• 68°

Support group comes to Suffolk

Nov. 20, 1988 started out as a beautiful day.

The sun was warm, and Michael Seal, 15, and Jim Wood, 16, were wearing T-shirts as they borrowed a fishing net from a neighbor and laid it out for rockfish by where the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel now stands.

As responsible boys, they went to retrieve the net when the winds started to pick up.

That’s when that beautiful day turned into one of the darkest days of their mothers’ lives.

For most parents, the death of a child is unimaginable — kept under lock and key in the darkest recesses of one’s mind.

After the winds escalated to a windstorm and their sons never came home, Patricia Seal and Kay Wood had to grapple with that darkness.

Nearly 22 years later, the women are bringing a key to their survival to aid other area parents who are dealing with the same tragedy.

Wood and Seal organized a Suffolk chapter of Compassionate Friends, a national self-help organization for families that have experienced the death of a child.

“When you lose a child you can hardly function in the beginning,” Seal said. “At that point, you need to know you can survive. Here, you’re with others who are further along in their grief. We want to turn something that broke our hearts into something positive. We want to show others that you can survive. It is possible.”

The first meeting is Aug. 12 at 7 p.m. in the Family Life Center of Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Eclipse. Meetings will be held the second Thursday of every month at the same location.

A few months after their sons’ deaths, “we tried a regular support group, but it was mostly people who lost their spouse,” Wood said. “It just wasn’t meeting our need. Compassionate Friends was something the chaplain there suggested.”

The nearest charter was in Virginia Beach, but after visiting the first time, they regularly attended for years.

“The best thing from Compassionate Friends was when I started going, I thought I was losing my mind,” Wood said. “I was feeling so weird, but there were 20 other people who were going through the exact same thing I was.”

While no two stories are the same, sharing a pain so pervasive can help with the healing process for many parents.

“Children don’t die before parents,” Seal said. “You always hear the expression a broken heart, but this was the real thing. It felt like someone blew a hole right through my chest.”

It’s a pain that not only is impossible for someone else to understand, but also makes it difficult to interact with others.

“No one knows what to say,” Seal said. “They don’t want to bring it up. They don’t want to remind you. They don’t want you to fall apart, and they don’t want to say the wrong thing. But we understand. We understand what the other person is feeling and thinking. We know that sometimes you need to talk about your child, and we understand the depth of the pain.”

Bringing the organization to Suffolk was something the women have been thinking about for years.

“When you’re in an early grieving period, getting dressed is difficult enough; much less, driving all the way to Virginia Beach,” Seal said.

After two young men in their Eclipse community passed away, the women realized that between the two of them, they knew at least 12 families that had lost a child.

“We have a need here,” Wood said. “We feel so strongly about the help we received that it’s important to give back.”

While the meetings are held at a church in North Suffolk, the women emphasized that they know that parents from all over the area have lost children due to violence, illness, suicide and accidents.

“This group is for all of us,” Seal said. “The pain of losing a child is universal amongst us. It doesn’t matter what religious background you come from or where you live. The pain of losing a child transcends all of that.”

The group is open to parents, adult siblings and grandparents who have lost a loved one.

Knowing that it’s impossible to ever heal after losing a child, it doesn’t matter how long ago the incident occurred.

“When you lose your child, you lose your future, your hopes and your dreams,” Seal said.

“You grieve, you have to. But that raw grief eventually softens. You still love and miss your child and always want them to be remembered, but you survive even if you don’t want to.”

In addition to the time spent talking about personal loss, there is also time reserved for a topic or speaker. The group also provides brochures on different topics, a lending library and distributes a monthly newsletter.

“We’re not there for counseling, we’re just there to support and to listen,” Seal said. “Everyone grieves differently and has their own kind of grief. It’s about what’s right for you and what works for you.”

For more information, call Katherine Wood at 238-2297 or Patricia Seal at 238-2671.