BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
Grandparents Stafford and Doreen Shewchuk light candles in memory of children who have died during the Compassionate Friends 26th annual Candle Lighting Memorial Service at Central United Church on Sunday. (Bruce Bumstead/Brandon Sun)
It remains the single most devastating moment of Bruce Cochran’s life.
In July 1984, he saw his 18-year-old daughter Sandra die of a blood clot on her lung — just two weeks after graduating high school with the highest honours in her class and on her way to study music at university.
Cochran — whose voice still weakens when he talks about how Sandra’s life was tragically cut short — was one of about 30 parents who attended the 26th annual Candle Lighting Memorial Service at Central United Church on Sunday evening for bereaved families who have lost children.
The annual potluck and candle lighting serves as a place to share in the grief brought during the holidays and Cochran has attended since the local chapter of the Compassionate Friends was established a year after Sandra’s death.
"You have a first for everything without Sandra," he said, recalling the first December without his youngest of two daughters. "The first Christmas was hard for us. Our friends and others made sure we were busy if nothing else, which sometimes helps.
"There were very well-meaning friends, professionals that just didn’t relate to that type of situation."
Chapters of the Compassionate Friends from across the globe lit candles in remembrance and honour of the missed children. In each time zone, the candles were lit at 7 p.m. to create a 24-hour memorial.
"It’s nice, there are others that have gone through a similar loss," said Cochran, a retired Hamiota grain farmer.
Kim Turner, head of the local chapter, lost her six-week-old baby Jessica 16 years ago to sudden infant death syndrome and said so many years later, she has turned her attention to helping new parents go through what she did.
"I tell them, I’m available 24/7," she said.
"There are a lot of familiar faces year after year, some new, which we really don’t like to see, but we’re here for them and help them through their grief and loss."
Aside from lighting the candle when parents say the name of their lost child and some poems, few generally talk about their children during the annual Christmas event.
"It’s OK to let the tears flow because they won’t be judged," she said.
The group also holds an event in May at the children’s cemetery and every second Wednesday of each month, the group holds a meeting at Central United Church at 6 p.m. aimed at parents who recently lost children, though everyone is welcome.
"You take one day at a time. The first few years are tough and the holidays are tough, especially if it's their first Christmas without their child," Turner said.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 9, 2013