Original steering committee members include (l-r) Lisa Brown, Kim Bishop, Jordan Peeples, Brent Taylor, Debbie Woerner, Shea Hatchett (back row l-r) Anna York, Allen Brown, Kent Bishop, Audra Huffstetler and Clay Woerner.
The Compassionate Friends chapter of Central GA is a support system for local residents who have lost a child, brother, sister or other relative at any age. They meet on the first Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at Center Point Church in Griffin.
Local chapter leaders Debbie and Clay Woerner lost their son Jacob in October 2012 when he was only 13 years old.
“Compassionate Friends is unique in that it is specifically for parents, siblings or grandparents who have suffered the untimely loss of a child. While nothing will take away our pain, meeting monthly with others has helped us find a new normal,” said Clay. “We cry, love, laugh and talk though our feelings, experiences and fears together. We have members in various stages of this journey. They are a new foster family that we have joined and we gain new members all the time. Some come in for a few months and move along and our hope is that everyone who attends will gain some strength, sense of sanity and hope as they move forward.”
The local chapter was started in March 2013 to help families who have experienced a loss that not many can understand.
“There is some type of special connection you feel with others that have suffered the same loss. It is comforting to know that you are not alone in your struggle and that others are walking through your pain, experiencing similar ups and downs which are part of healing. We all need support as we learn to live after the loss of our child,” said Debbie. “There are other groups that meet in our area for grief counseling/self-help groups, but none of these are specific to the loss of a child.”
Anna York has been a board member for Compassionate Friends since the local chapter started. She and her husband lost their daughter Deanna York on July 14, 2008 when she was 18.
“When we meet, we can spill our hearts without being judged. We all know the same pain and we’ve walked the same path. There is a healing that comes with being with others who ‘know.’ We can share thoughts and stages of grief that we cannot share with anyone else,” said Anna. “Many people suffer loss throughout their lives, but it helps to heal when you can be with others who have suffered the same type of loss. It worries me that so many parents suffer alone, at home by themselves, when they could come and be a part of this wonderful family. They should plan to come to at least three consecutive meetings before deciding whether to continue or not. I believe they will leave changed for the better.”
Allen and Lisa Brown also lost their daughter - Kimberley - in an automobile accident on May 20, 1998 when she was 17 years old. It’s been 19 years since her death and the Browns feel led to help others through the grief of losing a child.
“It is our deep conviction to help those who have lost children know that they are not alone,” said Lisa. “The Compassionate Friends group provides an opportunity to convey that message. We offer our journey to others with a message of hope. We often note there is and was more love to give when Kimberley passed. That means we share that love with nieces and nephews and other special ones who come our way. Just because we don’t have a child, doesn’t mean we stop loving children. We hope we can provide encouragement and perspective to those who have experienced the unimaginable loss.”
Kim and Kent Bishop lost their oldest son Eli to a car accident on June 20, 2011 and attended other groups before joining The Compassionate Friends.
“Losing a child is vastly different than any other grief loss. We were struggling to make sense of it all. We were struggling to survive this loss and although hesitant, we agreed to meet with Brent Taylor and the others to form the steering committee,” said Kim. “We barely managed getting through that first year of his birthday, holidays and death anniversary. I believe if this group had been around then that first year would have been a little easier. We could have leaned on the others for guidance and support. Having other parents to share your daily struggles with who truly understand what your going through is a blessing. No one wants to be in this family, but I am extremely grateful they are here. I love that The Compassionate Friends has events to honor all our children gone to soon like our Butterfly Walk and Candle Lighting ceremony. I can’t express how deeply I miss my son everyday. But I am thankful for all my TCF family who have helped me and my family find our ‘new’ normal.”
Brent Taylor was the original local chapter leader and now she serves as the secretary for the Compassionate Friends of Central Georgia. She helped form the local chapter 18 months after she lost her son Justin Peeples on Sept. 5, 2011 to a car wreck.
“Being part of this group has given me hope and a place to fit in with others who understand exactly what I am going through. My journey is now 5 and a half years in and I don’t know how I survived the first 18 months without having a place to go and express how I was feeling,” said Brent. “The other way this group has helped me in my journey is knowing I have helped so many other parents and families along their journey. I have a strong belief that God wants us to use our trials in life to aid others. I really don’t want anyone to be a member of our group, but if they need us, we will be here for them. Getting through holidays, birthdays and death anniversaries (angelversaries) can be so hard no matter how far along you are on your journey, but having our group can help. I think people should know that we don’t sit around and cry in our group. In fact, we laugh a lot. It’s not a group of mourners, but a group of praises and support.”