It’s painful for Kathy Schulz, Pacific, to talk about losing her son, Marty, to suicide two years ago at age 28, but she does it if she thinks it will help other parents through the grief of losing their child. The surprise, she said, has been how cathartic the process has been for her too.
“When my son died, everyone tried to get me to go to a support group, but I said, ‘No, I don’t care how all these other people’s children died. I hurt,’ ” said Schulz. “I didn’t want to hear everyone else’s story . . . but now I know it makes you feel like you’re not alone and that you can’t have a bad feeling.
“These are people who feel the same way I do. They understand, and it’s a healing.”
Earlier this summer, Schulz and another Pacific resident, Sheri Mott, co-founded Healing Hearts, a self-help support group for bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings. It is a local chapter (No. 2406) of the international group, The Compassionate Friends.
Mott had been attending a Compassionate Friends chapter in Arnold after her son, Jason Eakins, died of a heart attack in Aug. 11, 2010. He is survived by a wife, Cindy, a now 4-year-old son, Dayton, and a now 2-year-old daughter, Audrey, who was born three days after he passed away.
Mott found some healing attending The Compassionate Friends meetings, but the long drive made it difficult. She was thinking about organizing a Franklin County chapter when mutual acquaintances suggested she get together with Schulz.
The women spent three months organizing the group, applying for their nonprofit status and preparing their resource materials. They held their first meeting in June in the banquet room at Washington Brewery (around the back and at the top of the hill).
Meetings are now held twice a month, the first and third Mondays, at 7 p.m.
The next meeting will be this Monday, Aug. 20.
In addition to Schulz and Mott, the Healing Hearts board includes Karen and Randy Leuthauser, Pacific, whose son Matt Carter was killed in a car accident in October 2004 when he was 20.
Between the three families, they have three of the major causes of death — suicide, natural causes and accident, Schulz pointed out.
At meetings, the group sits at a round table with a lighted candle in the middle to remind them of their children. On the outside of the glass candleholder, the parents who attend are invited to write the names of their children.
People attending can choose to participate in the group discussion or not.
“You can come and just listen to the other parents,” said Schulz. “You’re not expected to do or say anything.
“Maybe by the next meeting you’ll be ready to talk, but maybe not, and that’s OK too.”
Schulz, Mott and the Leuthausers share their stories with the group.
“Our purpose is to begin a healing journey,” said Schulz, noting that each of the letters in HEAL have meaning in the group.
“We will always be ‘here’ for you,” she said, reading from a handout they give to new parents attending the meetings. “We will have ‘empathy’ and will do our best to understand. We won’t judge you or try to change you or tell you what to think or feel. We will ‘accept’ you. We will let you share your feelings and your stories as many times as necessary. We will ‘listen’ to you if you feel like sharing your story.”
Parents are given a folder of information when they attend their first meeting. It includes a list of contact numbers and emails for Schulz, Mott and the Leuthausers, who welcome calls from parents who find themselves suddenly needing to talk.
“My support group prior to this was my family, but like everybody, there comes a time when they don’t want to hear about it anymore,” said Schulz.
Healing Hearts will never be that way.
At the same time, Schulz said the group likes to focus on celebrating the lives of the children who died. They refer to the children as angels and the annual date of their death not as an anniversary, but an “angelversary.” They organize events like a balloon release that Mott and her son’s family held last weekend at the city park in Pacific. Jason’s friends and family wrote messages to him on the balloons, which they tied in a bunch and released into the sky.
Afterward they spent the day together having fun in the park.
“That’s what we’re striving for,” said Schulz. “Not to dwell on the death, but to celebrate the life.
“Our whole goal is to help grieving parents. You never get over it, but you learn to live with it.
“Well, some don’t,” she said, sadly. “Some people never learn how to live with it.”
What Schulz and Mott like about Healing Hearts being a chapter of The Compassionate Friends is the abundant resources the national organization provides, including a website (www.compassionatefriends.org) and a list of suggested events, like a Candlelight Walk they are planning for Dec. 9.
“We also want to set up an advisory board with psychologist and physicians,” said Schulz.
And they eventually want to start a group just for teens and siblings.
For more information about Healing Hearts, people can contact Schluz at 636-234-7860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.