The Legacy Group was formed with the help of the CAMC Family Resource Center to provide an avenue of support for parents grieving the death of a child. Since its inception two years ago, the group has helped many parents through the grief and trauma of losing a child. Four of those parents came together in their collective grief to share their experiences with others experiencing the same kind of loss.
James, Kate, Peg and Mary each brought with them the heartbreaking experience of losing a child. When they joined the group, they were searching for a source of comfort and hope – a safe place where they could share and cope in the company of others who could understand what they were experiencing.
“If you get in a group of people who are supportive…you share, you see people’s pain, and you watch them as they go on,” Peg said. “It does let you know that you don’t walk this alone. They understand on another level.”
The group’s facilitators included Denise Burgess, RN, licensed counselor; Kelly Gilbert, director of the CAMC Family Resource Center; Debora Mattingly, a licensed physical therapist who also specializes in trauma sensitive yoga; and Jenee Walker, MD, psychiatrist and medical director of the CAMC Family Resource Center. Together, these women created a space for grieving parents to find healing.
“The goal was to normalize the grief process and to help these families see that expressing their grief was a sign of strength, not weakness,” Walker said.
In the beginning, 11 parents were invited to participate. During their monthly meetings, session topics were chosen by the parents based on their experiences. This enabled them to create and direct the group’s course in a way that was most helpful to them.
Each session began and ended with trauma-sensitive yoga led by Mattingly. “Grief is most certainly a form of trauma, and the goal is help these parents to be mindful and present in the beginning, and then to release at the end of each session,” she said.
Participants were asked to journal about a variety of topics, ranging from coping with holidays and anniversary dates, to regrets and guilt. Together and in writing, they explored how their children’s deaths affected other relationships in their lives, coping mechanisms, dealing with people’s comments, and how to keep the memory of their children alive, among other topics.
Their journal entries built what is now a published work. The book is structured around main themes that emerged from their sessions, and includes pictures, drawings, poems and other personal effects from the lives of the children they lost.
Deeply personal, “Love with no place to go” provides a small glimpse into the lives and minds of parents coping with the most unbearable loss. It offers a stark account of what it is like to lose a child, the ways it forever alters the lives of those who remain, and most importantly, how to find hope and live again.
“Just as we give ourselves permission emotionally to grieve, we must give ourselves permission to heal and live,” Dr. Walker said. “Life does not end with the death of a cherished child. Our mandate is to carry their light forward shining throughout our lives as they live forever in our hearts.”
By sharing their experiences, these four parents shine a light on grief, guilt and regret, and how these feelings are inevitable parts of any healing journey. They share their vulnerability and wisdom through personal stories and explore their own thoughts and feelings with unabashed honesty.
“I want [readers] to strive to connect with your loved ones if you aren’t yet. Do not hold back hugging, kissing and saying, ‘I love you,’” Mary said. “[Losing a child] has made me realize that there is nothing more important than prioritizing your loved ones.”
“Now I try to learn from this great sorrow I will always have,” Kate said of the loss of her daughter. “I try to be there for other people who are struggling with the same grief – to let them know they are not alone, and whatever they feel is legit[imate]. Their world will never be the same, but they can survive.”
Kate’s sentiment epitomizes the goal of the book’s publication: to provide a voice of comfort and wisdom to those struggling with the devastating loss of a child from people who have lived – and survived – it.
“I would like to see [the book] offer some hope to those who may be in deep despair over their own personal loss,” James said. “[I hope] it shows them that one day they will be able to go on with their lives, once again find ways to have joy and learn to celebrate the life of their lost loved one.”
“This is a most devastating loss, and no words can provide any comfort to a grieving parent,” Mary said. “The only thing that helps is knowing that you are not alone, and knowing that there are others out there who have been through what you are going through, and have come out of it profoundly changed, with more empathy and open-mindedness, and with a better understanding of the complexities of the human condition.”
The book ends with a quote from the facilitators: “Although a team of medical professionals may have conceived and facilitated the Legacy Group, we were merely on the sidelines witnessing the vulnerability and immeasurable courage shared by the parents.”
“Few things in my career have touched me the way the involvement with the Legacy Group has done,” Burgess said. “Month after month, I was in awe of their courage and resiliency – their willingness to be so transparent so others may benefit from their experiences.”
“Even if you haven’t experienced this kind of loss, I recommend this book because you can gain insight from the words of these parents about what to say and do, and how to support someone who may be going through something similar,” Mattingly said. “These are the bravest human beings I know, and I’m so honored to have been part of this.”
Published through a generous grant from the CAMC Foundation, “Love with no place to go” is available on Amazon in both hard copy and Kindle versions. Proceeds from the book will benefit the CAMC Foundation.
“As one person gains healing and knowledge, they in turn share it with others. Consequently, you have community that learns to spread hope instead of despair – thus the name for the Legacy Group,” Walker said. “May their children’s legacies live on.”