SARASOTA -- Grieving parents who experience the presence of a child who has died are often called "crazy" or told, "It's your imagination." The loss of a child is tough enough without friends and family members isolating bereaved parents who believe that just because the physical body is gone, it doesn't mean their child is gone from their lives.
Dr. Mark Pitstick, an expert in parental bereavement and afterlife experiences, will present scientific afterlife evidence of spiritual experiences from 7 to 9 p.m Oct. 14 at Unity of Sarasota, 3023 Proctor Road. Forming Helping Parents Heal groups is part of Pitstick's national tour goals as an expert in the field, and Wednesday's meeting is the kickoff to weekly meetings for the new group.
Bob Langfelder knows the double-edged sword that comes with losing a child.
Danny Langfelder died on Feb. 2, 2010, in his Florida Gulf Coast University dorm room from overdose of medication he was prescribed for depression he developed after being hurt in an accident when he was 15. Danny was 19 when he died and left behind hundreds of friends and a loving family.
Almost six years after his death, Danny's friends still leave him messages on Facebook about how he affected their lives in the decisions that they make today. They tell him they love him. They tell him they miss him. They tell him they look forward to seeing him again one day.
"He was a great kid," said Langfelder. "He loved music, played the drums and was an excellent skateboarder. After the accident, he was always in a lot of pain and developed anxiety and depression. That's how he ended up addicted to anti-depressants. He was trying to get off of them and it was just too fast so he took too many. He was a sophomore studying psychology because he wanted to help people."
The onslaught of grief and isolation
As a school counselor for more than 30 years. Langfelder said there were occasions where he had contact with family members who lost a child.
"I knew how difficult it was for them," he said. "But I never knew the excruciating pain that never stops when you lose your child. I used to feel waves of pain like huge tidal waves that would subside and then come back. But you also lose the innocence of your family because your family will never be the same. Things change and what happens to a lot of parents is that friends disappear. They don't know how to treat you. They are afraid to hurt your feelings. They are afraid of their own fears. Parents become alone and they need support."
That's where grief groups play an important part, Langfelder said, and why he wanted to be a part of starting Pitstick's Sarasota group where "you can tell your story and not be afraid to scare other people away. If I didn't have this group and others like Compassionate Friends, along with my spiritual beliefs, I wouldn't have got through."
Helping parents heal
According to Pitstick, 75 percent of grieving parents have an "after death contact" experience with a child who has passed. Pitstick has worked with dying and suffering children for more than 40 years. His experience includes pastoral counseling and working at mental health centers and private practice. He has published several books endorsed by the late Dr. Wayne Dyer and others, tours the country as an expert in the field and produced the documentary "Soul Proof."
In his latest book "Eleven Questions You Ever Wanted to Know About Life, Death & Afterlife," Pitstick seeks to answer universal questions like "What happens after I die? Why is there so much suffering? Why am I here?" and "How can I identify and fulfill my soul's mission?"
Pitstick said the group is for all parents who have lost a child for any reason, including a parent who may be in their 80s and lost a child in their 60s.
"There is no separation of grief when it comes to losing a child at any age," said Pitstick.
Langfelder said a group that delves into "after death contact" experiences may not be for everyone depending on their beliefs, "but if you are ready for this group, it will be extremely helpful in letting you know that you are not alone in your grief and you are not alone in experiencing the presence of your child."
Helping Parents Heal is a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting parents heal. A suggested donation of $5 is asked to help pay for church space. It is for parents of all ages who have lost a child, but also for grandparents, siblings, family members and friends of the deceased.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter@urbanmark2014.