The Compassionate Friends is a national non-profit organization specifically for parents who have lost children. The Akron chapter has been meeting monthly at Akron Children’s Hospital for 12 years and recently held its 11th Walk to Remember on May 27. Just over 130 families have belonged to the group over the last 12 years, with parents dealing with all types of deaths from illness, accidents, suicides, homicides and more. The Akron chapter operates only on donations and the walk is their only fundraiser.
Paula Dutton is a volunteer at Akron Children’s Hospital and has been part of the Compassionate Friends for many years as well. 17 years ago she and her husband Dan lost their youngest son to a tragic accident. He had just turned 21 and was playing football at Walsh University. He loved life and lived every day to the fullest.
“When the shock of his death started to wear off,” Paula said, “We were struggling to come to terms with this loss.”
They attended several support groups but finally found The Compassionate Friends. “This group of parents that have lost children is said to be the club no one wants to join because the dues are too high to pay,” she continued.
One of the fears that all bereaved parents have is that their child will be forgotten, so this is an opportunity for parents to invite other family members and friends to come celebrate their lives.
“Darren loved people and had many friends, and over the years some of his friends have participated in the walk in his honor,” Paula said. “We now have 6 grandchildren that never met their Uncle Darren but they come every year and wear his picture and name on their walking bib and if you asked them about their Uncle you would think they knew him! It is a great comfort to be with other parents that know exactly how you feel and aren’t afraid to talk about your child. Time goes by and we get very busy with our lives and this is one day we stop and celebrate Darren. They watch the balloons and doves fly high and feel his spirit with them.”
Bob and Patty Walker also participated in the walk this year and were kind enough to share their story. Their son, Sam, unexpectedly passed away in his sleep in 2012 at the age of 19. It was a shock to everyone and changed their lives forever. Within a few weeks, Patty found the Compassionate Friends group and, with the help of this wonderful organization, the healing process continues for her family.
The annual Walk to Remember is a chance for their family to come together on a Sunday morning, wear Sam’s picture on their backs and smile. “We smile at the memory of Sam and we look to the heavens and know he is smiling down on us, and get another opportunity to share the healing process with our fellow parents,” Patty said.
They consider the walk to be a healing celebration of Sam and that he sees his family together, remembering him with both smiles and tears. “He catches the balloons every year and loves it when the doves fly out of their cage. The morning offers many things a child would love.”
The fact that the walk begins and ends with their Compassionate Friends family at Akron Children’s Hospital, a place that cared so much for Sam during his 19 years, seems appropriate. Although time in the hospital is rarely considered to be fun, the Walkers felt the staff at Akron Children’s always worked above and beyond to make their experience more comfortable.