The bereaved find unexpected and welcome comfort
Losing a child is a tragedy no parent should ever have to endure. While there are few words and even fewer comforts to be offered to those who have experienced such a loss, the team at The Compassionate Friends is doing its best to be there in the face of the unthinkable.
Sandra Harrison experienced such a loss on her wedding anniversary when her son, 26-year-old Cory Trevor Harrison, was fatally hit by a drunk driver. Though she wasn’t alone in her grief, Sandra realized that facing such a tragedy requires a community. It wasn’t until after the loss of Cory that she found The Compassionate Friends, a foundation that offers a sense of togetherness and self-help options for grieving families in need.
Since discovering the group, Sandra found a partnership and a focused purpose, within her community, all driven by The Compassionate Friends’ cause. While The Compassionate Friends, open to anyone who has lost a child, grandchild or sibling, offers self-help options to everyone near and far, it takes enough interest in one location to build a local chapter.
After three separate families contacted the organization, the Bay County, Florida chapter was founded in January 2015. Since then, the group meets every second Monday of each month. With the current pandemic, the chapter meets on a scheduled Zoom call.
The mother and grandmother will be stepping in as chapter leader of her local group in July. In the meantime, she’s shifted her focus to a memorial garden to honor her son and other children lost. With the help of local government and the other members of her chapter, including the current chapter leader, Carol Ladouceur, Sandra and other chapter members are now building the Children’s Memorial Garden.
“I don’t like going to my son’s grave,” she says. “I want to go where it’s uplifting.”
Sandra wants to help offer her community a comforting and peaceful place to go where they can honor their loved ones without the negative connotations of a graveyard. Rather than feeling surrounded by death, Sandra and her community’s organization wants to offer a place that can be a celebration of life for her lost son and the lost family members of her community.
Their bid for the garden was enthusiastically backed by local city commissioners of Lynn Haven, Florida, and other chapter members. Some families went together on benches for their loved ones, while others opted to sponsor trees, bushes and other greenery to adorn the garden. There will be cenotaph walls that will be covered in bronze plaques – a place where anyone who has lost a child, grandchild or sibling can pay to have them memorialized.
As a non-profit, the Bay County chapter had to be clever about how to go about the creation of their garden. Purchases of plaques and charitable donations go directly to the creation and upkeep of their garden. There will be a fountain for the garden, offering an added level of tranquility for those who come to honor their lost loved ones.
The Children’s Memorial Garden was set to be completed in June 2020 with a dedication. A Walk to Remember was scheduled for May 30, 2020. Anyone can donate directly via Venmo*. Sandra has devoted a large amount of her time to the project, and looks forward to seeing the garden and fountain completed. She noted that the setting – about 1000 feet from North Bay – couldn’t be any better, and hopes that others will find it as peaceful as she does.
After being founded in England over 50 years ago, The Compassionate Friends has since expanded operations in the United States. The group works in chapters, and as of today has over 600 chapters in all 50 states, Washington D.C, Puerto Rico and Guam. The Compassionate Friends’ mission statement states that “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.”
Sandra Harrison and her Bay County chapter are living up to that mission in spades with their current project. No one ever wants to experience loss, particularly that of a child, but the love of a supportive group and community, such as Sandra’s, proves that love can sometimes mitigate grief and shore the bereaved up when the unthinkable happens.
*To donate to the Children’s Memorial Garden, search for “Children’s Memorial Garden” on the Venmo app. Donations can be made there.