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Light from Togetherness

"One by one, they stepped forward from a pitch black circle in Coupeville’s Capt. Coupe Park Sunday and lit a candle from a single dim flame.“This is for my son, Paul.’’“This is for my son, Jason.’’“This is for my brother, Chris.’’Soon 25 candles burned brightly, casting enough light to read by in a moonless night.The symbolism — warmth and light from togetherness — is a simple expression of what Compassionate Friends are all about, organizer Edie Porter said.The Whidbey chapter of the friends is part of an international organization of people who have lost children to early deaths. The candlelighting Sunday was part of a worldwide event designed to link ceremonies together at 7 p.m. in each time zone, creating a 24-hour cycle.We light our candles in our time zone so the people in the next time zone won't light theirs alone,'' Porter said.Finding ways to break through the loneliness that surrounds grief is a central theme of the Friends, Porter said.Porter and her husband, Larry, lost Melanie, their oldest daughter, 11 years ago to leukemia. One month, she was a bright, busy senior at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Larry said. The next month, she was dead.It may seem odd to still hold onto it 11 years later, Larry said Saturday, a bit apologetically. Then the pain crosses his face again, bubbling from where it rests most of the time. Just below the surface.The Friends are an international support group that started in England in 1968, Edie Porter said. It's based on the idea that parents and siblings can best help each other deal with the pain of loss by getting together to talk out their feelings, in a group that's equipped to understand.It's not aimed at lessening the pain, or taking it away, Edie said — that's not possible. It's just about learning to live with it.Learning to live with it includes learning to live with the fact that you can never be the same, Larry said.Larry and Edie, both teachers, graduated from Central's small campus. They were proud, and Melanie was proud, that she chose the same school to finish her education — the first of their three children to reach college age.Larry and Edie travelled east for parents' day in the spring of 1988. They had a great time, Edie said, chatting with old professors,renewing acquaintances with old alumnae, spending quality time with their busy daughter.That's when Melanie told her mother about the brown spots that were appearing up and down her arms, and on her chest.She was diagnosed on the weekend of May 12, Larry said. On June 15, she died.The Porters returned to their beloved campus again, this time in the midst of a hellish round of cancer treatments, to pack their daughter's things. They met with the same professors to withdraw her from her classes, with flickering hopes that she would return.They have never been back, Larry said. The Porters joined a Compassionate Friends chapter in Mount Vernon a year after Melanie died, Edie said. It helped to talk to others and begin to understand the journey they were on.Her oldest son got help, too, a few years after his sister died, when he passed her in age. That was rough for him,'' Edie said. Today, the Friends chapter that formed on Whidbey two years ago helps siblings as young as 7 or 8 years old, Larry said.Edie said the experience has taught her some simple things about grief: That it's important to reach out to grieving people; that you can't cure the grief; that it's important just to be there. And it will never go away; just ease into the background.It's like a deep cut,'' she said. It scabs over. But holidays, birthdays; the scab comes off and it weeps a bit. It doesn't gush like it did in the early years, but it will always be there. This scabbed over little place.'' The Whidbey Chapter of Compassionate Friends meets the fourth Tuesday of every month at the Coupeville United Methodist Church Fireside Room. For information, call 675-4225 or 678-7496."

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