The death of a child, sibling or grandchild leaves a void that cannot be filled. Still, members of The Compassionate Friends try to help others cope with devastating loss.
Compassionate Friends began in England over 40 years ago. In 1972, the first United States chapter opened in South Florida. There are now 700 chapters in the U.S.
A Miami chapter began in 2003, headed by Shelly Ellis, Brenda Steele, Judith Clein, Harriet Gutter and Cindy Baum. Meetings are held on the second Thursday of each month at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest.
On Sunday, The Compassionate Friends organization will host a candlelight ceremony for bereaved parents and family members as part of its annual Worldwide Candle Lighting in remembrance of loved ones.
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Baum came to the group after losing both a son and a daughter. She said the group has given her strength and is a community she is committed to.
The Compassionate Friends help people with all kinds of losses.
“We deal with the accidents, illnesses, overdoses, suicides, homicides, short- and long-term illnesses. We cover the whole gamut of loss,” Baum said. “There is no such thing as closure. We expect to one day lose a parent, a grandparent or even a spouse, but we never expect we are going to bury our children or our grandchildren. Siblings have their special journey, too. They are often called the forgotten mourner.”
The free group is open to anyone “suffering an out of sequence loss,” Baum said.
At each meeting, members light candles to signify the light that shines remembering the lives of loved ones. The names of deceased loved ones are read aloud. A stone is used as a symbol and the person holding it has the floor to speak. Sometimes, Baum notes, people are not ready and the stone is passed on.
“We talk about the two things we cannot give them: [bringing] their loved one back and to make the pain go away fast. This is a journey, and it’s not a linear journey it’s more like a roller-coaster ride,” Baum said. “None of us are professional therapists, grief counselors, or social workers. All of us attending those meetings are either a bereaved parent, grandparent or a sibling.”
Lisa Sturgill, who lost her son, has been attending the meetings for over three years. She said the meetings are a blessing and a source of strength.
“They’ve given me an opportunity to meet with others and talk to others who really understand how I feel. With those who share the same pain of losing a child, grandchild or sibling as well as the same eternal love for their children,” Sturgill said. “At the meetings, we give each other support, strength, hope, wisdom and love as we remember and long for our precious children and loved ones who are cheering us on from the finish line.”
The holiday season is especially sensitive for families, but Baum wants people to know The Compassionate Friends is ready to offer hope and support to anyone in need.
“The reason why we host the candlelight ceremony on the second Sunday of December is because we are being bombarded with commercials of happy families celebrating the holidays and we are not intact families,” she said. “Many of our members say they wish they could sleep starting right before Thanksgiving and wake up on Jan. 2, right after the holidays are behind them. It is a very difficult time.”
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If you go
▪ Where: Miami Dade County Fair & Expo Center, Goode Building, 10901 SW 24th St. (Coral Way), Gate 2
▪ Time: 6 p.m. Sunday
▪ Cost: Free and open to the public. Candles and candleholders will be provided
▪ For more information: www.compassionatefriends.org/event/annual-worldwide-candle-lighting/