A balloon to reach toward hope

The 10th anniversary of the losses of Sept. 11, and also those in subsequent years in the wars that followed, has taken on a special poignancy to a group of people known as The Compassionate Friends.

So they decided to do something about it.

This Sunday, members of the Verdugo Hills chapter of TCF, a nonprofit support group for parents coping with the loss of the child, will hold a memorial service and balloon release in remembrance of loved ones lost, both in the terrorist attack itself and in subsequent military actions. Because the event falls on the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centers, the group extends a special invitation to any locals who may want to join in the memorial event.

From 1 to 3 p.m., people are invited to a potluck picnic at La Cañada Memorial Park that will be followed by a memorial balloon release. Those who take part in the release will be able to write special notes or messages remembering loved ones, tie them to balloon strings and release them simultaneously into the sky, according to chapter co-leader Teri Knowlton, who joined The Compassionate Friends after losing her 19-year-old daughter in a 2007 car accident.

“We’ve lost so many people, not only in Sept. 11, but since in the wars that followed. Everyone we remember, they were someone’s child at some point,” Knowlton said. “It seemed sort of natural to have (the event) on that date to remember everyone who’s been lost.”

The picnic and balloon release is just one event held by the local chapter of TCF, which offers support group meetings the fourth Thursday of every month at 7:30 p.m. at Verdugo Hills Hospital. For 24 years, members have helped parents and families cope with loss by lending a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on and even cards marking special birthdays and anniversaries.

Every year, the chapter holds public events that allow families to come together and remember loved ones with special ceremonies. This year, the chapter’s annual get-together just happened to coincide with the decennial anniversary of Sept. 11, so it seemed fitting to open it up to the public at large, according to TCF member Carole Dyck, a former chapter leader who lost her 22-year-old son in a car accident in 1989.

“It just made sense for us to remember that event and invite the community at large,” Dyck added.

Olivia Garcia became a member of the group nearly seven years ago after her 4-month-old son died at a home daycare center. Today, she leads the group’s pregnancy and infant loss group, a special service for parents who never reached important milestones like first steps, kindergarten and missing teeth.

She hopes the event will be a way for TCF members to unite and join a nation in its own grief. “It’s going to be a very special day,” Garcia said. “You have that common bond, you don’t even have to speak — you know exactly what it feels like.”

Knowlton encourages anyone who has lived through a loss to release a balloon as a way to reach beyond the pain, toward hope. The experience, she said, is one that will not soon be forgotten.

“There’s something very cathartic about writing the note, attaching it to the balloon and releasing it,” Knowlton said. “People never take their eyes off of them. It’s like they disappear into heaven.”

The free picnic lunch, provided by El Pollo Loco, as well as memorial balloons will be available for people who RSVP to (818) 236-3635 before the event. Meetings of The Compassionate Friends are held the fourth Thursday of each month at Verdugo Hills Hospital, 1812 Verdugo Blvd. in Glendale.

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