Programs help coping

Rosette Gonzales

Jack Rankin was like any 3 1/2 -year-old boy, playful and curious.

But one day Jack choked on a super ball. He was hospitalized for

three days when his parents, Jeff and Julie made the unimaginable

decision to remove him from life support.

That was July 2002 and the family describes the past

two-and-a-half years as a roller coaster ride without rhyme or

reason.

"Emotions hit you and you don't see it coming," Jeff said.

"And then things hit you when you know they're coming, like

holidays," Julie said. "Holidays are definitely the most difficult."

For many suffering from loss, the festivities and bustle of the

holiday season are an overwhelming reminder of their loved one's

absence.

"There's a tradition in the United States that says from

Thanksgiving to Jan. 1 we're going to be happy and joyous and

celebrate, but it is terribly difficult," said Joan Etherton,

co-founder of The Center for Grief and Loss for Children.

Etherton and Rev. Alice Zulli founded the center three years go to

offer bereavement services for children, a group they felt was

overlooked in the grieving process.

The Rankins located the center the day after their son Jack died,

concerned for their 5-year-old daughter Stephanie, since she had just

lost her best friend and playmate.

Now 7, Stephanie said she enjoys sitting in a circle with the

other children talking about the good times she had with her younger

brother. The center's "Wee Construction" program emphasizes positive

memories and offers children constructive playtime with peers

suffering similar losses.

"We wouldn't be where we are as a family and Stephanie would not

be where she is today without the center," Julie said. Although

nothing could ever fill the emptiness left by their son's death, the

Rankins gave birth to twins Hope and Brendan in October.

Mary Buckley attended a support group at Glendale Adventist

Medical Center when her husband died of cancer four years ago. She is

now facilitator for the grief support group at St. Finbar Catholic

Church in Burbank.

Memories of loved one's surface during the holidays, Buckley said,

and St. Finbar's support group will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday and every

second and fourth Tuesday of the month.

"Grief is a journey. Just having the support of other people that

understood was very beneficial," Buckley said. During the holidays

"you miss the presence of the other person. I miss going shopping

with him."

For Barbara Taylor, the devastating loss of her only son, 23, to

suicide in mid-2003 is a tragedy that remains all too fresh.

"I still don't really have a strong sense of who I'm going to be.

My identity sort of got totally taken away by my son's death. And

this holiday season is worse than the first holiday season, because

it's cemented that I'm never going to see him again," Taylor said.

She attends weekly drop-in support groups offered by Glendale

Adventist Medical Center's Beyond Loss, Bereavement Ministry and

she's only missed two or three meetings since her son died.

"You have to be very proactive in seeking ways to help you through

this. It's really detrimental to do it alone," Taylor said.

Specialized support groups through Beyond Loss are offered all

year, but the holidays are the busiest time.

"For the bereaved, they're so hyper-sensitive to the manic stuff

going on [during the holidays] and the music and the parties, and it

just drives their loneliness further, so if we can somehow offer a

place where they can come, hear their loved one's name, hearing that

name is so important," said Zulli, who also started the Beyond Loss

program 15 years ago.

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