During a pandemic that has taken over 5 million lives around the world, there has been no shortage of grief. But much of it remains hidden to the outside world, particularly after the initial period of loss, when some level of stigma seems to still exist about openly expressing such feelings. This, in turn, can compound the sadness of loss—the sense of emptiness, isolation, and brokenness. It is within this context that Andrew Kaczynski’s public response to the loss of his beloved infant daughter, Francesca “Beans” Kaczynski, has been so valuable and made such an important contribution to the common good.
There is no right way to react to the death of one’s child, the most devastating loss any loving parent can experience. Who could blame any parent for retreating from the public at such a time? Yet Andrew Kaczynski’s willingness to publicly share his experience over the course of the year—not just the grief and feelings of emptiness and anger and sadness, but the pride and love and gratitude that endure, as well—is helping to reduce that stigma and make those experiencing loss feel more connected and less alone.
That pride in Beans was always there. People from across the nation and around the world had come to know and love the CNN reporter’s daughter through her doting father’s posts on social media. And as she began to battle infant brain cancer (diagnosed with an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor), many of us prayed for her on a regular basis and were profoundly sad when she died on Christmas Eve in 2020. But her legacy endures.
By the end of 2021, Andrew Kaczynski and his wife, Rachel Ensign of The Wall Street Journal, had raised over $1.8 million for the Team Beans Infant Brian Tumor Fund at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This remarkable effort itself is worthy of an award. They worked hard to raise this money in the hope that other families will be spared the worst of what they have experienced. To suffer, but to proceed in love, to work to alleviate the suffering of others is a testament to the power of love and the courage of these parents.
Our 2021 Millennial of the Year, Andrew Kaczynski, has consistently been an inspiring witness to the power of love—as a devoted and loving father, through publicly sharing his experiences and emotions this past year, through Team Beans’ fundraising, and by advocating on behalf of these children and their families.
In a recent article at USA Today, Kaczynski, who said that he had once been afraid of dying, explained, “Francesca died, so now I can die. Wherever she went, that’s where I get to go. It’s such a peaceful thing to think about. When it’s my time to die, I know I’ll think, ‘I get to go be with Francesca now.’ So I don’t stress things anymore.” This is the power of love. We do not doubt that the communion with his daughter that he desires so greatly will one day occur, but we also wish to recognize the great impact of his work and witness in the meantime. And for such efforts, Andrew Kaczynski is our 2021 Millennial of the Year.
You can donate to the Team Beans Infant Brain Tumor Fund here.