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Posted: Monday, September 29, 2014

A decade of compassion

“It comes in waves. Sometimes, something will remind me of her or that day. It will just sweep over me, and I can’t hold back the tears,” said Yvonne Ingraham.

The day Ingraham is referring to is May 13, 2011. Today quickly becomes one of the days she can’t hold back the tears.

“I came home from work,” Ingraham said. “I had stayed a little late that day. She was sitting in the chair where she usually sat and sometimes fell asleep. I couldn’t wake her up. I called 911 and my husband and I tried to do CPR, but it was too late.”

Ingraham’s daughter, Jenny, was just 31 years old. She had been battling benign intercranial hypertension, also known as pseudotumor cerebri, for four years, a fight that found her regularly fighting horrible headaches, seizures and strokes. On May 13, Ingraham returned home from her job as a French language teacher at Heritage High School to find Jenny dead.

“It was a really horrible shock. It was a really vivid, horrible memory for a long, long time,” Ingraham said.

While she talks about her painful memories in the past tense, it is clear Ingraham still struggles – as any parent would – with her daughter’s death. What has made that struggle easier, Ingraham says, has been her experience with the Foothills Chapter of The Compassionate Friends, a support group for parents who have experienced the death of a child. She first learned about the group from a listing in this newspaper just days after Jenny’s death. Ingraham attended the very next meeting.

“I remember crying a lot, pouring out my heart to them and they were so compassionate,” Ingraham said. “Other people talked about their sorrows, which made it easier to talk about my own. My family was one that, after a death, we sort of forgot about it and moved on. You didn’t talk about it much anymore. I was hurting so badly, I didn’t want to keep it in and I needed someone to help,” she explained. “Once I got there, they made me feel so comfortable. I was able to share and I felt better after I left. Being around other people who have been through what you’ve been through just makes it easier to talk to them,” she added.

The Foothills Chapter of the Compassionate Friends meets the fourth Monday of every month and marks its tenth anniversary this year. That’s 10 years of helping dozens of bereaved families find ways to cope with tremendous loss. Blount Memorial Counseling and CONCERN director and licensed marriage and family therapist Barbara Lasater has provided professional support to the group since it began.

“It’s a support group that no one wants to be a member of, but it is one that is needed,” Lasater said. “When we first got the group going, it was to try to provide the service locally. There were family members who had approached Compassionate Friends and asked about having membership here in Blount County, so it was really parent-founded. Many of those parents were parents who I had worked with individually, but they all wanted that sense of community,” she explained.

“In the beginning, when the loss is fresh and new, one of the things people get out of it is validation of their pain. I think they keep coming in those early months and years to have a place to talk about their child,” Lasater said. “Our Compassionate Friends literature tells us that we have to share our story approximately 800 times. You’re not telling that story so other people can hear it, you’re telling it so that you can hear it. You need to say it and say it and say it again in order to make sense of it. Members are coming here to grieve, inventory their loss and talk about everything that has happened. But later, they begin to transition into seeing this as a healthy way to keep their children in their lives,” she added.

More than three years after Jenny’s death, Ingraham says she still attends Compassionate Friends meetings as often as she can.

“I like helping other people now. There are people there who have been going for eight or nine years who’ve helped me by letting me listen to their story. If I can give back to new people who come in who have experienced a tragedy, then that relieves some of my pain, as well,” Ingraham said. “I’m just really thankful that we have it here in Blount County. I don’t know that I would have traveled all the way to Knox County. It was right here. It’s been a lifesaver for me and I hope other people will find out about it and come get the benefits from it, as well,” she said.

The Compassionate Friends Foothills Chapter will hold its next meeting on Monday, Sept. 22 from 6:30-8 p.m. in the Blount Memorial Hospital auditorium.

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