“I felt as if my heart had been torn out of my body,
Thrown on the ground
And shattered into a million pieces.
Worse yet, I couldn’t even find all the pieces
As I tried to heal my broken heart.”
~ Words of a parent describing the pain of losing her son.
A letter has been circulating the community inviting parents grieving the loss of children to join a new Parents’ Grief Support Group.
Dear Parent, starts the letter:
“We don’t know what your experience is, having also suffered the death of your child. We do know that losing a child can be lonely and isolating. Very few can understand the depth of our grief. You are not alone. You do not have to carry your grief alone.”
This group is for all parents who have lost children - no matter the age of the child. It will provide an opportunity to meet and spend time with others who understand. It will be a safe place to share pain and hope as well as practical ideas for taking care of oneself during difficult times.
The first meeting of the Parents’ Grief Support Group will be Wednesday, June 5, at Community Presbyterian Church (CPC) in Grand Rapids. It will not be focused on any one religion and attendees will not be asked to share their stories unless they choose to.
“There will be no need to talk; a person can just come and sit with the group and listen,” explained CPC Pastor Rev. Kimbrel Johnson, who will be providing the space for the group’s meetings and guide some conversation. “The death of a child is a painful, lonely struggle - nothing someone who hasn’t experienced it can understand because you lose a part of yourself. We acknowledge that other deaths have impact, but this is something that you can’t prepare for and it never leaves you.”
“It left a hole in my heart,” says Kathleen Blake, of Grand Rapids, who has lost two children, a son at age eight to illness and an adult daughter to cancer.
Blake is one of those organizing the support group meetings. She wants it to be a safe, comforting time when anyone is welcome to share their emotions, even fresh or raw, and lessons of life, loss and hope.
“It will be a place for you to grieve on your own path,” said Johnson. “We can’t push a grieving process for you, just provide a safe place.”
“Last month, it came flooding back again,” said Blake in tears as she explained that she imagined her Jessica and Michael together again. “Then two weeks ago I felt the presence of both of them. I hadn’t felt that in some time.”
As Blake says, the grief is an “ongoing loss,” for her and her husband Rick while they continue to live their lives. But Blake tries to make others understand that her grief “is a part of me, but it doesn’t define me.”
While memories can cause sadness for the loss, Blake said remembering lost children can also help ease the pain.
“The beauty of a support group for parents is it’s an opportunity to talk about your child at length - if you choose to,” she explained.
A support group offers a special bond apart from those with friends and family who have not experienced the loss of a child.
“People will tell me, ‘she’s in a better place,’” said Blake. “I can’t leave it at that. I can’t see her or hear her great laugh. Jessica didn’t want to die.”
Or when people say her daughter is “no longer suffering,” Blake remembers how Jessica couldn’t swallow or talk in her last days and how she went from a vibrant teacher and dancer to no longer able to walk. With Jessica’s great suffering in the end, Blake says “you’d think I would’ve been happy, but I didn’t want her to go - and I know it was hard for her to go, too.”
Blake finds solace in the stories she’s told of Jessica by those who knew her daughter. She remains connected with Jessica’s friends and hears from Jessica’s former students who say the young woman influenced them in great ways. Blake has also realized that grief can feel different depending on the age of the child - but is still just as deep.
Johnson is careful to clarify that she has no formal education in grief counseling. Her experience comes from listening to so many parents who’ve lost children.
“We need to recognize too that grief is different for every parent; it is individual for each parent, each child,” said Johnson.
For more information about the first meeting of the Parents’ Grief Support Group on Wednesday, June 5, from 7-8:30 p.m., call Pastor Kim at CPC at 218-326-8515.