July 30, 2012 8:50:46 AM
Jan Swoope - firstname.lastname@example.org
On July 20, 12 families in Colorado and around the country were stricken with the worst reality a parent can be called on to endure -- the loss of a son or daughter. These families abruptly lost their children, who ranged in age from 6 to 51, to a criminal attack that will never make sense.
The circumstances may differ, but Lynne Posey of West Point and Nikole Roberts of Starkville know that reality. They have lived it. As have all those who find comfort in The Compassionate Friends of the Golden Triangle support group. Each has experienced the debilitating cloak of grief that envelopes a mother, a father, a sibling, a grandparent when the world shifts beneath them.
They come from Columbus, West Point, Starkville, Louisville, Aberdeen and points beyond, to the group's meetings held every second Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in West Point. There, in a quiet room provided at North Mississippi Medical Center, they meet informally. They have lost children of all ages to accidents, illness, suicide, heart attack and murder. They come to be with others who understand.
"We cry, we laugh, we tell funny stories about our children. We try to lift each other up," said Posey, who serves as the chapter's facilitator.
In 1991, Posey lost her son Matt in a tragic drowning accident, 18 days before his third birthday. Twenty-one years later, on Tuesday, Matt's mother stood in the meeting room, holding a framed photograph of the toddler taken shortly before that fateful day. She and Roberts talked softly, in the eternal voices of mothers. Looking at the photo, they commented on Matt's sweet smile and the big boy-haircut he had just gotten.
"That was on our list (to do)," Roberts murmured. Her son, 2 1/2-year-old Kai, died suddenly in July 2009 due to complications from a medical condition.
Before long, Roberts and her husband sought out Compassionate Friends, where they met Posey.
"My first question was, will I ever be able to sleep again?" said Roberts candidly. In time, she did. And part of that journey has been eased by the support she found within the group.
Founded four decades ago, the national Compassionate Friends organization is a nonprofit, self-help support network offering friendship, understanding and hope to parents, grandparents and siblings (18 years old and older) going through the natural grieving process after the death of a child of any age, from any cause.
There is no religious affiliation and no individual membership fees or dues are charged. More than 640 chapters exist in the U.S. TCF also operates in more than 30 countries worldwide.
"The Compassionate Friends is about transforming the pain of grief into the elixir of hope," states TCF founder Simon Stephens on the national organization's site, compassionatefriends.org. It takes people out of the isolation society imposes on the bereaved and lets them express their grief naturally, he adds. "With the shedding of tears, healing comes. And the newly bereaved get to see people who have survived and are learning to live and love again."
Close to home
The Golden Triangle chapter formed approximately five years ago, in large part because of Michelle Rowe, director of case management at NMMC-West Point.
In her position at the hospital, Rowe too often saw firsthand the very personal, emotional struggle families experienced when a son or daughter, no matter what age, passed away. She approached Posey with the idea of starting a TCF chapter.
"I think it takes another parent who has gone through it to understand that particular grief," shared Rowe. "And I've seen that it's a lifeline to some folks," she added.
The chapter's goal is to make sure every parent, grandparent or sibling who needs the support is aware the group stands ready.
A hug helps
When an event as life-altering as the loss of a child occurs, grieving families often discover acquaintances avoid them.
"Sometimes your very best friends will stay at arm's length, because they don't know what to say," said Posey. A hug, a kind smile, a sympathetic touch are welcome expressions, she said, recalling one of her first times out in public after losing Matt. It was a long-delayed trip to her hairdresser's, made after-hours to avoid encountering a crowd. One other person was still in the shop, another mother who had previously lost her own child.
"I remember she came over and just patted my hand, and I've never forgotten that," Posey recounted with a gentle smile.
Family members attending a Compassionate Friends meeting are not pressured to talk. In fact, many often come several times before sharing their stories.
"We spend a lot of time talking about issues, recognizing special dates -- birthdays, heaven dates," Posey remarked. Heaven dates are the dates each child passed away.
Parents often find that, with the passage of time, friends and acquaintances assume things will "return to normal."
"They expect you to get over it," said Roberts. "For me, it's been three years; for Lynne it's been 21, but you don't 'get over it.'"
In caring and sharing, though, comes healing.
The grief doesn't disappear, Posey said, but "it does get to the point where you can breathe and you don't have an elephant sitting on your chest."
Sometimes it's a matter of going through the motions, the facilitator said. It's not uncommon for parents to feel they're being disloyal to their late child the first several times they smile, laugh or find they're having a good time. But especially for parents who have other surviving children -- as Posey and Roberts did -- "you have to pinch yourself and realize you have another child you owe a good life to," stated Posey.
Healing and hope
Each Compassionate Friends meeting concludes with happy memories or amusing stories told about children who were well-loved.
"We hopefully go out with a lighter heart," Posey smiled.
Rowe shared, "One parent said the reason she keeps coming back is because her child is never forgotten."
The promise made by the national Compassionate Friends organization is "to be here as long as you need us." That pledge resonates with those who gather in the Golden Triangle on second Tuesdays, whether they come a few times or many.
"This is probably the one place you would go where everybody there knows how you feel," said Roberts, "and that's a comfort."
Editor's note: To contact The Compassionate Friends of the Golden Triangle, call Michelle Rowe at 662-495-2337.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.