Remembering the children

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Families share memories of children who have passed away

By Moreland Jeff



When a child dies, at any age, the family suffers intense pain and may feel hopeless and isolated. The Compassionate Friends provides highly personal comfort, hope, and support to every family experiencing the death of a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, or a grandchild, and helps others better assist the grieving family.

That’s the mission of The Compassionate Friends, according to the group’s website, and that was the purpose as the Central Kentucky chapter of the group met Sunday evening for the annual candle-lighting service at BOUNCE in Miller Park.

Judy Dabney is the chapter facilitator, and she said Sunday was the 21st annual worldwide candle-lighting service for The Compassionate Friends.

Dabney became involved with the organization in 1990 when she was working as a registered nurse.

“I had a couple of ladies who had lost babies, and they were looking for a support group,” Dabney said.

She and the ladies attended a meeting in Elizabethtown, and shortly after a chapter formed in Campbellsville to determine how much interest there was in the community.

Dabney would soon learn that there was a need for the group beyond the ladies she knew. Among those needing the support of the group was Beverly Newton Pike.

Pike’s son, Gerald Newton, had passed away and she was dealing with the grief of his passing on July 20, 1990.

“He was 18 and had just graduated that June from Taylor County High School,” Pike said. “He had a history of seizures, and he drowned in the bathtub.”

Pike said around the same time, Dabney got the group started. Gerald died in July and the group began to meet in August. She added that the room was full for that first meeting.

“When a child dies, you feel like you’re the only one it has ever happened to. It’s something you read about in the paper, but it don’t happen to you,” Pike said. “When I got there and I saw all of those other people, and I thought, ‘I’m going to make it, because they have.’”

Pike now is not only a member, but she also serves as chapter leader for the Central Kentucky chapter of The Compassionate Friends.

Viola Benaitis has also experienced the death of a child. On Aug. 13, 1983, while her family still lived in Chicago, her 23-year-old son, Ricky, drowned in Lake Michigan.

Benaitis moved to Campbellsville in 1987, and she said at the time, there was a need for a support group for those who had lost children, but there was nobody who was far enough along in their grief to become a chapter leader who was interested.

While everyone in the group has lost a child, Benaitis brings a different perspective. After losing her son in 1983, she lost another son 30 years later to a massive heart attack; just four weeks prior to Sunday’s candle-lighting service, her third son passed away after suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, known more commonly as COPD.

Benaitis said there is comfort for those who have lost children, and The Compassionate Friends is an excellent place to find it because of the common ground for the families.

“It’s something that is really comforting, because there’s somebody else who knows our pain. When we come into this room, we’re safe. If we want to cry, we cry. If we want to laugh, we laugh. There are so many ways of releasing grief,” she said.

There are currently nearly 700 chapters of The Compassionate Friends in the 50 states of the U.S., as well as Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam. In addition, The Compassionate Friends has a presence in more than 30 countries around the world. According to the group’s website, friendship, understanding and hope are offered to bereaved parents, siblings, grandparents and other family members during the natural grieving process after a child has died.

If you or someone you know would like more information about the organization, contact the Central Kentucky chapter of The Compassionate Friends. Dabney can be reached at (270) 465-2933; Pike can be reached at (270) 465-2948; and Benaitis can be reached at (270) 469-9634. For general information, visit The Compassionate Friends website at www.compassionatefriends.org.