While this group is very special, it’s one no one wants to be a part of, but once you are in it, you are there for life.
The Marion County Chapter of Compassionate Friends consists of people who have lost children. It doesn’t matter the age or manner of death; if you have lost a child, you become a member of this group.
Dottie McCallister, founder of the Compassionate Friends of Marion County, said, “People can empathize with you but unless you have gone through it you still cannot understand.”
Compassionate Friends is a support group to help parents grieve. Grief affects people differently and this group is designed to allow parents to mourn in their own way and time.
A lot of times bereaved parents want to talk about their deceased child, which can at times make others feel uncomfortable, especially if the person never has been through it. The club provides an avenue to allow the parents to share memories good and bad with others who understand and feel the same way, too.
Compassionate Friends is an international organization created by a chaplain at a hospital visiting and he saw two parents who both have recently lost their children comfort each other in a way only a bereaved parent can do. Currently there are more than 600 chapters in the United States.
Holidays are especially hard on these parents. For all parents especially newly bereaved parents there is an emptiness both physically and mentally. The support system was established to hold the family close together for the parents to lift each other up in their time of need.
One of the ways the parents and families are able to honor their child is the Worldwide Candle Lighting, which is also National Children’s Memorial Day, which is held every year on the second Sunday in December. It is done at 7 p.m. in every time zone so candles are burning across the globe for 24 hours. It is a day that is special to the families to cherish the memories of their lost child and remember the child is still near in dear in their hearts.
Locally, a gazebo has been built behind the Columbia-Marion County Library by McCallister. The candlelight ceremony is held there to allow real candles to be burned. There are also brick pavers that parents can purchase in memory of their child, which will be placed around the gazebo.
Inside the library each year at Christmas time is a tree with specially hand-painted ornaments to match the personality of the child. The ornaments and also atop of the gazebo are butterflies. The butterflies are symbolic because like a butterfly, a child’s life hasn’t ended, it only changed.
On Dec. 16 and Dec. 17 the library was severely damaged from an EF-2 tornado and large amounts of rain that followed it. However, despite the widespread damage in the library, the tree was not touched and the ornaments were all fine.
The group used to meet on the fourth Thursday at the library but are in the process of selecting another location while the library is closed for repairs.
If you would like more information, please call Carolyn McKenzie Newell at (601) 731-8218 or Sherry Broom at (601) 466-6612.