The grief over the loss of a child can be especially acute during the holidays, and one Charlotte organization has provided support for parents, grandparents, and siblings for many years.
The Charlotte Chapter of The Compassionate Friends, an international organization founded 40 years ago, holds monthly discussion meetings and two large annual events to help families process their grief and remember children who have died.
“We all understand each other’s feelings,” said Kathy Holder, a volunteer with The Compassionate Friends’ Charlotte Chapter.
The organization was founded by a hospital chaplain in England after he saw how grieving parents could provide more support to each other than he could to them. It was established in the U.S. in 1978.
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Between 25 and 30 people gather each month at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Ballantyne to talk for several hours about issues related to their grief over the death of a child, Holder said.
The Compassionate Friends Charlotte Chapter sees new faces every month, Holder said. Some sit quietly and listen, while others share advice about how to manage grief or talk about their loved one.
“We take turns speaking, and if they don’t want to talk, they don’t have to talk,” Holder said. “A lot of people want to express their feelings.”
Discussions can last between two and three hours. During the holidays, which can be especially hard for families after a child has died, leaders make sure that the group talks about ways to cope with grief specifically during the season.
Each December, The Compassionate Friends also holds a candle lighting service at St. Matthew that can draw several hundred people, said Holder, who describes it as an “intensely moving experience.” This year’s service, which was held in conjunction with similar candle-lighting events all over the world, was in early December.
Children’s names are read aloud, and each person lights a candle in memory of their loved one who died. People also are invited to share memories of their children.
Holder said that the candle light signifies love for the child. “It never dies, and their light will always shine for them,” she said.
The group meets for a potluck at the church after the service; Holder said many friendships have formed between grieving families. The Compassionate Friends Charlotte Chapter also gets together for social events, such as an annual backyard barbecue, outside of its monthly meetings.
In the late spring, the group gathers again to write messages to the children who have died and tie them to balloons, which are released.
“It’s just a message in memory of our children who are missing,” Holder said. “We’re sending them notes and hopefully they will know that we are thinking about them.
“Their memory is never gone.”
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Compassion Friends Charlotte Chapter meets 7 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month a in room 324-325 of St. Matthew Catholic Church, 8015 Ballantyne Commons Parkway, Charlotte. The meetings are free and open to all ages of family members grieving a child who has died.
For information, email email@example.com or call 704-315-6913.
Coping with grief
For families who have lost children, here is advice from The Compassionate Friends on how to handle the holidays.
1) Acknowledge and accept your feelings, such as sadness and loneliness, but don’t feel as if you are betraying your child if you are able to enjoy some holiday festivities.
2) If you feel overwhelmed with holiday preparations, talk to your family about what is important and how you can share or eliminate tasks. What traditions and meaningful and should be continued? Which ones are too painful to keep right now? Should you begin new traditions?
3) Don’t set unrealistic expectations for being joyful during the holidays or overextend yourself. You may have to slow down and be careful not to get fatigued, which can lead to feelings of depression.
4) If your faith is important to you, take time to express it during the holidays. You may also want to talk to a clergy person at your house of faith.
5) Remember that your lives have changed, and the holidays will be different. Do what is comfortable for you and your family.