Grieving the Death of a Child

Grieving the death of a child does not have to be a solitary journey
By Katrina Fuller

Friend To Friend, a support group provided by Chautauqua Hospice & Palliative Care, offers comfort and support for those who have experienced the death of a child. The group provides a safe setting for immediate family members to come together, share feelings, thoughts and more with those who have had similar experiences.

Carna Pierce, social worker for CHPC, said the Friend To Friend program is highly beneficial for parents and families who have experienced such a loss.

“There have been some studies that show the difference in how you adjust and get healthy is how you work through your grief,” Pierce said. “People who were able to do something actively in the name of the dead child have less depression.”

In January, the program will have been helping parents and families for 10 years. Pierce said she started the group when she was working as a therapist at Family Service of Warren County in Warren, Pa.
“I saw there was a need,” she said. “In 10 out of 12 months during 2005, there was a baby death in Warren County.”

Three years ago, Pierce said the group was serving more New York state residents, and they decided it would be best to hold it at the CHPC location in Lakewood.

“Some people come and go,” she said, adding some days there are several members present, while at other times, there is only one person in attendance. “But some days, that one person really needs it.”
Active in aiding those dealing with such grief is helpful for her as well, she said. Pierce lost a child at a very young age, and is devoted to serving others who have experienced this type of grief.

“Everytime I am able to help someone else through the death of a child, it gives my daughter a purpose,” Pierce said. “She only lived 95 minutes, but here 30 years later, her purpose and her mission continue.”

She added the group offers an environment of comfort because not only does she understand the grief of child-loss, but everyone in the group has experienced it.

“It is important for parents to come talk to people who have experienced it,” Pierce said. “(Friend to Friend) is a group who gets it, and (the members) will just want to love and support you. We can talk about our kids here, and not feel like an alien.”

She urges anyone who has experienced the death of a child to attend the group, and give it a chance.
“We have open arms caring for empty arms. Give it a try – you never know what helps,” Pierce said. “I think some people are just grasping at straws because their whole world has just ended as they know it. (At the group,) you have the ability to share whatever you need to share in a safe environment.”
If attending the group is daunting, she said there are other support options to ease into.

“If someone just wants to talk, they can call or we can (meet) one-on-one,” Pierce said. “If it is scary to come to the group, I can come to them.”

Members have said that the group has been a beacon of compassion and understanding in their lives.
Kathy Frucella, a member of the group, said the support of the other group members has been very helpful to her over the past 7 ½ years.

“We pretty much became friends,” she said, adding that Pierce is a steadfast support for her and others in the group. “I call Carna whenever I’m having a bad day. She’s my go-to.”

Carna Pierce and Kathy Frucella
Carna Pierce and Kathy Frucella

Frucella’s daughter, Stephanie, passed away in 2008. Stephanie was an elementary school teacher, a 1997 graduate of Jamestown High School and was a very active member in her church, St. James Catholic Church.

“I really needed the group after she died. I called our EAP person (at work) and I said, ‘I need some counseling. I am really having a hard time,’” she said, adding that Hospice was contacted, and a counselor was sent to visit her at home. “The counselor came over to the house, and he was a big bear of a guy. He said, ‘I knew Stephanie – I taught her. I remember her.’”

Discussing her daughter with the counselor was helpful at that time, Frucella said.

“It was nice to have someone here to talk to me about her that knew her,” she said, adding he remembered her daughter’s bright smile. “He talked to me for a while, and then told me about the group.”

Frucella said she was nervous to attend the group, but eventually got a push in the right direction.
“My neighbor is a good friend of mine, and she said, ‘We’re going to go,’” she said. “She went with me for six years. It was good – it was like a catharsis.”

Being free to express herself to people who understood her situation was an important step in the bereavement process, Frucella said.

“You can say whatever you want, you can pound on the table,” she said.

Becoming a member of the group has allowed her to heal, express her feelings and create friendships with the other members, Frucella said.

Despite the passage of time, Frucella said she still attends the group, and finds it is beneficial.

“There are some days I really need it. I think about her all the time, and some days are worse than others,” Frucella said. “There are certain days, and those days are the hardest. Special occasion times are difficult.”

After such a tragedy, she said it is difficult to move ahead, but healing is possible.

“Right off the bat, you don’t feel like your life will be able to go on,” Frucella said. “You’re going to be able to go on. Things will seem halfway normal again, and there won’t always be that dark cloud over (your) head.”

Friend to Friend meets on the first and third Thursdays of every month at 7 p.m. at the Lakewood location. The meetings are free to attend, and generally last for two hours. Licensed medical social workers help to facilitate the group, and other resources are offered to those who attend.

“I don’t like the word loss – I didn’t lose her,” Frucella said. “I know exactly where she is. She’s with God.”