Saturday, December 12, 2009



"The Compassionate Friends is about transforming the pain of grief into the elixir of hope. It takes people out of the isolation society imposes on the bereaved and lets them express their grief naturally. With the shedding of tears, healing comes. And the newly bereaved get to see people who have survived and are learning to live and love again.”

—Simon Stephens, founder of The Compassionate Friends

The Compassionate Friends groups have chapters around the world. People come together monthly to share their pain of loss secondary to the loss of a child; some stillbirth, some hours old. Parents, grandparents; brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles. Some are drug there by the insistence of others and some come as neighbors and friends of friends of friends.... all appear to be hoping for one thing that will help them make sense of the tragedy of loss, and ease their pain and sorrow.  And they come; some as a result of murder of an adult child; others because of suicide, others because their child over-dosed and they didn't even know their child had a problem. Some even come because of murder-suicide, tragic car wrecks, motorcycle accidents, gunshot, stabbing, hospital errors, infant deaths, you name it; it happens to our children.  There stories are many; sometimes downright brutal to hear for those around the table. Each loss the worse loss because it belongs to the person telling it.
They bring pictures of their kids, some infants; some grown-ups ~~~ the universal thread runs red. They are tied together this group, they are a sacred society that find comfort in each other because it is here that they can talk; they can share the pain of loss without judgment or censure. They are the "compassionate friends". They are comfortable with each other; they understand each other. It is together that they feel comfortable and safe. No one else really understands the depth of their pain nor will tolerate listening in the same way it seems. They are gentle with each other, but at times can confront each other when it seems necessary. They are a secret society in a society that does not like to deal with grief much less grief of a child. And this group cries and they laugh; they talk about their work and their families and plans for holidays as well as their pain of loss. But they are are also focused on the grief and trying to understand and make sense of their feelings and emotions.

On December 13 they will gather for this annual event with friends; family and each other for a most sacred and special evening. Many chapters will have a potluck dinner along with the program that evening. Together they will break bread before the ceremony begins. You will hear sounds of laughter as they share with each other; they will tell stories of their children, update each other on current events. Some will even talk about the last year and how their lives have changed since the last candle lighting ceremony. And in the background there will be smooth jazz performed by a gifted musician named Paul, who has volunteered for the 4th year and has driven 1 1/2 hours to be at New Port Richie Florida to play for this event.  People will greet each other with warm hugs, and be genuinely happy to see each other. There will be tears and krumpled kleeenex in pockets, tightly held in fists and on the table tops. And there will be the newcomers; you can spot them right away, they are not so sure what to do with themselves at first, eyes darting to and fro, looking a bit unsteady... but then magic seems to happen. Someone from the chapter sees them and approaches at about the same time the steering committee members see them and the next thing you know they are taken into the fold; arms are extended and they are meeting, talking; tension is gone and new friendships are forged, and they are being introduced around.  People have programs in their hands, children are running around, others have candles in their hands.  They begin to settle in their chairs.  Paul is playing that sax; folks are visiting, the kids' photos are on lapel pins being worn proudly in remembrance along with their framed  pictures on the tables... It is quite a powerful gathering, quite a "Donelewega" (Cherokee word for greater circle of healing).

The program begins all over the world! Jean Limongello is the chapter leader at New Port Richie in Florida. She takes the stage; her son Duke was murdered in Vegas a few years back, (quite a handsome fellow he was). She will introduce The Compassionate Friends and some folks, then begin the program. At some point a power point slide show of the children will begin with soft music in the background. Pictures will flash on the screen... many pictures and people will stare at that screen with wide eyed anticipation waiting to see that familiar and longed for face one more time if only for a few seconds.

There will be readings by people; they are beautiful, they are healing; and people listen, they absorb them into their nervous system seeking mind-body-soul connection. Looking for that one statement, that one moment that will help them on the journey with their own peace.  These are a room of survivors, but sometimes they just need that moment of validation to help it all come together. That is understandable. We don't know what we don't know...

And then it will be 7:00 pm and it is time to light the candles around the world. Table by table folks will stand and move toward the front of the room where three candles have been lit. They will individually come to the front of the room and light their candle from the main candle and if they want they can say the name of their loved one out loud or to themselves ( I call that spirit talk). Then they return to their seat with their lit candle. This goes on until all have returned to their seats with lit candles.

Afterwards, I will take to the stage to speak to these loving people who have just spirit talked to the children as they remember them. I have decided to speak to them about "Visions of Hope Through Heartaches Into Light" this year. As we light our candles remembering the children, we are challenged to to enhance hope through our heartaches. I hope that through the light of the candles we can see our heartache as healing, as strengthening our resolve to choose to re-invest in living while incorporating our loss into the rich fabric of life. After all, what would our children want for us this holiday season? To be paralyzed by grief or to feel the blessings that love and the connection to them has given us to hold as ours forever... And for that I give thanks, And So IT IS!

IF you cannot attend a chapter event of The Compassionate Friends meeting on December 13, please take the time to
light a candle
 join with us in
wherever you are.

Walk In Beauty

author of Healing Heartaches, Stories of Loss and Life


Irene said...

A light will shine bright in my home for
the children, at 7 PM
A somber event, prayers to all who attend

Anonymous said...

Every candle lit reflects the light of an angel in the universe. Prayers for each of the parents, siblings and loved ones. May the holiday season be filled with many lights.
Blessings. I too will light a candle to remember all the children and those they have left behind.