If you’ve had the pleasure of knowing Vivian Kehrer, you know, right off the bat, that she is a person with great wisdom, and like the rest of us, has had some sadness and loss in her life. She takes that experience and uses it to help herself and others by maintaining a local chapter of the national organization known as The Compassionate Friends. The organization is dedicated to parents who have lost a child, this being the most painful heartache a parent will ever have to live through. They support each other, giving a voice to the passion and pain of their loss. One friend can hold up another, and there is power in numbers. I’m sure it’s easy to feel alone and isolated in your grief, and The Compassionate Friends and their meetings are a way to know you’re not alone, and a place to come and share your memories and challenges.
Vivian has told me about her son, Eddie, whom she lost when he was 16. That was 34 years ago. Eddie Phillip Meyer Jr. was on his way to hockey practice in Clinton, N.Y., Eddie was driving to an ice rink at Hamilton College for hockey practice, along with teammate Scott McLaughlin in a Mercury Cougar on that December morning. The car skidded around a bad curve and struck a tree. McLaughlin survived, while Eddie later suffered complications from his injuries and passed away, never leaving the hospital.
I cannot even imagine what it was like for her, to hear the news and process it, to realize that she would never talk to Eddie again, never hug him or see his face across the dinner table. The emptiness and the hole in her heart that once seemed like it would never heal, has found camaraderie in the meeting rooms of The Compassionate Friends, where Vivian says, “you can laugh and you can cry, knowing the people around you have all experienced this horrible loss.” No one will tell you you’re crazy or make fun of you. It’s a safe place to take your pain and memories, to share your hopes and dreams and be understood.
The meetings take place at the Homewood Suites, 3470 Fruitville Rd. Sarasota, Fl. 34237 The Compassionate Friends meet on the second Monday of each month, and the meetings are free. Parents and family meet from 7 to 9 p.m. and come from Venice, Sarasota and Bradenton. They meet to share their grief and their intimate experiences, to share their tears and even share their laughter. Vivian has said to me that unless you have lost a child, you can’t comprehend what’s happening to you. So the meetings are some folk’s only opportunity to feel safe about sharing their pain.
The expenses to run the Chapter of The Compassionate Friends is paid for strictly by donations, and the kindness of individuals who furnish some support to offset the cost of the brochures, materials and fundraising supplies for these events. Money is collected from donations at fundraisers, getting sponsors for the events, and the generosity of people who hear about The Compassionate Friends and want to help. The only affiliation that The Compassionate Friends has is the National Chapter and its local members right here in Sarasota. The Compassionate Friends is not a religious organization sponsored by a church, either locally or on a national level. Their motto is “You need not walk alone. We all walk together.”
I was thinking how hard the first step must be for parents who have just lost a child. The bravery to speak in a room full of people you don’t know, and the ability to be a good listener for others is a big step. Vivian says there is no pressure to speak at a meeting, that we all have different emotional responses to loss, but if you aren’t ready to speak, no one will ask you to. A safe place to share emotional issues is the foundation to help parents get ready to share, and this safe environment helps bring out their first words.
The Compassionate Friends bonding to each other is the most important piece. Only then can the healing process begin. The events that take place during the year are so important to the surviving parents and their recovery I think that The Compassionate Friends is like a well-kept secret. They don’t bombard the social media pages with requests for donations or hound anyone on the phone and twist their arm to get money from them.
I think if someone is touched by this article and feels led to donate even a small amount of money, they should call Vivian Kehrer. She will answer your questions and welcome you to a meeting. More people should know that The Compassionate Friends is here to help anyone who has lost a child and needs the support of others with the same experience. If you are reading this article and know someone who is hurting and needs support and has lost a child, please tell them about The Compassionate Friends. Help and healing is available in a place where you can benefit from other’s experiences, and move on towards healing yourselves and your families.
And part of it, she says, is that the holidays are the hardest part to grieve. Having Eddie killed two weeks before Christmas was a terrible loss, but Vivian didn’t let herself turn the holiday season into a period of mourning. She knows her son Eddie would not have wanted that for her.
Christmas was Eddie’s favorite holiday. Life goes on, and for the most part you shouldn’t feel guilty for continuing to celebrate the holiday season. If you have other children, they still need the traditions and the happy memories of a family Christmas or an Easter celebration because holidays serve to preserve traditions, which are so important to a child. In the process of beginning to accept the death of a child, Vivian took her tragic circumstances and became passionate about her healing, and the healing of others.
What is truly remarkable is that Eddie is never forgotten in New Hartford, NY. In this little city in upstate New York, just south of Utica, the Ed Meyer Memorial Award continues to honor his memory by rewarding a hockey player who is a junior in high school who demonstrates positive traits and strong citizenship. What an honor that the New Hartford Spartans keep Eddie’s memory alive year after year. Head coach John Cunningham told her that the team will ALWAYS gives out the award. Cunningham was the assistant coach when Eddie was playing hockey for his school team.
In 2009, for the 30th anniversary of the award, Vivian drove to New Hartford to personally hand out the award, and that will forever remain a poignant memory for her. When she arrived in New Hartford Vivian and her husband were put up in a hotel and the local newspaper covered the event and Vivian’s appearance in a great newspaper article about her! When she handed the winner his award, she gave him a picture of Eddie so he would know what Eddie looked like and who he was as a person. Get to know more about The Compassionate Friends by logging onto: www.thecompassionatefriends.org and seeing how they can help you. If you’ve lost a child, or know someone who has, you can pass this valuable information along to them. For more information about the Sarasota Chapter you may contact Vivian Kehrer at 941-365-4230 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Worldwide Candle Lighting will be held Sunday, December 14, 2014 location to be announced. A Poker Run will be held in October of 2014. Look for publicity announcing this important and fun event.