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Public lives, private pain Support group to help distraught parents deal with grief

Support group for bereaved parents

A support group for families who have lost children is starting next month. Organised by bereaved mother Robin O’Neil, Compassionate Friends will be a place where hurting parents can share their feelings with others who understand first-hand.

The sinking feeling Mrs O’Neil had when she got a call more than two-and-a-half years ago saying her only child had been in an accident, cannot be adequately expressed in words.

A nurse at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, she received the fateful call just after she had finished her shift on August 16, 2010. Her son Kevin had been riding his scooter home from work in West Palm Beach, Florida when he was hit by a truck. He was wearing a helmet but nevertheless the blow was fatal.

Mrs O’Neil flew to Florida the next day and was at her son’s side as he lay unconscious in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

“He lived for five days,” she said. “But he never regained consciousness.”

Mrs O’Neil naturally grieved the loss of her only child.

“Losing a child is not the natural order of things for life. I was looking forward to my son's next steps in life graduation from college, the woman he would marry to have his four children, and hopefully naming his daughter Tiffany,” she said.

“He and I had discussed me naming one of his two daughters the name I had chosen for him before birth. He would tell me to give it up that I would never have a Tiffany and I would tell him that these days he would never find a woman willing to have four children!”

Mrs O’Neil had grief counselling but she said it took a long time for her to truly understand the finality of her son’s death.

“Once reality set in for me that no longer are these dreams of naming his daughters dreams deferred, but that they will never happen, coping became increasingly difficult,” she said.

During the day it became easier to get involved in her work and the tasks at hand. She suffered most at night, when things were quiet and unhurried.

“I needed to hear from others and let them tell me how they made it not just through the first set of holidays but simply how to make it through the night,” she said.

She shared her feelings with a friend who suggested she join a support group with other grieving parents.

“She said maybe it would help to be in a group where people had my same experience of losing a child,” said Mrs O’Neil. “In my mind that sounded simple and like a perfect idea a group that uniformly shares the same issues. That was it and I felt better instantly.”

Mrs O’Neil plans to start the support group Compassionate Friends next month.

“This is a support group for parents who have lost children at any age. The natural order of life is that children will bury their parents and when the order changes, chaos occurs,” she said.

She said February is synonymous with love and noted also that holidays and special calendar dates like Valentine’s Day can be especially difficult.

“Holidays are especially tough as you remember the ones you love most,” she said.

“There are many people out there hurting and often times we simply need someone to listen. Those who have not lost children cannot relate and it’s nice to know there are others on the same journey that will lend an ear and not be judgmental.”

Compassionate Friends is an American charity that helps bereaved families after the death of a child. The organisation has more than 650 chapters throughout the US, including Guam and Puerto Rico.

Mrs O’Neil said the organisation helped her. Its signature event is a candlelight ceremony held on the second Sunday in December, to honour children who have died.

“All over the world people light candles to honour children at 7pm. What an awesome sight was my thought, and [a good way] to ease my pain and remember my son,” said Mrs O’Neil.

“I asked my church, Bright Temple, to host the service in 2011 and in 2012 Father Andrew of St Mary’s offered to host it at no charge. It was wonderful and very cleansing for my soul.”

She’s now offering Compassionate Friends as a support group on the Island.

Although it’s been more than two years since her son’s death, Mrs O’Neil is still hurting.

“Oftentimes I feel people simply stop calling the name of my son and that is my deepest pain. I just want to hear his name,” she said.

Compassionate Friends will hold its first meeting on Saturday, February 23 at 10am at the Bermuda Red Cross on Berry Hill Road.

For more information telephone 735-1676.

Robin O'Neil with her son Kevin when was he was a boy.

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Published January 22, 2013 at 8:40 am (Updated January 22, 2013 at 8:40 am)

Public lives, private pain Support group to help distraught parents deal with grief

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