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When a child dies, search for solace sometimes leads to support group.
When a child dies, search for solace sometimes leads to support group.

 Gloria Blake holds a candle in remembrance of her son.
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Date published: 6/26/2005


N THE YEAR after Gloria Blake's 17-year-old son died in a car accident, she thought she was going crazy.

"I needed someone to talk to who knew what I was going through," said the Caroline County woman.

Kathie Kelly said she was numb for months after her 3-year-old son, Kevin, died suddenly, collapsing from a sudden heart attack one afternoon while playing with his ball in the backyard.

"I had suicidal thoughts," Kelly admitted, even though she had a newborn baby girl to care for. "You feel like you don't have anything to live for, and you want to be with that child."

In addition to professional counseling, Kelly, Blake and dozens of area parents have found solace in a support group called The Compassionate Friends. They meet monthly to talk, to listen, to cry, and, sometimes, even to laugh. People might show up soon after a child's death, or they might come to talk about a grief they've pushed away for decades.

"Everyone's child has died differently, but we're all experiencing the same thing," said Kelly, who has headed the Fredericksburg chapter of The Compassionate Friends for the past three years and recently moved from Colonial Beach to King George. "You can get what you need to help you make it through the next month."

'Like a family'

Usually only a handful of parents gather for monthly meetings, but a newsletter goes to about 200 group members in the Fredericksburg area. They hold a yearly candlelight vigil in December, meet for picnics and other events and offer support to each other through phone and e-mail chats.

"It's like a family," said Dee Martin-Lam, whose only child, Jeff, died in 1998 at age 19 after falling asleep at the wheel en route to an early job. "I know they'll listen if I have something to say. And they won't judge me."

Like many parents, Martin-Lam dreads the approach of the anniversary of her child's death. Every June, she has a tough time as she remembers the phone call. Jeff had slammed into a guardrail and died of head injuries. She buys a fresh rose and places it in the guardrail at the crash site in Spotsylvania County. And she looks forward to talking at the group meeting about her grief.

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The Compassionate Friends meets the third Tuesday of every month at 7:30 p.m. at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 5120 Harrison Road, Fredericksburg. For more information, call 540/775-8430 or 866/900-4244 (toll free).

The Compassionate Friends national conference is scheduled for July 1-3 in Boston, with a memory walk on July 3. Those who cannot attend the event can have the name of their child carried during the walk. Visit compassionatefriends.org or memorywalk.org for more information