worst loss any parent can face is the loss of a child. Marc and Jeanne Schupan of Kalamazoo, MI, parents of 4, faced that nightmare. In 2002, Seth, their oldest son, along with Jeanne’s parents were killed in a car crash. It was morning. Seth was driving his grandparents across state to join the family for Thanksgiving dinner that night. Seth’s car was hit by a van at a country crossroad. He was 23.

Seth was a recent graduate of Northwood U. in Midland, MI, a Phi Delt and a hockey player. “Though physically strong, he was always gentle and kind. He brought warmth to people young and old,” his obituary reads.

When Seth died, Marc and Jeanne received over 1200 notes and letters. Some revealed aspects of their son’s life they hadn’t known. There was a letter from a classmate who’d been bullied. Seth stood up for him, he said, and the bullying stopped. A different classmate, a girl with Lupus, wrote, “Seth made a point of asking me about my health. He was one of the few who showed genuine interest and concern.”

Seth’s club hockey coach from Northwood mentioned the time Seth, then a junior, broke his ankle. “No one expected him to play again,” he said. “But he came back his senior year and was an inspiration to younger teammates.”

Marc was no stranger to loss. At 26, he took a leave from his job as a high school teacher and coach to work for his dad’s small scrap metal company. 3 weeks later, his father Nelson, 53, died of a stroke. Marc had 3 younger siblings. His dad’s funeral was on a Sunday; Marc took over the business on Monday.

Marc has since built Schupan & Sons manufacturing companies from a firm with 6 employees to a powerhouse that employs 500. Among its various recycling activities, Schupan & Sons is the largest recycler of redeemable aluminum containers in deposit states.

Despite the business challenges Marc had overcome, dealing with the loss of his son was nearly insurmountable. Two years after Seth’s accident, having read dozens of self-help books, Marc was still unable to cope with his grief. He began a practice which helped console him: writing letters to his late son.

In hope of supporting others who are grieving, Marc shared his letters. They’re honest, informative and, at times, heart-breaking. They trace Marc’s emotional arc and give him a way to feel still somehow connected to his son.

Letters begin Dear Seth…

December, 2004. “I’ve become more functional on the outside, but the pain internally is sometimes even more severe. The stages, shock and numbness, have led me to the present stage of reality—in some ways the hardest. Understanding the permanence of your absence is the worst reality… Mom is taking care of everyone and shows more strength than any of us, but I do worry about her. We are going to be the exception to the 85% rule.” (Some studies claim as many as 85% of couples who lose a child end up divorced.)

September, 2006. “The closer we get to your birthday, the harder it is not to have you a part of our physical life. …How we appreciate each other and value life itself is your gift to us.”

November, 2006. Marc writes that he and Jeanne attended son Jordan’s hockey game in N.H. After, they walked the beach and enjoyed a seafood dinner. “It was one of the most positive days your Mom and I have had together since the accident. When we went to bed that night… I started to think of you. I went from 70 to 0 in about two minutes. I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. I could not understand how I could ever be as happy without you as I had been that day.”

February, 2008. Marc and Jeanne’s daughter Shayna had a second child. “You now have a namesake, Benjamin Seth Barry. Watch over him for us. My only hope is he grows to be the man his uncle Seth turned out to be. I know I always tell you how proud I am of you. I only wish I’d have told you more often.” Marc tells Seth he’s begun supporting other families who’ve lost children. “I’m not sure how much I really help, but I try.”

September 9, 2009. “Today, would have been your 30th birthday. Besides painfully missing you, I think of all you are missing.” Marc’s niece Tori got married. At the rehearsal dinner, a slide presentation showed several shots of Seth. It featured the Beatles’ song, ‘There are places I remember.’ Lyrics include the line: Some are dead and some are living. In my life I loved them all. Marc admits, “I sort of lost it and had to go to a corner away from everyone.”

September, 2010. “Mom and I are doing pretty well. I still think she is the most beautiful woman there is, inside and out. I think about you probably even more than I should. As each day goes by, I appreciate you more. Your values, what a joy it was just to be around you, what a warm, unselfish person you were.”

November, 2012. Marc mentions various activities linked to Seth’s name. A Big Brothers facility, a Northwood Institute hockey tournament and scholarship, a Kalamazoo Foundation memorial fund, all of which have made “a positive difference” for others. “There is no doubt there is an empty place in our lives that will never be filled. …We are trying to appreciate the good. I believe that we as a family and individually have continued our lives in directions that would make you proud. …You were a terrific young man, respected and loved by many. I am proud to have had you as a son and appreciate infinitely the years we had together. I love you son and always will, even more as each day passes.”

Marc still writes to Seth. He details family activities and milestones. His letters aren’t only a source of comfort for him, they provide ongoing family history. Along with copies of his letters, Marc also sent a touching little book by Kathryn and Ross Petras. Don’t Forget to Sing in the Lifeboats is a compilation of inspiring quotes. The title comes from Voltaire: “Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.”

I flipped open the book to a quote from the playwright Moliere: “If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble.”

I flipped again to one from diplomat Dag Hammarskjold: “Life only demands from you the strength you possess. Only one feat is possible—not to run away.”

Thanks, Marc, for not running away. Thanks for sharing your lifeboat. May it help save others as well.

Seth Schupan as the family likes to remember him.

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21 thoughts on “Marc Schupan’s grief over his son leads him to write letters and tell the story

  1. Anelyse Cotter

    As Marc’s younger sister I want to thank you for sharing the essence of my amazing brother. It was-a wonderful read. As his letters to Seth reflect, Marc has no problem expressing the profound sadness he feels with the loss of his son. He truly has taken that loss to give hope and help to others. I am so proud to be his sister!

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks so much for your well expressed thoughts, Anelyse. How lovely to hear from you. Your brother is quite a guy.

  2. Maureen Kaiser

    Well received and a beautiful message to always remember those that passed. IT’S OK! ????
    Maureen Kaiser

  3. Suzy Farbman Post author

    as emailed to Marc by Stacie H.
    I just read the blog about Seth. Very powerful and well done. Beautiful pictures. You all have such strength. An inspiration to the rest of us.

  4. Rodney Curtis

    These letters are poignant and powerful. I can’t imagine the sense of loss, nor the courage it takes to overcome it. Thank you for sharing this.

  5. Suzy Farbman Post author

    as emailed from Marc Schupan
    Thank you. The article turned out very well. No surprise! I hope it benefits someone. You captured the essence of my feelings. You really are talented.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks, Marc. You did the heavy lifting on this one. A lot of readers will relate to your feelings. I’m so sorry such lovely people as you and Jeanne and your family had to go through this. Seth was obviously a great guy. I know in some other dimension he’s rooting all of you on. God bless.

  6. Suzy Farbman Post author

    as emailed from Jerry Shulak
    Heartfelt. Tears came to my eyes and heart. A way to deal with grief learned.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks, Jerry. Tears came to my eyes and heart as I was writing this one. Any parent can relate.

  7. Stan

    One of your best articles ever.

    Hope neither of our families are tested, like we were over serious health issues.

    THANKS for sharing a beautiful story of a beautiful family.

  8. Karen Raff

    An unexpected death touches so many in profound ways. Sad. Life-affirming. Profound thoughts about how life continues in spite of the pain and ever-present feeling of loss and “what could have been.” Marc and Jeanne have made the most of their road to travel. Giving back to the community is their wonderful answer to a tragedy.

  9. Baer

    Dear Jeanne and Marc, Bill and I had the pleasure of meeting you on a New Zealand trip. We wish we would have had the chance to spend more time together. Thank you for the courage to share. Many people will benefit. A reminder not to take anything for granted and cherish the moments. Love is the only answer
    God Bless, Darrene & Bill Baer

  10. Mitchell D Carmody

    I love this story as it reflects my own. Keeping my child’s name in the present has saved my life. I starting writing letters to him the first year after he died in 1987 at age 9. Dead is not gone when you believe they live on beyond this corporal life, so we can speak in the first person. Writing letters to my son resurrected a relationship I had thought gone with his ashes, but like Lazarus he walks by my side and has now for 30 years. God is good. Thank you for sharing Seth’s legacy of love through his parents, so that others may know love lives on.
    Peace love n light
    Mitch Carmody author of “Letters To My Son, turning loss to legacy.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks, Mitch. The title of your book is wonderful. You clearly relate to Marc and Jeanne’s experience. Appreciate your comment.

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