Therapeutic Hearts: Mother and father who misplaced a toddler come collectively in assist and empathy | Information
The Hoffmann Hospice Healing Hearts group is for grieving parents who have lost a young adult child.
But group facilitator Patty Reis has been receiving a lot of requests lately from parents of young children who have died, so she’s trying to accommodate them as well.
How can one say no to someone who has suffered such a loss?
Once a year, the group meets at a local park for a more casual get-together, and on Friday, about a dozen mothers — and one or two fathers — gathered at Jastro Park with the hope that they might be able to share their unbearable loss with someone who has been there.
“My son, Sean Cameron, he had an undiagnosed heart defect, and he didn’t wake up one morning,” said Vickie Murray.
“That was it,” she said. “No warning. No indication. It’s called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.”
The grieving parents brought framed photos to set up on a long table in the shade of a tall elm. And the beauty in those faces seemed magnified by the knowledge that they were taken before their time.
For Murray, just showing up what a breakthrough.
“I didn’t want help,” she said. “I came to the group five years ago and I didn’t come back.”
“I didn’t want to talk about it. I don’t know why,” said the still grieving mom, her voice near tears.
But on Friday, she was back, five years later.
Reis, who holds a certificate in death and grief studies from the Center for Loss in Fort Collins, Colo., started leading the Healing Hearts group in March 2020. But she has also led other groups — at St. Francis and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishes.
She sees Gold Star moms, and some mothers who have never actually come to any group
“Bereaved moms who I know and have supported in some way, (through) text, calls, shared books, emails …” and those she has cried with.
“It’s just so helpful to see and feel that you’re not alone in this journey,” she said.
For those parents seeking someone who has been there, someone who has walked the unbearable walk, Reis is that person.
It was New Year’s Day 2012 when three Navy men wearing dress blues showed up at Reis’ Bakersfield home. Her son, David, a 25-year-old US naval aviator, had been shot to death early that morning at his home near San Diego. David’s sister Karen, a 24-year-old UC San Diego graduate, had also died in the tragedy that left two others dead, one by suicide.
Reis still smiles, she still laughs, she still experiences joy, she still loves. But the profound loss that came with the deaths of her grown children “rearranges who you are as a person,” she said.
Cheryl Waldrop is feeling that seismic rearrangement. She lost her son Nickolas Armstrong in an Oct. 10 motorcycle accident. He was 26, a graduate of North High School who served in the US Marine Corps.
“His wife just had their first baby,” Waldrop said.
It was her first time with the group.
“This is really hard to do,” she said. “I’m surprised I even got up and came.”
Reis showed attendees a quilt she had made in honor of her late son, David. Each square has a symbol or logo or memory connected to him.
Reis calls these mementos “linking objects” for their emotional power, their power to make connections.
“They link us to our loved ones,” Reis said.
As the gathering continued, it seemed the mothers were talking with one another, sharing experiences, difficulties.
That’s how the casual meet-ups are supposed to work, Reis said. The weekly Healing Hearts meetings — scheduled every Monday — are a bit more structured.
Everyone needs human connection, she said. These men and women help each other grieve.
Parents grieving for the loss of their own children may react to tragedy in the news differently than they might have otherwise, Reis said.
“The school shooting (in Uvalde, Texas) which just happened,” she said, “we see that so differently than maybe we would have before our kids died.
“Now we sort of instantly bond with those parents. We don’t know what they look like, or what their names are, but we know their pain,” she said. “We know that yesterday they were just normal people, and today they’re in a world of shock, of tremendous sadness and disbelief.
“We all know what it feels like when the world stops.”
Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.