LUVERNE — A Luverne couple who lost their teenage son to a drowning accident more than 25 years ago is forming a Compassionate Friends chapter in Luverne.

Pat and Helen Saum will lead the group, which will begin meeting in January inside the community room of the Lord Grizzly Gallery on Luverne’s Main Street. The intent of the chapter is to bring together parents who have lost a child, to support one another and talk about the child they lost.

“It’s really going to consist of parents supporting other parents,” said Pat Saum of the meetings. “The parents who are attending these meetings, some of them have gone through the shock of their life. In many cases, it’s a sudden death. There’s a whole different grieving process with a sudden death than with a death that lingers and you can prepare to say goodbye.

“With a sudden death, you need to tell the story so you can absorb it personally,” he added. “By telling the story, you can accept the reality of it.”

The Saums were introduced to a Compassionate Friends chapter in Sioux Falls, S.D., following the death of their son. They joined within a few months of his death, and continued to attend meetings for a year and a half.

“We found there was no pressure to participate (in Compassionate Friends). We could listen and not speak at all, or I could say 'this is who I am, this is how my son died and this is what we’re struggling with,”' Saum said.

“There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t understand the grieving process — they suck it up and don’t talk about it. That’s just not healthy for a lot of us,” he added. “We’re just hoping we can provide some sort of sanity for people who feel like they’re whole world has been turned upside down.”

Everyone grieves at different stages — even husbands and wives.

“It’s not always a good idea to sit down as a couple and try to work through your grief by yourself. You’re so close to it, and you don’t have anyone that’s objective,” Saum said. “As a couple, you’re just trying to exist on a daily basis.”

While the Saums are starting a chapter in Luverne, their intent is to welcome parents from throughout southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa. Currently, chapters exist in Windom, Marshall, Sioux Falls, S.D. and Sioux City, Iowa, to serve the region.

In addition to being a support mechanism for grieving parents, Compassionate Friends is also open to grandparents — not only have they lost a grandchild, they must watch a son or daughter with unimaginable grief. Siblings are also welcome to attend.

“The sibling, it’s important for them to get support,” Saum said. “They’re often referred to as the forgotten survivor. There’s so much discussion about how the parents are doing and the child sometimes gets forgotten in that mix.”

The Saums will lead the informal monthly meetings, which will last approximately 1.5 to 2 hours to ensure enough time for attendees to share.

“It’s a way to validate how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking,” Saum said of the meetings.

When he and his wife joined Compassionate Friends, they found a room of people who shared many of the same thoughts and emotions. Perhaps they’ve become more forgetful, or they just don’t feel right, or they burst into tears at random moments.

“Other parents say ‘That’s OK — that’s what I did, too,’” shared Saum. Being in the group helped them, and that’s what they want to offer others.

The Saums were encouraged to create a local Compassionate Friends chapter by people in their church and community.

“Some friends of ours through our church lost a child recently. They asked if I’d ever be interested in leading a chapter,” Saum said. “I’m in a better place now than I ever have been. My remaining children are adults. My life is settling down a little bit more.

“I want to contribute something,” he added. “I also know it’s not going to be for everybody. Some people don’t want to talk — ever. It’s so painful.”

Compassionate Friends is open to any parent who has lost a child at any age, from stillborn through adult. The circumstances of their death does not matter.

For more information about the Compassionate Friends organization, visit compassionatefriends.org. To connect with the Saums about joining the Luverne chapter, call or email Pat at (605) 254-2072 or pat.saum@gmail.com.