Kathy Schultz belongs to a group no one wants to be a part of. She and her husband Norris are members of The Compassionate Friends in Carson City.
The group helps parents deal with the death of a child.
"We are a support group for parents who've lost a child at any age," Schultz said. "Sharing your tears can be a special gift, especially when you're feeling so badly."
The Schultzes lost their only child, April, in 1997 at age 15 of a neoblastoma multiforma brain tumor. Iit was inoperable because it was too close to the brain stem.
"You never get over the loss of a child. You work through your grief and live with it. Then you find a 'new normal.' When your child dies, you die - but you start a new life. Compassionate Friends provides a forum to be safe and not be stressed."
Though the holidays are a joyful time for most, Schultz said they make it harder to be around people.
"You find solace with those going through the same thing. We try to find something special to do - buy presents for a child, help a needy family - acts of kindness, because it is so difficult for us."
Schultz advised others not to ignore a person who has lost a child. Talk to them and tell them you want to help.
"Don't ignore the situation," she said. "Say the child's name and don't forget about them. That's the worst thing."
Schultz, 48, and her husband, Norris Schultz, 49, have been married and lived in Carson City for 27 years. They became chapter leaders in 1999. She said people are referred to the group by Carson-Tahoe Hospital, Behavioral Health Services, funeral homes and chaplains with the Sheriff's Department.
Each year on Dec. 14, The Compassionate Friends holds a worldwide candle-lighting and remembrance ceremony. It gives the community an opportunity to learn more about the group and support its members.
The local chapter survives on donations and mails a monthly newsletter to about 300 people.
"The community has been very supportive, especially to Norris and me. Everyone throughout April's illness was amazing. The most helpful thing Norris and I did was attend a conference sponsored by The Compassionate Friends."
Schultz said she knew they needed help after April's death, but going to the support group meeting was the hardest thing they ever did.
"You have to face the fact your child's gone," she said. "It's difficult, but the group is most helpful once you make it through the door. It's very hard to go because you're hurting so badly."
Schultz said it may be weeks, months and even years before some people seek help, if at all.
"We let them know who we are and invite them to our meeting. We let them know we exist, and it's OK to be yourself and feel what you're feeling. A lot of people don't talk about death, they don't want to cause pain. But it's OK."
Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at email@example.com or 881-1223.