Jermaine Edwards: Student Loan Relief Needed for Bereaved Parents

My only son, Jermaine Edwards, died in 2009 at just 24 years old. Three years later, I'm still being forced by First Marblehead Corporation to pay off Jermaine's student debt - even though he'll never have the chance to use his college education.

Jermaine was a wonderful young man and the light of my life. But he didn't just cast a spell on me - Jermaine had a talent for getting people to love him anywhere he went. When he went to college to study music production, I was happy to cosign his student loans. He dreamed of making a better life for himself. What mother wouldn't have wanted to help her only son do that?

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Then the unthinkable happened. I still don't know how or why Jermaine died. The doctors say they couldn't find anything wrong with him. But I do know he was a good man, my wonderful son, to the end.

When Jermaine died, I was left emotionally devastated, in a depression so deep I couldn't work. I even found myself entertaining dangerous thoughts.

That's when a company called First Marblehead Corporation chose to make my life even worse. Jermaine had three student loans when he passed - two from the federal government and one private loan that had been bought by First Marblehead.

The federal loans were forgiven within a month of my son's death. But First Marblehead wouldn't forgive my dead son's debt. I was left with a stark choice: Return to work or be haunted by maddening collection calls from First Marblehead's servicer, American Education Services.

I begged First Marblehead to forgive Jermaine's debt - like so many other private student lenders, from Wells Fargo to Sallie Mae to Citi Financial, have done before. My doctor even wrote First Marblehead a letter explaining my depression was so severe that I just wouldn't be the same again.

In return, I got a heartless letter from a compliance officer saying that although the company was "very sympathetic" to my circumstances, they were "regrettably not in a position to write off" my loan.

I find it hard to believe that a company worth $71 million is "not in a position" to exercise compassion. I find it harder to believe that they have any sympathy for me whatsoever.

Since then, I've started a petition on ( - the same site where a young man recently asked Key Bank to forgive his dead brother's loan and won. My petition has gathered nearly 200,000 signatures in the last month and gotten the attention of the folks at American Education Services, who wrote in a letter that they've "elevated my inquiry" for review. I've also filed complaints against the companies with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

True to form, First Marblehead has yet to respond.

I wouldn't wish what happened to me on any parent. Losing your child is like losing a part of yourself. It's a feeling that stays with you for life. And it's worse when you're continually reminded of their death by being harassed to pay back student loans for an education they'll never use.

But these last months of fighting back - for myself and for every other parent in my situation - have given me a new sense of purpose. With tens of thousands of people who signed my petition at my back, I have the energy and commitment to fight this fight as long as necessary.

First Marblehead cannot be allowed to keep taking and taking from people who've already lost everything.

I won't let them.

Ella Edwards of Ypsilanti has started a petition on to convince companies to excuse student loan debt for parents of late students.

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