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A group no one wants to join: Mothers of Angels

Grieving Sumter mothers support each other after children's deaths

BY KAYLA ROBINS
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 7/17/19

Laura Bennett can point to three positives in her life that sprouted from her worst day, the death of her 3-year-old son.

One is that she was saved. Her husband fell into a drug-filled depression after Taylor died, and coming out of a treatment …

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A group no one wants to join: Mothers of Angels

Grieving Sumter mothers support each other after children's deaths

Posted

Laura Bennett can point to three positives in her life that sprouted from her worst day, the death of her 3-year-old son.

One is that she was saved. Her husband fell into a drug-filled depression after Taylor died, and coming out of a treatment program after overdosing brought both parents to their faith.

Bennett had had her tubes tied before Taylor died. After he did, she begged God for another child.

Two is their now 16-year-old daughter. They adopted her when she was six weeks old after her birth mother left a note on their door asking them to take her. Bennett's husband had done drugs with her, and they were her only option other than giving the baby up to foster care.

Bennett's worst day 23 years ago led her to Wise Drive Baptist Church on Tuesday, where she shared a bond with 20 other women. They all have lost a child. Sitting at tables and wearing ribbons in yellow and purple, the mothers gathered for the 14th-annual Mothers of Angels luncheon.

They came from different backgrounds and were there for different reasons, both laughter and tissues present. As they shared their stories, a table to the side of the room occupied by framed photos of sons in military and law enforcement uniforms, boys in high school graduation robes, daughters spreading smiles for the long-ago camera, each of the 21 women stood. Some gave their child’s name, some a short cause of death, most the full date.

Bobby died on July 24, 1993. He was murdered on the same day his grandmother died.

John passed away on a Christmas from a hereditary disease.

A stillborn on March 19, 2011. Eight months pregnant.

April 15, 2019, murdered.

May 8, 2008. July 7, 2011. Nov. 19, 1980, born three days earlier.

From suicide in 2008.

One son, on Sept. 3 of a year she couldn’t remember, another in July 1998 on a day she couldn’t remember. A daughter on May 22, 2004. June 24, 2018, from cancer.

Jan. 4, 1996. A 38-week-old stillborn on May 14, 2010.

2018. Ryan, 4 years old, an only child, in 2003. Jan. 6, 2011.

“He was born pre-mature, and his lungs weren’t fully developed. He was on a respirator for a month, and after they took him off, he lasted a day,” said Loretta Myers of the month she spent in the NICU in 1975. “When the season changes to September, there’s a darkness.”

“Your happiness is your  child’s legacy.”

Mary Holmes took over as president of Mothers of Angels this year to save the group from disbanding due to a drop in membership and a lack of awareness.

She lost her son in 2011, two years after burying her husband.

“I thought I would never smile again. I didn’t want to talk to people. I didn’t want to go anywhere,” she said.

Holmes led the luncheon on Tuesday with help from her daughter, who brought her to her first meeting.

“When I first started coming … I would get to the door and start crying, and I would leave crying,” she said. “But, as the years passed, I became stronger, and now I’m a supporter of those people who come in now who have just lost a child.”

Holmes said she wants more mothers who are grieving to come to their meetings, which they hold at the church every third Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m.

They can cry as much or as little as they want.

“When we get a new member, they share with us how their child died and when they died, and that new member cries,” she said. “And we sit around the table, and we tell that new member how our child died, and we let them know that we were over there where they are, but we’re over here now.”

One of those more recent mothers is Bennett’s third positive that came from her worst day.

Risha Teal and her family moved in next door, and they had a son who was the same age as their adopted daughter. On Tuesday, Teal also stood up with a date of her own.

Her son was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at age 5. He died two years later.

“They saw me after I pulled myself together,” Bennett said. “They saw someone get through it.”

On Tuesday, the women drew for door prizes amid sharing Southern plates of yellow corn, chicken, roast beef, vegetables in a casserole and mayonnaise-based salad form. They carried nothing of who they were before they were forced to settle for a gravestone instead of a hug except the spelling of their name. There will always be tissues present with the laughter.

“They would want you to go on. They would want you to be happy. Your happiness is your child’s legacy,” Bennett said. “There’s no guilt or shame in being happy. Don’t let that be taken from you, too.”