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For Grieving Parents
Rachel Woolridge, left, with a picture of her daughter Karey, and Michelle Scott, right, with a picture of her daughter Mashanda. - photo by Jessica Smith

The loss of a child is one of the most cataclysmic, devastating events that can happen to a parent, but there is a local group that can help shepherd survivors through the storm. The parents support group at First Baptist Church of Conyers provides a network to aid in the grieving and healing process.

The non-denominational group was founded in 1995 by Rachel Wooldridge, who lost her 17-year-old daughter Karey in a car accident a decade before. The closest bereavement support group was all the way in Tucker. "By that time, I was at a place where I felt I could help someone else. God laid it on my heart to start a group," she said.

Crediting her faith as the buoy keeping her afloat, Wooldridge wanted to reach out to others by giving them a space to openly grieve surrounded by people who have been in a similar circumstance. "Life’s turned upside down and nothing’s normal, you have to create a new normal," she continued, "When it first happens, you think there’s no way you will survive. But then you see someone who has, and it gives you encouragement and hope."

Wooldridge, who is also president of Rockdale Medical Center’s Auxiliary, stepped down last August as the group’s facilitator and passed on the torch on to Michelle Scott, who she says has a "heart of mercy." Meetings will resume first Thursday of the month at 7:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Conyers.

Scott’s daughter, Mashanda, then 18, was killed in a car accident in 2002. "This is my ministry. It was time to get back together. I needed it," said Scott.

Scott discovered at her first meeting she and Wooldridge were long ago neighbors. She cites one advantage of a local group is many members knew one another previously from a different walk of life.

Scott believes what the informal group does best is simply listening. "We have a language… we cry, we laugh, we scream. Everyone’s at a different stage." She recommends giving the group at least three meetings. Typically, there are 10-25 members at a given meeting. They begin by going around identifying themselves and their child’s circumstance. After that, they can share what they’ve been experiencing or not. The age ranges of the lost children vary from infant to adult, as does the situation — from accidents to illnesses to suicide.

Scott began attending meetings a year and a half after Mashanda’s death. "Sometimes the second year is worse than the first because the numbness wears off and reality sets in," she said.

One-on-one grief counseling with Linda Hagan, a local licensed clinical social worker who’s helped many from the group, also bolstered Scott. Hagan said group support can be invaluable. "When each parent is overwhelmed with grief, neither is strong enough to meet the other parent's needs. In groups, there is support from people who are in different stages of their grieving process, which enables some to get support and others to give support," she said.

Both Wooldridge and Scott said they can tell by a person’s demeanor if they have a faith relationship. "You notice a lot more anger, and not as much hope…the ones who have faith know they’ll see their child again, and God will see them through," said Scott, whose husband is an associate minister at Bald Rock Baptist Church.

Advice both ladies recommend to concerned friends and family of those who have lost a child is to listen and continually reach out. "It’s OK to bring it up. Don’t shy away – you’re happy they remember," said Wooldridge. After so many years, it "thrills" her when she receives a card from someone who knew Karey. "Keep calling, sending cards…say their child’s name. Don’t stop when everyone else stops," echoed Scott.

The Parent’s Support group meets the first Thursday of the month at 7:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Conyers. The next meeting is scheduled on April 7. For more information, call Michelle Scott at (404)386-1788.