Songs of hope

Published 9:19 pm Wednesday, October 3, 2012

For a $100 donation, Alan Pedersen adds to his tour van a butterfly decal featuring the name of someone taken too soon.

The ritual, which has spawned hundreds of decals, arose from the death of the former Nashville songwriter’s only daughter, Ashley Marie Pedersen, in a car accident on Aug. 15, 2001.

Pedersen turned “his journey through the valley of grief” — as his website puts it — into a collection of powerful songs which resonate with folks dealing with loss.

This photo of Michael Seal was taken 10 days before his death on Nov. 20, 1988. His mother, Patricia Seal, leads the Suffolk Eclipse Chapter of The Compassionate Friends, which is hosting a special concert Oct. 11 for those who, like her, have experienced loss.

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Across the nation, his music has rung out at Ground Zero and memorials at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School.

Next Thursday, Pedersen will be a special guest of the Suffolk Eclipse Chapter of The Compassionate Friends, at 7 p.m. in the Ebenezer United Methodist Church Family Life Center on Steeple Drive.

The chapter is led by Patricia Seal, whose son Michael Seal, 15, along with Jim Wood, 16, were killed on Nov. 20, 1988.

Not wanting to lose what they had borrowed from a neighbor, the friends ventured out near where the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel now stands to retrieve a fishing net as a storm approached. They never came home.

“People who haven’t lost a child don’t understand what it is to lose a child, and certainly we wouldn’t want them to understand,” said Seal, who about two years ago formed the local chapter with Jim Wood’s mother Kay Wood, who died last year.

A nonprofit support group for bereaved parents, The Compassionate Friends has more than 600 chapters in the U.S. and beyond.

The boys’ mothers had attended the group in Virginia Beach before deciding to start a Suffolk chapter.

“A young man in my neighborhood died in an accident, and I started counting up the young people who died in Eclipse and came up with 12 just off the top of my head,” Seal said.

“I decided then we needed something in Suffolk, so I called the national office of The Compassionate Circle.”

Talking with other bereaved parents can be the best therapy of all, she said, adding that “you never stop missing your child, you just learn to get on with life.

“We are just there for those who need the support and to help them understand they are not going crazy.”

Pedersen formed the Angels Across the USA tour with wife Denise Pedersen, whose 21-year-old son Sean Patrick Sullivan in 2004 died in a car accident.

Over the past few years, the couple has taken Alan Pedersen’s music and message across the nation.

“I feel really honored that he wanted to come to Suffolk,” Seal said. “He says his songs are for anyone who has had a loss; everyone can be encouraged and inspired and find hope through his talent, his message, and his music.”

The Oct. 11 event is open to the public. Visit for more information on the Pedersens, and to learn more about the group.