On the third Thursday of the month, a gathering of parents with the shared experience of having lost a child gather at St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Rochester. This meeting of the Troy/Rochester chapter of Compassionate Friends, held in Oakland County, typically draws anywhere from a handful of parents to sometimes more than 20. It's among five southeast Michigan branches providing support and solace to families in grieving.
A place of solace for those in grief
Compassionate Friends is a worldwide organization with the mission of assisting families toward the positive resolution of grief following the death of a child of any age – and to provide information to help others be supportive.
"I am in a comfort zone when I am here with others who get it," says Tina Cochrane of Pontiac, a leader of the Troy/Rochester chapter of Compassionate Friends and whose son, Rob, was killed in a car accident five years ago. "We can say whatever we want. No one is offended."
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After her son's death in March 2007, Mindie Wolvin of Lake Orion tried a number of different support groups, but it was in Compassionate Friends that she found a place of solace.
"It's really important to find a support group outside of your family," Wolvin explains. "Your family has lost, too. Grief is heavy. If your friends and family members haven't lost a child, it can be hard for them to understand why you're not over it. I relate to others who have lost a child. I need to be with people who get it."
Friends, family and supporters
While the majority of attendees to Compassionate Friends gatherings are parents, some are grandparents, others siblings. And while everyone who attends is welcome and encouraged to speak, many find more comfort in listening.
"I don't say a lot, but I listen," says Colleen Lucas of Macomb, who lost her son Kyle in May 2010. "The loss of a child is like a shattered statue. You have to put the pieces back together one by one, knowing that one piece will always be missing. In Compassionate Friends, I am not alone in that process."
Where to find supporters
Those attending a Compassionate Friends meeting for the first time will meet separate from the larger group so they can meet with a group leader one-on-one and share their story in a smaller, more intimate setting.
"This way, it's not so overwhelming for them," Wolvin explains. "If they feel up to later joining the larger group, I encourage them to do so.
"I tell first timers to give it three tries. Each meeting is different, so come a few times to really get a sense for the group. In the end, this is a group that no one wants to belong to, but it's a group of people who are always there when you need them."