'This group is a life saver': Windsor woman helps parents deal with the loss of a child

Rose Wood runs. She runs, and runs often.

'I started running because I needed to release my feeling and emotions," said Wood. "I would take Kleenex with me and as I would jog around I would cry, yell and scream."

Wood took to competing in the Detroit marathon to cope with her emotions. She pushed for getting the first Canadian charity, the CMHA, added to the list of participating marathon charities. Runners who select CMHA as their charity-of-choice are helping fund the grief and bereavement support services in Windsor.

Wood says the bereavement group has helped her navigate the "marathon of emotion" over the last several years.

Her son, John, passed away unexpectedly 11 years ago, at the age of 31.

"This group is a life saver. It offers hope, and comfort," said Wood. "It lets you know that you are not crazy and that you are not alone."

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Wood went to the group for three years then became a facilitator for parents seeking solace in the group therapy sessions.

"It helps me to see how far I've come," said Wood. "I sit at the front of the group and offer new hope to parents who walk in for the first time."

She wants to be able to teach people that the cliches don't help.

"Closure, getting over it, God takes the good ones first. These are not helpful. They are hurtful."

Wood feels that all the parents have a common bond — they've all lost children and are all going through the same emotions.

"We give each other different tools to help us get through the day," said Wood.

The group has been operating since the 1970s and has about 28 parents in the group who have lost children of all ages in different ways.

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The Morneau family is one who attends the bereavement group with Wood. Their son, Rob, died in an industrial accident in 2016 when he fell through a skylight while working.

His parents, Jack and Denise Morneau, were devastated by the accident — and it wasn't the only tragedy the family was dealing with.

"Rob's wife was going through chemotherapy at the time," said Denise. "Rob was taking her to London for treatment. When Rob died, a year later, she passed. Our family was left with that grief — and raising his two teenagers as well."

Losing their daughter-in-law so soon after losing their son sparked the Morneaus' participation in the bereavement program. Jack was initially hesitant.

"'This group is a life saver. It offers hope, and comfort ... It lets you know that you are not crazy and that you are not alone." - Rose Wood

"It took me several sessions to finally open up," said Jack. "When I did, I felt like we weren't alone in dealing with everything we had to deal with."

Due to the group's growth, coordinators partition the group into different sections more focused to their loss. Parents who lost their child to critical illness meet separately from losing an older child or losing a child to substance abuse.

Colleen Campo, CMHA's bereavement specialist, attributes the success of the program to a number of factors including being able to address a specific need for parents.

"The old adage of assuming you can get over what you are feeling as a parent who lost a child in a few weeks is not true," said Campo. "You never really get over it. You learn to live with it."

Campo says being surrounded by other parents experiencing loss allows a support network to form, providing help she, as a counselor, can't provide.

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"I can sit here and speak to these parents about grieving until I'm blue in the face," said Campo. "I've found, in my decades of work, it's the sharing of the stories that allows them to open up, and feel."

Campo is retiring from her work with the program in 2019, but she wants parents to continue to think about the legacy they want their children remembered by.

"It's a challenge to get parents to think about their children in the legacy form. It's a way to honour their memory."

The program is funded entirely by fundraising and donations. Denise said the Morneau family would be lost without it.

"We hope it continues for parents like us — a community support group that helps each other through the most difficult time in a parent's life."