Overcast   34.0F  |  Forecast »
Edit Module

Reflecting on the Metro Parent Loss Series

A Bloomfield Township mom and journalist shares her 2012 journey interviewing southeast Michigan families who have experienced the loss of a parent, child or spouse

(page 2 of 3)

Meeting more heroes

In my research for this series, I had heard a few people mention Compassionate Friends – a bereavement support group for parents who have lost a child. I visited the organization's national website and found a chapter nearby. I emailed the chapter heads and explained what I was doing. Tina Cochrane of Pontiac and Mindie Wolvin of Lake Orion emailed me back right away saying they'd be happy to see if any of the group's members would be open to sharing their stories with me.

But before we got much further, Mindie herself offered to tell hers. We arranged via email to talk by phone later in the week. I knew no details of her son, except that his name was Jake – like my nephew. I didn't know how old Jake was when he died, how long ago he had died or how he had died. When Mindie picked up the phone, my first question was thus simply to ask her to tell me about her boy. I learned he was a very likable and outgoing 16-year-old – the only child of Mindie and her husband Ken. Like Anne, Mindie was nearing the five-year anniversary of her son's death. I remember thinking it an interesting coincidence – and not the last I would experience in putting this series together.

Mindie then shared that her son had died by suicide. I was stopped in my tracks. I hadn't expected that. But Mindie set me at ease as she told me the story of Jake. She choked back sobs more than once as we talked about his last days, the compounded grief of losing her son in this way and the comfort that Compassionate Friends has provided to her. Before we hung up, Mindie invited me to attend an upcoming Compassionate Friends gathering. I was immediately interested from a research standpoint, but simultaneously hesitant. Would I be disrupting what is typically a source of comfort for a group of bereaved parents? Would my note-taking – heck, would my mere presence – inhibit their sharing? But Mindie ran it by the group ahead of time and assured me it would be OK.

I knew who Mindie was the moment I walked into the room, where the Troy/Rochester chapter of Compassionate Friends was meeting, though I had never seen her before. She had to be the woman standing up with kind eyes and a warm smile. Though strangers, we hugged. There were approximately 15 people in that room all grappling with horror. That's really the only word I can think of to describe what I would imagine is the experience of losing a child. Some had lost babies or toddlers, others teenagers, some adult children. Some had lost their child suddenly, some after a long illness, some to suicide.

I was so touched to be included in the intimacy of their sharing. But I admit I felt very much out of place. I was a reporter writing down words like "it's the worst thing you can ever imagine" in a steno pad. As much as I wanted to be there, I wanted to hightail it out of there at the same time to pull my son and daughter into a tight embrace (and keep them there forever). For, as I heard over and over again that night, you just never know.

I'd like to thank Mindie and every single person who was present that evening I sat in your presence. I know some of you came specifically because I was going to be there. I know some of you probably came despite my being there. Though I could not mention you and your children all by name, you helped to shape this story and to influence one mother (me) in a positive way. You are very brave. I wish you only the very best.

A common thread that emerged in my interviews with grieving families is the desire to create something good from something terrible. The Vachons started the Timmy Vachon Foundation. Mindie and Ken annually hold Jake's Love Fest, encouraging friends and family to commit random acts of kindness around the anniversary of their son's death. And for their part, Cliff and Tammy Patton of Clinton Township annually hold a stuffed animal drive to collect plush toys for the local children's hospital. Tammy mentioned that when her infant daughter Erin was in the hospital before she died, she was given a little stuffed animal – a tiny symbol of childhood for a girl who would have a fleeting one. Erin died at 16 days old. The little stuffed animal was likely one of the only toys this little girl would have in her short lifetime, and Tammy mentioned how she and her husband hold dear to it still 10 years later. It shaped their decision to celebrate their daughter's life each year collecting stuffed animals for other kids in the hospital. I am humbled by you!

Tamia, Casey, William & Quinn – Making their Parents Proud

For part two in the series, about children losing a parent, I knew my first stop would be a call to Sandcastles, an organization Anne Vachon had mentioned to me when we chatted. It's a grief support program for children. And so, on another Friday afternoon, I spent another few hours chatting with another very brave soul – Peggy Nielsen, Sandcastles' manager.

There are many times in my life when I realize how drastically different my professional life is from so many others in this world. I've noticed this whenever I am at a hospital surrounded by healthcare providers talking shop. I've noticed this numerous times when dropping my daughter off at preschool surrounded by toddlers talking a mile a minute. And I noticed this when talking to Peggy about what her workday looks like. Peggy goes to work every day to help kids who have suffered the biggest loss of their lives. She gets up, puts on her game face and helps families put the pieces back together. Peggy – we are better for people like you and your staff.

Old to new | New to old
Jun 28, 2012 11:22 am
 Posted by  lhettinger

Jacquie, I really appreciate this series. I lost my oldest sister when I was in high school. To this day I don't know how my mother and father carried on with their lives and managed to continue to raise two other daughters. My mother will forever be my hero for her amazing heart and strength. I hope that one day I can be as great of a mother as she is to me and my sister. Thanks again.

-Lesley H.

Jul 7, 2012 12:29 pm
 Posted by  Judi

I am Casey's aunt,I spent the entire 4 years and 6 months of Carole's cancer firsthand from May 2005 until her death on Halloween in 2009. Carole did not want to die , she was so brave in her fight but it was Greg's idea to leave all those messages to Casey because as you said it took all she had. But the two of them together, articulate and always prepared, worked on this together because my brother Greg had the biggest burden of all. Not only was he losing his wife he was left all alone to raise a child. How could this burden get any heavier? This would of changed the article if you had known this. But they are moving forward and Casey IS going to be something one day, I am sure. We both worked together with the relay for life 2012 Woodhaven where Casey was named Youth Chairman, on the committee. We will be there again next year, in honor of Carole, my sister in law and Casey's mom.

Jul 9, 2012 01:44 pm
 Posted by  Jacquie

Thanks Judi for your comment! I can't even begin to imagine how hard it was for Greg to see Carole battle for more than four years with cancer and then to face raising Casey alone. Thank you for clarifying that it was Greg who initiated the idea for Carole to record messages for her daughter. When I spoke with Casey, I sensed how much those recordings meant to her. Casey mentioned several times that she considers herself "the girl with many mothers." She talked at length about her many aunts and the support they have offered her. She also mentioned her role in the Relay for Life. She no doubt will go far in life! :)

Jul 12, 2012 12:11 am
 Posted by  ljgri33

Thank you Jacquie for this series. My husband died suddenly 3 years ago, leaving me a widow and our daughter fatherless. Life has not been easy by any means, but thankfully, my daughter & I participate in the Sandcastles Program - we would not have made it through without their support and understanding. We've also made some great new friends there. Unfortunately there are many people who understand & know what we are going through, and they don't judge us (as family members & friends sometimes do judge, and think that it is time for us to "move on") - this is not a club anyone really wants to "join", but I'm thankful that my daughter & I have others to commiserate with. Thank you again.

~Lori

Jul 19, 2012 12:20 pm
 Posted by  Jacquie

Hi Lori,

Thanks so much for your comment. I am so sorry for your and your daughter's loss. I am very pleased to hear that you found Sandcastles! So many times when talking to people during this series, I heard them say how some family and friends think it is time for them to move on. It has ended some friendships in a few cases. Thank God for Sandcastles, Ele's Place, Compassionate Friends and family and friends who let those in grief grieve for as long as they need to.

All the best to you and your daughter!
Jacquie

Add your comment:
Edit Module
Edit Module
Advertisement
Edit Module

More »Latest Articles & Blog Posts

Hanukkah Crafts for Kids: Holiday Picture Frame

Hanukkah Crafts for Kids: Holiday Picture Frame

If you're celebrating the holiday and looking for quick and easy crafts for kids, this fun and affordable little keepsake is a great way to display family memories.

Dad Gets Unexpected Reaction to Terrible Christmas Gifts

Dad Gets Unexpected Reaction to Terrible Christmas Gifts

British dad pranks his kids with bad Christmas presents, but didn't get the reaction he was expecting – and it's pretty sweet.

Simple Holiday Family Crafts to Make with On-Hand Material

Simple Holiday Family Crafts to Make with On-Hand Material

Does your family have paper cups, Legos, plastic spoons or toilet-paper rolls lying around? Transform them into angels, snowmen and even a chimney for Santa!

Bath Time Safety Tips for Babies and Toddlers

Bath Time Safety Tips for Babies and Toddlers

What's the best way to bathe your child? How can you keep them safe in the tub? A pediatric doctor at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit has tips.

Snowman Dessert Recipes: Tasty and Cute Ideas

Snowman Dessert Recipes: Tasty and Cute Ideas

Who doesn't love Frosty the Snowman? Kids will enjoy making – and eating! – some of these adorable and delicious snowman recipes.

Holiday Stamping Favorite Supplies from Stampin' Up

Holiday Stamping Favorite Supplies from Stampin' Up

Crafty company Stampin' Up offers a variety of fun stampers, punches and paper that transform into cool gift tags, cards and other fun DIY projects.

British Mom Sells Breast Milk to Pay for Christmas Gifts

British Mom Sells Breast Milk to Pay for Christmas Gifts

A mom of four from Manchester, England gets $20 for a bottle of her breast milk, which she sells online, reportedly to buy her kids presents for the holidays.

Edit Module
Advertisement
Edit Module
Advertisement
Edit Module
Advertisement