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Family members healing, remembering

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Saturday was a time for remembrance, to keep alive the memory of loved ones lost.

Healing Hearts, a local support group for parents whohave lost children, was started in 2001.

"It is a true support group; parents come to support themselves," said Ann Leiker, a social worker and director of Center for Life Experiences, which is based with First Presbyterian Church in Hays.

Healing Hearts is one of three support groups under the umbrella of Center for Life Experiences.

Saturday was the 12th annual memorial tree dedication, where Healing Hearts support group members put bulbs with the name of a loved one who has died attached to it on the tree.

The group has estimated between 200 and 300 parents within a 60-mile radius of Hays have lost a child since 2001.

On Saturday, in the front window of Jackie Creamer's The Dance Studio, 1003 Main, approximately 100 remembrance ornaments were put on the tree. This is the first year the tree is located there after previously being across the street.

Doris Schmidt, who, along with Leiker, helped get Healing Hearts started in 2001, lost her son, Todd, 16 years ago when a virus attacked his heart muscle and he died suddenly.

"We had struggled and struggled," with Todd's death, said Schmidt, who lives in Victoria. "That was one of the reasons for starting this support group, because we knew there were other parents out there feeling the same way we do."

To make matters worse, Schmidt's husband, Thomas, died in 2008.

"So now I'm dealing with both losses over the holidays," she said.

Neal and Carolyn Younger lost their son, Cody, in a 2009 car accident. They wore shirts with their son's name on the front at Saturday's solemn ceremony.

The support group, which meets once a month, has been a godsend.

"We get to share our experiences with the other families," Carolyn Younger said. "They all understand what we're going through because they've been through that themselves,"

She just would like for more men to go to the meetings, to lend a father's support for Neal, who regularly attends with his wife.

"Neal and I have become closer, as a couple," Carolyn Younger said. "I just wish there would be other men who would attend so Neal (can talk with) other men. Mothers feel different than fathers."

Healing Hearts also has a remembrance service at 7 p.m. Dec. 16 at First Presbyterian Church's sanctuary. Anyone is invited to attend.

Healing Hearts support group meets the second Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at Center for Life Experiences at First Presbyterian Church, 2900 Hall. For more information, call Schmidt at (785) 735-2578 or Leiker at (785) 625-2847.

Since joining Healing Hearts two months after their son's death, the Youngers have missed just two meetings in three years.

"Our grief will go on forever, but hopefully it will lessen," Carolyn Younger said. "Hoping we can help somebody else."

"It will always be there," Neal Younger said. "As time goes on, you start to live with it a little bit. But it's there, every day, no matter what."