Bereaved Parents Find Support on the Web
By Lisa Duchene
Every time Terri Frohmiller turns on her computer, her son smiles at her from the screen, where she has also placed a poem he wrote, a picture of an angel and the dates of his life: October 24,1973 - July22, 1995. This is the web site she has created to mark his memory and is one of the ways Frohmiller is using the Internet as a tool to help her through her grief.
Bereaved parents all over the country, including a small group in the Bath-Brunswick region, are using the Internet to help support them through their loss. They create web sites in their child's memory, can talk anonymously at anytime, find people with similar circumstances and visit many different sites depending on what they feel like at that moment.
"It's all in what your mood is," said Frohmiller. "Whatever your mood is, you can find something."
Frohmiller has several of the sites 'bookmarked' so she can get to them easily. There is a site all about after-death communication that includes discussion groups and ways to hook up with a medium. There is a site called 'Dancing Leaves,' run by a Native American dancer who lost a daughter. There are people who monitor the sites, watching out for people who are unkind or judgmental, she said.
Another of Frohmiller's favorite sites is called MothersWithAngels that includes poems, ways to share stories, music, memories and practical information on funeral arrangements. "Do not be talked into anything that does not FEEL right," one person advises on that site.
The web is a perfect tool said Frohmiller, because it gives people a way to be listened to indefinitely at any time they want to with anonymity (people sign in under code names). "I've used it numerous times," she said, "and every time it's been what I needed. I've laughed and cried and it was completely private."
Frohmiller's personal journey began on a summer Saturday just before 8am when her son, David, 21, crashed while riding his motorcycle, suffered severe brain damage and died.
Looking back, Frohmiller believes that she had always known on some level that she would lose David. She always worried about him. She had dreamed of him being hurt and had always hated the motorcycle during the year he had it. She was relieved just days before his death when he decided to sell it and listed it in Uncle Henry's.
"You do go on, but you don't look at life the same because it will never be the same again........."
She found out about a local grief support group through her son, Chad, now 24. After attending a Christmastime memory tree lighting sponsored by Transitions, a program of Hospice of Midcoast Maine, that provides support for children and their parents who have experienced a loss through death, she soon became a trained grief worker.
"I couldn't let David's death just end. I needed to learn and teach. Then, if I do all this, his death brings about good change. It's a way to keep being a mom to him," she said.
So Frohmiller began working with adults as a Transitions volunteer. One night though, she noticed a mother who had also lost a child in a group of people who had lost spouses and parents. (Me!) She decided this just wasn't the right setting for people mourning the loss of a child, and began a new group within Transitions just for bereaved parents that meets periodically on it's own.
"We talk and say what we want because we all know what we're missing. We all lost first-born sons...We carry them. We give them life. From the moment they are born they need us to feed them and sit with them through the night. No matter what age the child is, you aren't losing a 50-year-old; you're losing that little boy or that little girl."
It was Linda Lee, who had lost her son to cancer, who told Frohmiller about the web sites. Lee, who lives on Westport Island, has a computer that belonged to her son, Shawn Perry, who was sick for two years before dying of cancer in October, 1997. He was 27 years old.
One day, she searched the Internet using the words death and grief and found herself at a web site about grief and healing, where she read other peoples' stories and poems. "It just felt really good to read and know other people had the same feelings I did. You're kind of anonymous. It's easier to talk and tell your story in an anonymous Internet room," Lee said.
Lee tried a real life group setting, but decided it just didn't work for her. She likes to think her son helped lead her to use his own computer to find comfort through the connections to other people on the Internet.
She was able to connect, for example, with another woman who lost her son in similar circumstances about 3 weeks later than Lee did. Last fall, around the time of the one-year anniversary of Shawn's death, Lee and the woman frequently sent messages back and forth about what it was like to approach the difficult one-year mark.
Lee wrote a poem that centered around butterflies and posted it on one web site, then knew someone had read and passed along her poem to more people when she saw her poem on another site she visited. At about the time of the one-year anniversary, she decided it was time to shift her focus from her loss to focusing on life and the memories she has. Lee decided to do helpful things for people specifically in her son's memory. From a web site called www.azsids.org, she purchased little cards the size of business cards that say, "This Random Act of Kindness done in loving memory of...." with a blank spot and a picture of an angel.
In a different way, Frohmiller is doing the same thing. Both women are trying to teach what they've learned to help people and hope that that somehow lets something good come out of the loss of their sons.
Lee can't imagine ever being "healed," she said, because the loss has changed her views and she feels like a different person. But, she said she does feel "mellow," and better compared to the way she felt immediately after Shawn's death.
"I couldn't imagine feeling better and not crying every day. But you have to. You have to go on." said Lee.
This article was published by The Times-Record on February 26, 1999 and was written by Lisa Duchene.