Grieving parents find comfort in group
A bundle of orange balloons with messages that read "Forever our hero" and "We miss you" was released into the air Tuesday evening, and Basehor residents Richard and Marlene Moore watched as they gradually floated out of sight.
It's been almost three years since their 19-year-old son, Jared Moore, a Fairmount Township volunteer firefighter, died from injuries he received in a vehicle accident in the line of duty in December 2004.
And, the annual balloon release through their chapter of The Compassionate Friends support group is just one way they continue to honor his memory.
"We write messages on the balloons as a way to send a message to our loved ones," Marlene Moore said. "Our balloons are orange because that was Jared's favorite color."
The group planted a tree during last year's balloon release at the Eisenhower Center in Kansas City, Kan. A plaque next to it that reads, "In Memory of Our Children Who Have Died," gives observers an idea of what the group is all about. Members of the group find comfort in remembering their deceased children, but also in supporting each other through the pain and sorrow unique to parents who have lost a child.
The national organization began in Coventry, England, in 1969 when the Rev. Simon Stephens noticed that parents who were grieving the loss of their children were much more helpful to each other than the medical staffs at the hospitals in which he worked. The organization was established in 1978 in the United States, and a chapter now exists in every state for a total of about 600 chapters nationwide. The Compassionate Friends group focuses on helping parents and siblings find a positive resolution to their grief following the death of a child at any age, from any cause.
The Moores said they began seeing a grief counselor immediately after they lost Jared but heard about The Compassionate Friends while attending the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Weekend in October 2005 in Emmitsburg, Md.
"We were kind of at our very lowest point" when they joined The Compassionate Friends, Marlene Moore said. "The Wyandotte County chapter was the closest at the time, but they have started one in Leavenworth since then. Sometimes you feel like you're never going to feel any better, but it helps because a lot of things that seem like odd behaviors when you're going through that grief process. They reassure you that it's normal. The only way somebody else can know what you're going through is if it's another parent who has lost a child."
Doris Magerl, facilitator of the Wyandotte County chapter of The Compassionate Friends, said she started the group with the help of another mother in 1981 after Bethany Hospital requested that a chapter be formed in the county. Magerl's son died in 1978 and she had previously been attending another chapter in Kansas City, Mo.
She said there are no membership dues, just a donation jar, and everybody who has lost a child is welcome to attend the monthly sessions and events.
"It puts people in contact with people who are going through the same thing that they did when their child died," she said. "It's group therapy."
Helping to grieve
The Moore's involvement in the support group lead them on their most recent journey, June 20-22, to Oklahoma City to attend The Compassionate Friends National Convention.
Marlene Moore said one of the main reasons she wanted to go was to see one of the guest speakers, local author Bill Hancock, who wrote "Riding With the Blue Moth," a book that documents the 2,747 mile coast-to-coast bike ride Hancock took shortly after the death of his son in 2001.
Marlene Moore said Hancock's book has been one of the most helpful things in her grieving process. Encouragement from other group members also provoked the trip.
"Some of the other members who have been in longer said it was just a really phenomenal experience," Marlene Moore said.
Not only did the couple get to hear the speakers, see the Oklahoma City National Memorial and interact with more than 800 people from all over country, they also participated in the eighth annual Walk to Remember. Walkers carried names and photos of deceased children during the two-mile walk of remembrance, which ended in front of the Oklahoma City National Memorial with hymns played by a Cherokee flutist.
While both Marlene and Richard said the Walk to Remember was the highlight of the trip, several workshops during the convention sent helpful messages home with them as well.
One of the most notable, Richard Moore said, was the workshop about dealing with legal matters related to the death of a child. It is a subject the Moores know all too well, as they have gone through a disappointing and lengthy civil lawsuit involving the Leavenworth County Sheriff's Deputy that struck Jared's car in the fatal accident.
Two fathers whose sons had both been murdered spoke during the workshop and said that while their sons' murderers were convicted, they were eligible for parole in two years. They told guests that they should never count on receiving satisfaction through the legal system and should also erase the word closure from their vocabularies.
While the words seemed harsh, it boiled down to a more positive message: You can either choose to get better or get bitter, Marlene Moore said.
The men then gave examples of people who spent and ruined their lives trying to get even and posed this question for their guests, "When you get to heaven and your son asks what you did with your life, would you rather say I spent it getting even or I spent it doing all of these things in your honor?"
"They said there is no such thing as closure, you just slowly begin to deal with it on a daily basis," Richard Moore said. "I think that was probably the best message we heard all weekend."
Life has definitely changed since Jared's death, the Moores said. It was the start of a chain reaction of many negative and positive events in both their lives, from the loss of employment to helping others through their grief. Richard Moore, a self-proclaimed ex-neat freak and workaholic said he doesn't worry about those things anymore because they just aren't as important as they used to be.
"I think your priorities change," he said. "You really start to see the important things."
But, the healing process is definitely under way, thanks to support groups such as the National Fallen Firefighters and The Compassionate Friends, they said. Both choose to remember their son, a friendly, athletic, motorcycle-loving daredevil, in different ways. Marlene Moore said they're currently working on providing a scholarship in Jared's name through the local community colleges that offer a fire science program. Richard Moore has started a newsletter for their chapter of The Compassionate Friends, and both have found that reaching out to new group members has been extremely therapeutic.
"It has been helpful just being able to talk about Jared at the meetings and tell stories," Marlene Moore said. "And just helping the new families because you remember how painful it was at the very beginning."
People helping people
While Magerl and Marlene Moore said support groups are not for everybody, many times other family members and friends are also grieving and are not there to lend the parents the support they need. The Compassionate Friends just gives parents an outlet to talk about and remember their children in a supportive setting.
"After about the first two months, some people are afraid to talk to you about your child because they're afraid you're going to cry and you feel very alone," Magerl said. "That's what it's all about -- people helping people get through this thing called grief. Some people just sit there and cry all night, and that's OK. We have our Kleenex right there."
Marlene Moore said in an article she wrote for her chapter's newsletter that the quest to heal her broken heart has made her realize it is a slow process and there is no quick or easy fix, but things eventually will get better.
She said The Compassionate Friends has been one of her and Richard's biggest supports in dealing with their loss, and she hopes other bereaved parents will find the support they need through the organization as well.
"I realize support groups are not for everyone, but it helps to have people reassure you that what you're going through is part of the natural process," she said. "That's the biggest thing -- just to have somebody who knows what you're going through."