When Kenna Marriott lost her daughter, Jeannine Mongelli, to breast cancer almost seven years ago, the pain was unbearable. And her grieving, that began long before her daughter's memorial service, is still ongoing.
"You go back and forth through all of the seven steps of grieving a hundred different times," Marriott said. "And it's always changing. I think about her every day. Some days I smile at her picture. And other days I cry."
Jeannine Mongelli was 48 when she lost her battle with breast cancer. "But she was my baby," Marriott said.
Losing a child is one of the most difficult sorrows to express and unique in its process of mourning. Edna Emerson, an experienced bereavement counselor for HPH Hospice, said it doesn't matter the age of the parent, the age of the child or the circumstances that led to the death.
"You can't measure the degree of someone's loss," she said.
HPH Hospice understands that adapting to the loss of a loved one is a personal journey that has no time limit, no master plan. Nor is there an equivalent to the devastation and disruption the loss leaves for those who mourn the passing.
Group support has proven to be a solid resource for mourners because it allows for a solid understanding that they are not alone in their grief. Support groups also give mourners a safe place to share their feelings.
And bereavement classes and counseling have always been an important free service of HPH Hospice.
But Emerson, who facilitates many of the support groups, realized those who are mourning from the loss of a child are in a very different place. Many don't do as well in a regular support meeting. And in Emerson's experience, some will come once but not return. "They say they feel like they don't belong," she said.
Having lost her own husband, Emerson fully identified with those mourning a significant loss. She described that experience as having a global effect on her life. But losing a child is different. "I call them equally devastating losses. But they are not the same."
On March 5 through April 23, HPH Hospice will unveil a new support group offered exclusively to parents and guardians who have experienced the loss of a child. The group will meet on Wednesday in the HPH Hospice Building 2 from 2 to 3 p.m.
"I'm going to run it for a period of eight weeks to see what the response is and to give people time to know about it," Emerson said. The format will follow a support forum rather than a class environment. "And we will re-evaluate to see how many people come and how many want to continue coming. We could extend it indefinitely."
Adjusting to life after the loss of a child is profound. Emerson explained it encompasses more than losing the physical relationship but also mourning the loss of a future.
"When we have a child, we have plans for them," she said. "We want to see them do all the things in life that we want our child to do. And when the child dies, that door is closed. No more future."
Another factor that might affect how a parent shares in a group comes from the manner in which the child died. Many times it is a sudden event, such as an accident. Others might entail a long-term illness that now leaves the parents searching for a purpose, particularly if they were the caregiver. Other causes of death might be difficult to discuss, as in an overdose or suicide.
Having a special support group for their individual level of mourning is essential to their healing.
For Kenna Marriott, sharing her story through the pages of a book was the therapy she needed to not only preserve memories of her beautiful daughter but to help others navigate their way out of the fog. "Coulda Shoulda Woulda" was published in 2013.
Talking about one's grief is an important tool in the healing process and HPH Hospice is always incorporating ways to help make the journey easier. Through bereavement support groups, bereavement counseling, children's counseling and special camps, HPH Hospice is a resource for anyone needing support, free of charge.
For more information about the "Loss of a Child" Support Group, you can call (800) 485-8784 or visit www.HPH-Hospice.org.