May 7, 2019

In metro Atlanta, some bereaved mothers turn to each other to find support and community in the wake of their loss. They lean on each other on Mother’s Day, birthdays and anniversaries. But also in all the ordinary moments when the grief is heavy.

Patti Phillips remembers feeling like she had lost her purpose.

After six years of pouring everything she had into caring for her youngest daughter Stephanie, the quiet, 18-year-old softball star died from the bone cancer she’d been fighting.

But the first Thursday of every month, Phillips finds a renewed sense of purpose.

Fourteen years after the death of her own daughter, Phillips sees it as her role to help those for whom the loss of a child is fresh. She knows how it feels in that moment and how important it was to have a place to turn.

“I was angry,” she recalls. “Very angry. I could just be angry and somebody would listen to me and tell me it’s going to be OK.”

While every bereaved mother grieves differently, many turn to each other to find support from people who know what they’re going through. To find somewhere to talk about and share memories of their child. Especially when it seems other people in their lives have stopped asking — a silence that can add to the pain.

So, they form clubs that they wish they never had to join.

They lean on each other on Mother’s Day, birthdays and anniversaries. But also in all the ordinary moments when the grief is heavy.

Phillips finds that fellowship at the bereaved parents support group at the “Camp Sunshine House” on Decatur’s Clairmont Road. She and her husband, Steve, regularly attend the monthly meetings.

There are a number of such support groups in metro Atlanta. Some are specifically religious, for mothers who turn to their faith. But many are not.

For Phillips, Camp Sunshine is a safe haven of sorts, where memories of their daughter are very much alive.

Despite sitting on a busy thoroughfare, there’s something undeniably calm inside the doors. It’s the headquarters of the nonprofit Camp Sunshine, which provides programming and support for children with cancer and their families.

Their main event is a summer camp, which Stephanie attended, but they also hold a variety of other programs, like the support group for bereaved parents.

The group gathers first to break bread in the large dining room. Then they meet for an hour, with a social worker as their guide, in the homey library nestled at the front of the house.

It’s an inviting room, with over-sized couches and large black and white photos of former campers on the walls. 

For Phillips, the support and solidarity she has found here has been invaluable.

“Unless you’re a part of it you just don’t understand how close these people are. You get to know all of them and their stories and what they’re going through,” Phillips said. “And you pray with them, you cry with them, you hope with them, you celebrate with them.”

While the grief never goes away and life is never “normal” again, Phillips knows what can only be learned with time: it’s OK to laugh again or to cry at inopportune times.

“We’re all there for each other, no matter how long it’s been, whether it’s been a few weeks or whether it’s been 20 years, it doesn’t matter,” she said.

Link to the full article from WABE: