When I was in Brussels, Belgium, recently, I found a reference to Compassionate Friends (the organization for parents who have lost a child to death) and a couple’s phone number in a magazine called The Bulletin. I called the number referenced and spoke to a lovely British lady who has lived in Brussels with her husband for the past 40 years. She informed me that Brussels at one time did have a Compassionate Friends chapter but no longer. She does still refer those who need help to a chapter as close as possible and answers any questions they may have.
As we spoke, I told her that I am very active at the national level of the U.S. Compassionate Friends and speak each year at their national conferences. We chatted for a few more minutes and she invited my husband and me over for a dinner, which I thought was very nice of her. Our first attempt at getting together failed due to a snow storm causing transportation problems, but our second attempt a few nights later worked. They live a few miles from where we were staying, met us at the metro station and drove us to their home.
It was a lovely condominium in an upscale neighborhood where the residents spoke mostly English. They served us a smoked salmon appetizer on bread with drinks, and for dinner we had a fish pie with Haddock and Salmon on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes and cheese. A salad and vegetables with a fresh fruit dessert accompanied the meal. It was all very delicious.
The rooms in their home were large with modern furniture, wooden floors and family pictures all around, both of their son and his two boys and their daughter who died of cancer 23 years ago. They said that it was only when they found the Compassionate Friends support group which used to be active in Brussels, that they knew they would survive the death of their daughter. Since then, they have been the Compassionate Friends representative in Belgium and meet many people who have lost children. They talk to them, at times invite them over for a meal, and even go to their home. They have made many friends from these contacts and feel comfortable with those who understand what they have been through and they, in turn, try to help others as best they can.
We found we had many similarities: both of our daughters were born the same year and her daughter died 4 years before mine. We both lost best friends when our daughters died, while others came out of the woodwork to do anything they could for us. And we both felt there was much to live for and lots we could do to help others. People just don’t understand unless they’ve gone through it, we both concluded. The pain will always be there, but we go on.
I believe she found us very comfortable to talk to as she spoke of her children and told us things she has never been able to talk about before. It was truly cathartic for her to be able to tell someone, who she was sure would understand, about both her daughter who died and her son, who is going through a divorce now.
We agreed to meet again before my husband and I left Brussels to get a bite to eat, chat, and most importantly, be comfortable talking about our children together.
Grief has no borders, my husband said, and he is right. People all over the world lose a child, any age, any cause, and we all go through the same grief journey. If we are lucky enough to meet and share our experiences with others as we travel the world, we are all the better for it.
Sandy has written two books on surviving grief and moving on with their lives. They are “Creating a New Normal…After the Death of a Child” and “I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye.”