Support group provides care, comfort during holidays and rest of year
ALPENA — The loss of a child may hurt forever, but the support of others who have felt the same grief can make the walk less lonely.
Parents surrounded by the merriment of a holiday season may struggle more than ever to grapple with the hole left when a child dies, said Karen McCormick, who helps coordinate activities for Remembering Our Children, a grief support group for parents.
Members of the group on Sunday gathered to light candles, share stories, and say their children’s names.
Those names are precious, said McCormick, whose daughter, Clare, died 20 years ago after she was struck by a driver while walking with a friend on a dark road.
Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children, but they do, and support groups like Remembering Our Children exist to help those parents carry their burden, McCormick said.
“You feel alone in your grief,” she said. “But then you realize you’re not.”
The support group got its start in 2005 when several members of a bereavement group, all parents who had lost children, reached the end of a six-week program.
“We all just looked at each other and said, ‘What do we do now?'” McCormick said as support group members began to arrive for Sunday’s event.
Along with its almost-monthly meetings, the group participates in several larger events, including an annual, world-wide ceremony at which parents across the globe light candles in honor of their children at 7 p.m. in their own time zone, creating a wave of light, McCormick explained.
Members come to the group carrying all kinds of loss, from those reeling from the death of a school-aged child to parents who have had to bury their 50-something children.
Christmas can be extra hard, especially to parents new to their loss, McCormick said.
When their daughter died, she and her family fled from traditions that rubbed at their raw wound, opting for frozen pizza instead of a festive celebration of the holiday, she said.
Two decades later, she still thinks about, misses, and mourns her daughter, visiting her grave at an Alpena cemetery and leaving tokens of the family’s love.
With time, she learned to be happy again, the mother said.
Her daughter’s friends stay in touch, and, though watching them move through marriages, childbirths, and other moments her child never experienced has been bittersweet, she appreciates the chance to hear Clare’s name and talk to people who remember the shy, bookish girl who was “a fireball, when you got to know her” and who made people laugh.
When a child dies, other people, afraid of making the parents sad, often avoid talking about the person who has died. Some parents may need that space, but, McCormick said, she wants to know her child still lives in other people’s memories.
Walk gingerly, she advised people who know a bereaved parent, but say the child’s name.
“They existed,” she said. “They were important.”
She wishes more people came to the support group, McCormick said, as the evening’s two dozen participants trickled in, talking, placing framed photos on a remembrance table, singing Christmas carols.
Maybe those who don’t come can’t talk about their children. Or maybe they don’t know other people like them are ready to help and support them, she said.
In not-too-cold night air, as the clock struck seven, the group stood in a circle, passing a flame from candle to candle. They listened, some with eyes downcast, others smiling mistily, as a group member read names of children who have died in Alpena, a bell tolling after each name.
The group has been collecting names for decades, and the list is nearly eight pages long, McCormick said.
Inside, Doloris Potrykus pointed to a photo of her son, Scott, who died at 22 in a car crash from which three others walked away.
Though the crash happened in 1988, she still thinks of him and still needs the support of others, she said.
“You learn to live with it,” Potrykus said. “But you never really get over it.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jriddleX.