New York State Funeral Directors Association

It’s particularly true around the holiday season: parents mourning the loss of a child need somebody to talk to. But they encounter different things, depending on where they go. Some find relatives are eager to see the end of their grief – as if it’s lasted too long.

Others hear medical professionals define grief and the technical steps one should take to deal with it.

For Joe Stuhler, a member of the Rochester chapter of The Compassionate Friends, meeting with others who are coping with the loss of a child or other relative is a more-helpful approach.

“We’re not expecting to be healed of our grief. We’re always going to be missing our children,” said Stuhler, who has lost two sons, one to a motorcycle accident and the other to cancer.

“None of us want to be able to be over it,” he said.The Compassionate Friends Rochester Info - Click to View Full Size

The Rochester-based Compassionate Friends chapter is among hundreds of chapters nationwide that are available to embrace parents and family members who are living through the loss of a child or sibling.

“We’re just there to be there for them,” Stuhler said.

The group meets twice each month, offering fellowship and the kind of support that’s only available from those experiencing similar grief.

They aren’t in a hurry to see an end to their grief – nor are they in rush to see an end to the cherished memories of their loved ones.

Meetings start out with a social period in which the group passes a little stuffed bear around.

Its decorative bow often needs to be readjusted after it makes it through the group. That bear tends to get stuck with somebody for a while – each holds onto it while speaking, Stuhler said.

Attendees wear name tags, often with a picture of their loved one. Fellow group members tend to remember the name of the loved one before the group member’s name.

Regardless of the amount of time that’s passed since the death, Stuhler said there’s a common sentiment.

“People just want to talk about their kid,” he said.

To Stuhler, there’s no rule on when it’s “appropriate” to begin attending meetings nor how long one might continue to attend. Some have been with the group more than a decade.

At times, people show up for the first time and realize they’re not comfortable talking yet – nobody is required to speak.

Stuhler said he knows some people for whom the discussion isn’t as helpful as other activities – like exercise.

“Me, I need to go and feel I can cry if I need to,” said Stuhler, whose son died of cancer on Christmas Eve three years ago.

The difficult holiday season is addressed in the group. Stuhler said it’s a topic of discussion each year.

“The question is `how do you deal with the holidays?’” he said. Discussing the topic ahead of time helps at the very least prepare people for the difficult emotions they’ll experience.

Sometimes, group members find true friends within the group, too.

“If you are there, returning, it’s because you found some compassion there, you found some support there. It’s an incredible group,” Stuhler said.

In addition to meetings twice a month, the Rochester chapter of The Compassionate Friends holds two annual memorial events: a balloon release in June and a candle-lighting remembrance ceremony in December.

They maintain a library of helpful literature to lend, a newsletter with informative articles and original writings by bereaved parents; and a website with a variety of resources.

For those in the Rochester area, people who could use some fellowship can learn more on this chapter’s website.

There are other chapters throughout New York State and other U.S. States – people can find a local group on the nationwide website of The Compassionate Friends.


EdsPhotoEd Munger
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association