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Compassionate Friends start local chapter

When a child dies, support is critical to the family seeking to survive the grief that accompanies the death of that child. The Compassionate Friends, a national self-help bereavement organization for families that have experienced the death of a child, helps fulfill that need through its more than 600 U.S. chapters that provide friendship, understanding and hope to parents, siblings and grandparents coping with just such a loss. ’Families are never prepared for the agony they will face when their child dies,’ says Brent Taylor, chapter leader and mother of Justin Peeples who died in a car accident in September 2011. ‘A support organization like ours allows family members to discuss their grief with others who truly understand much of what they’re feeling. Sharing their grief and subsequent struggles to cope after the child has died allows survivors to start the long process toward healing. We’ve been blessed with very generous donations, monetary and non-monetary, that have provided us the opportunity to get our chapter going.’ The decision to start a local chapter was made among three parents who were in search of a support group to deal with the death of a child. Clay and Debbie Woerner and Brent Taylor ‘“ all of Pike County ‘“ visited a Compassionate Friends chapter meeting in Byron in February.   ’Immediately, we all knew our area needed a support group like this,’ said Debbie Woerner. By March, the three had recruited a 12-member steering committee that included bereaved parents and siblings. TCF committee members include chapter leader Brent Taylor, treasurer Debbie Woerner, secretary Audra Huffstetler, assistant secretary Anna York, assistant secretary Melissa Smith, publicity director Shea Hatchett, librarian Kim Bishop, hospitality director Lisa Brown and community involvement members Clay Woerner, Allen Brown, Kent Bishop and Jordan Peeples. The goal of TCF is to reach out to all surrounding counties including Spalding, Lamar, Butts, Pike, Upson, Meriwether, Fayette and Henry to provide support for parents, grandparents, siblings and other family members who are devastated by the loss of a child. In the near future, TCF also plans to provide a Siblings Only support group that will meet the same night and time as regular meetings. ’The Compassionate Friends support has helped us by being able to talk with others who share our unique grief. If only we had a group like this when we lost Eli, we could have reached out for guidance. Most people don’t plan for their child to die, so even having support to make funeral arrangements from someone who understands would have helped us initially,’ said Kent and Kim Bishop who lost their son in June 2011. ‘It’s our hope to get the information about this group out there so parents and families know we’re here and available to help and support them during their greatest time of need and later when no one else is around.’ While self-help organizations such as The Compassionate Friends can help families who experience the death of a child, Taylor and other members of the local chapter acknowledge that community support remains extremely critical. She suggests these tips to help the family. ’¢Â Don’t try to find magic words that will take away the pain. There aren’t any. ’¢Â Don’t be afraid to cry with the family. Tears are a healthy release. ’¢Â Avoid saying, ‘I know how you feel.’ Unless you’ve had a child who has died, you don’t. ’¢Â Don’t use platitudes like ‘everything happens for a reason.’ ’¢ Don’t be afraid to say the child’s name, whether now or down the road. Bereaved parents like to know that their child is still being remembered. ’¢ Be there, run errands, do household chores, watch children and whatever else is needed. ’¢ Give support to surviving children as they are hurt, confused and often ignored. Don’t assume they are not hurting because they don’t express their grief. ’¢Â Remember there is no standard timetable for recovery. Grief lasts far longer than most expect. Suggestions that those grieving ‘get on with their lives’ are unfair and unrealistic.   ’These are only a few of the ways in which others can be sensitive to the needs of bereaved families,’ said Taylor. ‘The biggest thing anyone can do is to simply be there, not just when the child dies but down the road as time goes by.’ Members Allen and Lisa Brown say no one is going to go through their personal grief the same as another person. The Browns lost their daughter 15 years ago and though time has made things easier, their grief is still there. Anna York describes her experience with grief as a burn wound. ’Your wound tries to scab over on the outside, never allowing the inside to heal,’ she said. ‘You have to pull the scab off and allow the wound to heal first on the inside. Finally the wound will heal but you’ll always have a scar that doesn’t have feeling, just numbness.’ Jordan Peeples, who lost her brother almost two years ago, explains that siblings are left dealing with their grief alone because the parents are usually the ones who are affected the most from the loss. ’I miss my brother every day and I’m able to tell how I feel to other siblings who understand,’ she said. ‘I look forward to our sibling group getting started.’ Audra Huffstetler lost her brother in 2010 and will lead the siblings group.   The local Compassionate Friends chapter meets the first Monday of every month at the Center Point Church in Griffin from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tax deductible donations of any amount can help cover the cost of brochures, newsletters and other expenses to provide our support. To contact the The Compassionate Friends of Central Georgia, call Brent Taylor at 678-972-9352 or email cfofcentralga@gmail.com. The mailing address is P.O. Box 2453, Griffin, 30224. The group can also be found on Facebook at Compassionate Friends of Central GA and on their website at cfofcentralga.com. For information about other TCF locations in all 50 United States, call toll-free 877-969-0010 or visit TCF’s national website at compassionatefriends.org.

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