Two months ago, I got a text from an out of town friend. Her 21-year-old son was dead.
What could I do? What could I say? There is nothing anyone can say to ease the pain of losing a child, no matter the age or circumstances. I could offer my support and platitudes, but I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child (thank heavens) and I could only relate so much. That’s where people like Pat Breyman and The Compassionate Friends come in.
More than 20 years ago, when Pat Breyman lost her 17 year old son Jason in a car accident, she also lost a bit of herself. She wouldn’t be spending the next several years cheering him on as he played college football. She wouldn’t get to journey with him through the milestones of adulthood such as career, marriage and fatherhood. "That was taken away from us,” says Breyman. “It’s like part of your heart is ripped out, and you need to fill it with something."
Breyman turned outward after that 1990 accident, and joined the Findlay chapter of The Compassionate Friends. The international group has more than 600 chapters(in all 50 states and more than 30 countries) and focuses on grief support after the death of a child. It’s something no one wants to think about. But in the event a tragedy occurs, The Compassionate Friends can be a safe place to grieve, vent and find solace.
The national group was founded more than 40 years ago in England when a chaplain brought together grieving parents and realized the support they offered each other. The group started in the United States in 1978, and since then has offered support to parents, siblings, grandparents and family members after the death of a child.
At the time Jason died, there was no official support group in the area. Breyman was on her own until she saw a newspaper notice in 1993 that a chapter was starting. “I needed someone to talk to,” says Breyman, now the chapter’s leader. “As a mother, you carry that child in you.Your children aren’t supposed to die before you.”
And while losing a loved one always hurts, there is a special pain with losing a child whether through stillbirth, illness or accident. Each day has its challenges, and even otherwise happy times of the year – Christmas, a birthday, Mother’s Day – bring another stark reminder that someone is missing.
“After you lose a child, you just don’t know what normal is anymore,” says Breyman. “We want to encourage people and help them to feel like they are not losing their minds. We’ve all been there, and there is help out here.”
The focus of meetings is on fellowship and talking things through, including the emotions that come with losing a child. Chapter meetings are not a therapy session, but rather a place for sharing. The group also hosts speakers, holds a memorial candlelight service in December to coincide with the holidays, and sponsors a balloon release in August.
The chapter meets from 7-8:30pm the second Thursday of each month, September through May at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 218 E. Sandusky St. For more info call Breyman at 419-894-6749.