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I Am A Hudson Valley Parent: Bill Zito

Courage after grief

I am a Hudson Valley Parent, Single Parent, Bill Zito, Claire Zito, Father and Daughter
Bill Zito with his daughter Claire. “The best thing anyone ever said to me was the countless people who came up to me and had the courage to say ‘I don’t know what to say."

Bill Zito of Tuxedo Park spent 12 years as a police officer, serving the greater good by persevering under tough circumstances every day. But the toughest battle of his life came after he retired.

In 2006, Bill’s wife, also a former police officer, committed suicide. Their daughter, Claire, was 5 at the time. “Since my daughter was so young, I did not let her know how her mom died,” says Zito. "I did not share that information with her until she was 10.”

Bill spent those years trying to focus on caring for his daughter instead of dealing with his own grief. Until it became too much to bear. “That’s the biggest danger for a parent who loses a spouse under any circumstances,” he says. “Don’t ignore yourself. My general physician would tell me ‘You’re not doing her any good unless you're getting better and coping properly.’”

Fortunately, Bill and Claire had a support system of friends and family who helped out during those years, even if those friends weren’t aware of how much they were helping. “The best thing anyone ever said to me was the countless people who came up to me and had the courage to say ‘I don’t know what to say,” he recalls. “Sometimes people were a tremendous help and they didn’t even know it. They looked at me at the right time, and said something that may have seemed inconsequential to them but meant everything to me."

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As Bill learned how to navigate through his grief and move forward, the urge to serve kicked in again. He realized that as a former police officer, he was in a unique position to help others who were struggling with the same thing. He reached out to the Westchester chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, shared his story, and asked if there was anything he could do to help.

Today, he serves as the chair of their board. “I stand up for a couple of reasons,” he says. “I know what it’s like to lose a spouse. I know what it’s like for a child to lose their mother at a ridiculously young age. I know police work can eat at a person from the inside. I came away from the job a very different person. In my wife’s case, she was an extremely talented police officer, investigator and detective; but cops tend to internalize things.” 

Bill and Claire’s life together as a family today is proof that life goes on for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Bill now works as a freelance writer and editor; having done work for such media outlets as ABC, FOX, The Weather Channel and News 12.

Claire is now entering the 10th grade and spends as much time on stage and in the dance studio as she does in class. “I’m not a stage parent, but this is something that she likes and as long as she can balance that with her school work, then that’s fine,” says Zito. “So I drive her around, she goes to school, I go to work, I do a little bit of the juggling act. But I spend a lot of time with her. We go to the theater very often, we’re big fans of the stage.”
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Bill describes Claire as a bright, articulate, well-intentioned teenager with the ability to find enjoyment and happiness as herself. Friends look at Claire and tell Bill that he’s a successful parent, to which he replies that if he’s considered a successful parent it’s because he has such a successful daughter. “It’s the kid’s accomplishments that are important, not the parent’s,” he says. 

Claire has even joined Bill in advancing the mission of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, but he makes sure that his daughter’s role within the program remains limited.“She helps out with the events, but I don’t immerse her in it because I want everything in life to be her choice,” he says. “Except taking out the garbage.”

Do you know a Hudson Valley parent who inspires you? We want to profile local parents who impact their community through business, politics, volunteer work, grassroots advocacy, you name it. Email our editor your “I am a Hudson Valley Parent” nomination.

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