The Compassionate Friends offers support for families grieving the death of a child

December 4, 2013 • Local News

Those who face the loss of a child may struggle to f[auth] ind comfort during the grieving process. There is now a group in Roswell to support individuals and families of children who have died.

Terri Werckman, who moved to the city in July, recently started a local chapter of international grief support group, The Compassionate Friends.

Since September, the chapter has held meetings the first Thursday of every month from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Roswell Adult Center, 807 North Missouri Ave. The group meets again today.

“You’re with a group of people who understand what you’re feeling,” said Terry Novy, chapter services coordinator for TCF. “They simply know why you’re there.”

The Compassionate Friends began more than 40 years ago in England, when a chaplain at a hospital arranged a meeting between two sets of grieving parents. The organization was incorporated in Illinois in 1978.

TCF caters to parents, grandparents, siblings and other relations of deceased youth. It has 660 chapters through the United States and its territories, as well as chapters abroad.

Werckman became involved in TCF in Saint Paul, Minn., a month after her daughter, Mandy Wolak, died at age 33 in Dec. 2010. Wolak had been ill with pneumonia for four days when she passed.

“You feel like you’re going crazy, you really do … because your child has died,” Werckman said.

She said she found it natural to reach out to others in similar situations because that was what she had done all through Wolak’s life. Wolak was born with Down syndrome and Werckman was accustomed to being in contact with other parents of special needs children.

Before moving to Roswell, she researched the nearest TCF chapters and found that the closest ones were in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. She got in touch with TCF to find out how to start her own chapter.

Werckman said her contact with TCF so soon after Wolak died is rare and that most parents wait several months before seeking support. She said that through her past experiences with the support group organization, she understands that everyone grieves differently.

“I just kind of knew from being at the meetings that everyone needs a chance to talk and you really have to respect where everyone is at in the grieving process,” she said.

Werkman and Novy both said that often- times, attendees of meetings do not want to speak. They said that that’s okay — you don’t have to.

Today’s meeting at the Adult Center will focus on tactics for getting through the holidays. Werckman said she plans for discussions to center in part on learning how to excuse oneself from events and gatherings when necessary.

She said it’s important to be able to say to yourself, “I can’t do this,” even at the last minute.

“It’s hard to be around parents who have kids and [are] celebrating,” she said.

There is no requirement to call ahead if you wish to attend a TCF meeting. To find the exact room of the meeting at the Adult Center, ask at the front desk when you arrive.

Werkman invites grieving families to light a candle in their homes in honor of their deceased child at 7 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 8, as part of an international candlelight vigil organized by TCF.

Werkman can be contacted on her cell phone at 651-335-3355. Her email address is

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