The Sun News

Group offers bonding to deal with deaths of children

Karla Chidester
Karla Chidester

The Compassionate Friends of Middle Georgia is a group of parents, grandparents, siblings and others who help one another deal with the grief of losing a child.

Residence: Byron

Leader: The Compassionate Friends of Middle Georgia

Q: What is The Compassionate Friends?

A: It’s a group of parents, grandparents, siblings and others who offer support to one another at the beginning of their grief journey until … well, it’s people and families supporting one another after a child dies.

Q: You said until and left it. Is there an “until?”

A: No. I guess there’s not really because grief from the loss of a child — whether it’s through miscarriage, or for some an abortion, others an infant dying just days old and for others teenage or adult children — there’s no end to the grief. It’s with you until your last breath. But there are ways, healthy ways, to get through it in its different phases. The Compassionate Friends help. We are there no matter what the situation. Sometimes aspects of a child’s death can be very hard, maybe even embarrassing, like in the case of suicide. Our goal is always to be compassionate and never judgmental, always there with understanding and a safe place to be real and talk.

Q: You’re speaking from experience?

A: When I was 16 weeks pregnant, my baby was diagnosed with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia, basically a hole in his diaphragm under the lungs that let abdominal organs push into his chest. I was hospitalized in Augusta from Feb 28, 1990, to April 7, 1990, and he— Mickey Stewart —was born April 5. He had surgery April 6 and they said if he survived 48 hours he’d have a chance, but he didn’t.

Q: I’m sorry.

A: It was devastating, of course. I had an aunt and uncle who had lost their daughter, my cousin, and they told me about the Middle Georgia chapter of Compassionate Friends. Back then it met in Warner Robins. I attended my first meeting in July. I’ve been involved ever since except for a period when I couldn’t attend because of work with the Cancer Society. What kept me going early on to TCF and what drew me back was the love and understanding I found there; the truly compassionate friends I made there who helped see me through a lot of things, not just the death of my baby but a lot of the things that may come from it and the grief and hardships that follow.

Q: You said it met in Warner Robins then, when and where does it meet now?

A: The fourth Thursday at Byron United Methodist Church from 7 to 9 p.m. That’s at 103 W. Heritage Blvd. just off Main Street near the Byron Municipal Complex. Our chapter has just started another meeting at a second location on the second Monday of each month. It’s also from 7 to 9 p.m. but it meets in Macon at CrossLife Church at 3768 Eisenhower Parkway. We have members coming to our chapter from all over Middle Georgia, some traveling to Byron from Milledgeville and other spots, so the new meeting gives the chance for a closer meeting for them plus it gives the chance for someone in the area who missed a meeting to make it to one.

Q: How do people get involved coming? Just walk in? Contact you ahead of time? Friends bring friends?

A: Any of those. Most often someone calls, but not always. A call gives both of us a chance to talk and start understanding things. Everyone at meetings has the opportunity to share, but no one has to. People are in different places and it’s OK wherever you’re at. There’s nothing like being with people who are aware of what you’re going through. No one needs to walk alone through their grief.

Q: How are you contacted?

A: Our national website is www.compassionatefriends.org and there’s a chapter locator so anyone can find a group wherever they are. Locally, can call me at 478-954-4592. I lead the Byron and Macon meetings along with co-leaders Sully and Melva Sullivent. We’re the TCF Southern Georgia Regional Coordinators. That’s basically Griffin south. The Middle Georgia chapter is actually one of the oldest in the country.

Q: What are meetings like?

A: Sometimes we have special speakers, but mostly we just meet, usually sitting in a circle, and people have the opportunity to say something about their child, their death, what they’re going through, what they’re experiencing. Again, nothing is mandatory, we all handle grief differently and some may not want to talk for a while. I was able to share my own story soon after my loss but it probably took me 10 years before I could go to a baby shower. The second hour we shift toward hope because there is hope. We’re there to walk through grief and sadness, yes, but just as important we’re there to help remember and be joyful about our child’s life. That’s very, very important to remember the good things and help each other celebrate and hold on to our children that way. It may look different for someone who had a miscarriage or an infant die than an older child pass away, but we work through it all. There can be the what-ifs to deal with rather than remembering what was.

Q: So hope is key?

A: Life continues. Sometimes that seems like a curse and a blessing, but it is a blessing and together we have a better understanding of that. Life going on brings healing and hope. Years later I became pregnant again in my 40s. It was really scary but delightful. My TCF helped me during that time too and now I have Kenneth Michael Chidester in my life. But Mickey isn’t forgotten and never will be. Neither will the friends who helped me walk through my loss or the ones I’ve been blessed to be able to share a part in their journey.

Q: So TCF is specifically concerned with the loss of a child, not a parent, spouse or other close person, but is it just for the immediate parent, grandparent, step-parent or similar?

A: We’re not strict. It’s for siblings and sometimes a cousin is as close as a brother or a sister is. It’s for them, too. A neighbor may read this and tell a friend and be the one to connect them and come with them to a meetings for a while. That can be such a big, big help to them. I will say our meetings are about very personal things and what’s shared is private. There’s always the understanding that what people say is confidential among us. Social media has become very helpful to us in recent years and we have a number of private chat rooms and whatnot, but still there’s nothing like personal touch.

Q: What are a couple of helpful thoughts for someone talking to a friend or relative who’s lost a child?

A: It can be awkward, so just deal with it and be there for them. But don’t feel like you have to jabber nervously — it’s OK to be quiet, just be there quietly. Don’t say, “Whatever I can do for you, just let me know.” They don’t know and it’s hard to ask. Say, “I’m bringing a meal.” Say, “I’m picking you up for lunch Tuesday.” Be observant and help with something they need. And remember, there’s a lot of attention at the funeral, but what about a week later? A month? Six months? It’s important to be there for them then. You can be that friend. And tell them about us.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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