Posted: May 2, 2012 7:44 PM by Caroline Lowe
Updated: May 3, 2012 9:19 AM
It has been more than five years since Anthony Cercone's four-and-a-half year old son, Skyler, drowned in a swimming pool.
"It was not like I was ready for it it, like he was sick or in the hospital. I was splaying with him, laughing, helping him put on his cowboy boot twenty minutes before it happened," said Cercone.
"At least I got to breathe his last breath for him, and try to keep him alive and he got to die in my arms," added Cercone.
Devastated by the boy's death, Cercone finds strength spending time with other parents who know the heartache of losing a child.
They belong to the Parents Sharing Sorrow and Hope group that meets once a month on Tuesday evenings at a church in Santa Maria.
Susan Moran makes the monthly trip from Atascadero where she lives.
"I have been coming for a year and a half and Mattie will have been gone six years. I was a lost soul until I found this group," said Moran.
The group meets in space donated by the Foster Road Church of Christ on the third Tuesday evening of every month.
They sit in a circle, share their pain and talk about their children who died too soon.
The discussions are led by two Santa Maria moms, Catherine Harper and Lori Macagni.
Harper's only child, 26-year-old Brandon, was killed by a drunk driver being chased by a Santa Barbara County deputy five years ago in Santa Maria.
Macagni lost her son, Travis. after he was born prematurely twenty-six years ago and lived for only two days.
"Losing a child is the hardest psychological thing on your brain that could possibly happen, like trying to come off a drug like heroin," said Harper who is now a family therapist.
"Fathers and mothers when you lose a child, the first thing you do is blame yourself. A lot of guilt is involved and that doesn't help with the healing process,"said Macagni, who is married to the Santa Maria police chief.
The monthly meetings are a mix of tears and even a few laughs as the parents share their grief and memories.
At the April recent meeting,the group was joined by a Santa Maria mother, Lily Quintero, whose 12-year-old daughter Niarie died by suicide in March, and by Kathy Clark, a Santa Maria grandmother whose granddaughter, 15-year- old Dystiny Myers was murdered in 2010 in Santa Margarita. That's where her burned body was found buried off Highway 58.
"I think that one of the hardest things for me with Dystiny is not being able to touch her. Like you were saying, you were given that opportunity. Not being able to say goodbye," said Clark.
She added, " My biggest thing is if I can do anything to keep Dystiny's memory alive."
Quintero told the group, " I think of her every day, She went into the room and that is when she didn't come out."
The monthly meetings are a safe place where grieving parents and grandparents can talk about their feelings.
"When you come here you may think you are crazy for having the that feeling but another parent in the room may have had that feeling you have had had so that should make you feel not so crazy," said Macagni.
Cercone told the group," I will hear a song that he loved and I don't get mad but it is like why? All over again. Like a flood of what could I have done differently? Why diddn't the CPR work? What did I do wrong?"
Nichole Ochoa lost her baby son,Logan, several months ago. She also attends other grief groups on the Central Coast.
"When I come to these groups and talk to other people I feel really blessed to been able to hold him as he passed away, I was there for him when he was born and I got to be there when he died. It is like the circle of life," said Ochoa.
"One thing that helps me about this group is we can come in and not even have to say a word," said Dawn Hanna-Coles whose son, Damien, was killed in a car crash.
In their sadness, there is a bond that connects these parents, a commitment to be there for each other as they go on with their lives without their children.
"I can't believe we all made it!," said Harper.
The meetings are held on the third Tuesday evening of every month in donated space at the Foster Road Church of Christ in Santa Maria. For information on the Parents Sharing Hope and Sorrow Group, call (805) 937-9501.
Another group in Paso Robles meets on the second and fourth Thursday of every month, and that group welcomes siblings. For information on that group, click here.
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