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Bereaved Parents find comfort in one another

BRANDON — Charles L'Homme carries white trifold pamphlets to many of his meetings for the Bereaved Parents of the USA.

Inside are points about life's choices and a short biography of L'Homme's speaking experience. On the back, a picture of a grinning Bloomingdale High School graduate clad in white sits above Ryan L'Homme's memorial.

In March 2000, L'Homme lost his son, Ryan, during an accident in an intramural fraternity softball game at Florida State University.

"He got hit with a ball when he was running bases and got killed on the field," L'Homme said. "It tore me apart."

Not knowing where to turn with his grief, L'Homme contacted a staff member of the Bereaved Parents of the USA's Tampa Bay chapter to find out where meetings were held. In October of that year, he went to his first meeting.

Fourteen years later, L'Homme facilitates the meetings at First United Methodist Church in Brandon.

"After losing my sister, my niece and my son, I said, 'Okay, the three of them made choices, and those choices cost them their lives.' So I used that to help others," L'Homme said. "I facilitate these meetings to help parents because when I lost Ryan I did not think I'd be able to continue, but the chapter helped me find a way."

The gatherings — which can last two hours — encourage parents to talk about their children and how they are they are dealing with the loss. Many parents say their biggest fear is that their children won't be remembered.

"We try to make new memories, but we do honor her," member Patty Wilson says of her 32-year-old daughter, Lisa, who died of complications of a seizure. "I don't want her to ever be forgotten."

Throughout the year, the Bereaved Parents Tampa Bay chapter invites local families to participate in fundraisers and gatherings — the largest of which is the annual candlelight remembrance ceremony held each December.

"We've helped hundreds of families," said chapter co-chairwoman Debbie Nemitz. "No one can truly understand the devastation of the loss of a child unless they have experienced it. It doesn't matter the age or the circumstances."

According to Nemitz, who joined the group after losing her 15-year-old daughter, Robyn, Bereaved Parents was established as a national organization in 1996 in Louisville, Ky. It has grown to 42 chapters in 34 states. L'Homme is one of three facilitators of the Tampa Bay chapter, which has about 300 members.

"Everybody moves through grief in their own way," L'Homme said. "I've learned over the years I need to be there for the parents and help them move through it."