Although no parent should have to bury a child, sometimes they have to do it anyway. When they do, there are groups with whom they can share their experience, one of which meets at the Woltz Hospice Home in Dobson from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month.
Christi Cowden, one of the organizers of Mother and Father Knows Best, describes it as, “a safe place to be. We learn from each other. You can experience joy again, and that’s OK.”
“You show me that I’ll survive,” agrees fellow organizer Karen Sanders, “because you did, I know that I can.”
“It’s a place where people are willing to talk, to share,” continued Angela Schmoll, who also aided in starting the group.
Although Mother and Father Knows Best is a group for bereaved parents in Surry County, no one who has a lost a child of any age or in any circumstance is turned away, and those in the Tri-County area are encouraged to participate. One member, whose son lived and died in Surry County, comes from Pearisburg, Virginia, to the meeting when she is in the area visiting family.
The group was founded a year ago after the need was made obvious to suffering parents Cowden, Schmoll and Sanders. “Losing a child is a totally different kind of loss. It’s the most difficult. You have lost all the future of that person. (The siblings) have lost their shared memories,” explained Schmoll.
“Watching other people’s kids going to prom, achieving those milestones,” can renew the pain of a parent’s loss, according to Cowden.
Schmoll, after losing her 23-year-old son, Ethan, started the Facebook group The Lost Children of Surry County (www.facebook.com/groups/1378201752437965/). Ethan had been lost to the family for a year before dying of a drug overdose due to his addiction to cough syrup, making this the fourth holiday without him. Schmoll, a former journalist and editor at local newspapers, already had been blogging about her loss when a friend recommended she start an online support group. “It helped me get direction,” claimed Schmoll, “and that was what I needed.”
Cowden is a medical social worker with Mountain Valley Hospice who lost her 15-year-old son, Tom, to brain cancer four and a half years ago. Although Tom had been a healthy child, the family found that “going through the whole process of treatment was exhausting. It was just mind blowing for us,” stated Cowden.
After losing their son, they went to grief counseling, but found peer counseling more helpful. Cowden, who had been good friends with Sanders, previously said, “That friendship helped immensely; to know that you were not alone, to know that they had been through what you were going through. It’s OK. As a social worker I worked with bereaved parents, but it’s different when you go through it yourself.”
Sanders is also a medical social worker with Mountain Valley Hospice who specialized in caring for children dealing with illness and loss. Her daughter, Olivia, was born with a rare brain disorder that causes seizures. Two years before she died, her seizures were so extreme they began to affect her brain stem. In 2006, she had to choose between home health care or hospice care, though now a patient can receive both at the same time. Because of Olivia’s needs, she attended class at the Children’s Center in Winston-Salem where three of her classmates died within the same year as Olivia. The last three months of Olivia’s life Sanders opted to use hospice services. “She died in my arms,” said Sanders. The year after Olivia died, Sanders started working in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
“Until last year I was the go-to person when a family lost children around here or in Winston-Salem,” explained Sanders, who had looked into starting a chapter of Compassionate Friends, a national bereavement support group for parents, but found that doing so was “a complicated process.”
“We knew we needed a place for people to know they’re not alone,” said Sanders, “a place where you can say anything you want and not be afraid of being judged and know people who understand.”
Schmoll’s mother was a volunteer for hospice who helped the ladies connect to create Mother and Father Knows Best for Mountain Valley Hospice, where parents can share their experience whether they have just lost a child, or it has been decades since their child died.
For the December meeting of Mother and Father Knows Best, participants will be bringing stocking stuffers for the teens and tweens of the Children’s Center of Surry, a long-term foster care home. By helping kids who have no parents in their lives, these parents who have lost children hope to create an environment of mutual healing.
Robin Testerman of the Children’s Center said, “Christmas is a difficult time for our children living at the center. They have lost parents, family members, their own holiday traditions and often have a sense of hopelessness and loneliness. The beauty of Christmas is having this wonderful group of parents that have lost a child take their grief and hurt, and give to our children in their time of need. Words alone cannot express our gratitude. This is truly the spirit of Christmas.”
By helping kids who have no parents in their lives, these parents who have lost children hope to create an environment of mutual healing.
Beanie Taylor can be reached at 336-258-4058 or on Twitter @TBeanieTaylor.