TORRINGTON – Getting over the loss of a child is not possible. Getting through it is.
According to Dave and Kristina Collins, the best way to do so is to talk to people who have gone through the same thing.
The Collins’ lost their son, Lil’ Dave, in a vehicle accident in March of 2014. Their faith and family helped them, but there was still something missing. Dealing with the grief was made harder for them because of their mentality toward difficult situations.
“We thought we were going to suck it up… the cowboy way, but a couple days into it we realized pretty quick that we needed to talk to somebody who had been there,” Dave said. “The only way you are going to get an understanding of what’s the new normal is by talking to somebody that’s been there.”
The people who had been there were part of Compassionate Friends. A non-profit group with chapters all across the nation and even the world dedicated to helping families process the loss of a child.
After a couple of years of dealing with the loss of their son, Dave felt called to help other families deal with losing their children in the same way he was helped. Dave became affiliated with the Casper chapter of the Compassionate Friends Group in 2016. Four years later Kristina joined him, and they decided to create their own chapter.
Most Compassionate Friends Groups in Wyoming and neighboring states set up a few meeting dates over the year for families to come and talk. Dave and Kristina have decided to make themselves available 24/7 365 days a year, because there is no set time in which someone is in need. Dave is often asked if he understands how much of a commitment it is to be available at all times.
“If it was as simple as having a date that you knew somebody was going to need help then yeah, we wouldn’t be doing this,” Dave said.
But he and Kristina know this is the best way for some people to cope with the loss of a child, because it is what worked best for them.
Their chapter is “from the Big Horns to the Black Hills” but it does not limit the range of people they network with. Dave said he has talked to families from Nebraska, Montana, and South Dakota. The Compassionate Friends website also has their phone number and email address so people across the country can reach out to them.
“I got an email from a man clear in New York City… and he was wondering if I knew of any chapters closer to where he was,” Kristina said. “I did contact him several other times after to see how he was doing, and he thanked us for being able to point him in the right direction.”
Dave said one of the most important things Compassionate Friends does is connecting parents with others who have similar backgrounds. Dave and Kristina often help others who have lost a child in a vehicle accident or have agriculture backgrounds.
According to Dave, the toughest times are always the “firsts.” The first birthday, the first Christmas, and for a ranching family like the Collins’s, the first feed or fixing fence.
“I never in my 100-year life would have thought that feeding by myself was such a big deal,” Dave said. “It wasn’t until I’d lost him and then I go back out, and there’s his boot prints from right before [the accident].”
Now Dave is available for any father who has the same challenges and might need a friend in those moments.
The pain doesn’t stop after the firsts though. Dave said every time a birthday or special event comes around the family will still feel it. The passing of Lil’ Dave still effects Dave and Kristina seven years after the accident. However, they use what they went through to help others who have just experienced the same thing.
“We figured the one thing that we could do to make something positive come out of the loss of Lil’ Dave would be for us doing this,” Dave said.
Since there is no time limit to dealing with the loss or when it will affect someone, Dave and Kristina plan to help people as long as they can.
“They can call us 50 years in the future by the grace of God if we are still here,” Dave said.
The weight on a parent’s shoulder can feel like too much according to Dave, and for people who deal with it like he did can find it very hard to talk about it.
“If they need to talk and you can allow them to talk then that is literally like taking 100 tons off their chest,” Dave said.
Compassionate Friends offers something different than a session with a therapist or a group meeting. They offer real experience to a topic which is unknown to most. It is why Dave and Kristina talked to people with Compassionate Friends instead of talking to a professional.
“I would never go talk to a therapist, but I would obviously be a lot more willing to talk to a dad or a couple that has been there… A therapist would be the most absolute foreign thing to me,” Dave said.
The Collins’s acknowledged therapy and group talks definitely work for some parents. For them, however, talking to people from Compassionate Friends got them through the hardest parts of their lives. Now they hope to do the same for other families with similar pain.
Compassionate Friends is not affiliated with any religion because the mission is to help everyone; not just those who believe in God. Dave and Kristina want to help anyone who has lost a child and they cite their faith as the reason for doing so.
“We wanted to pay it forward because we have a deep faith in the Lord and that’s what the Lord would tell you to do,” Dave said.
Dave and Kristina can be reached anytime on the phone at 307-685-6629 or by email at [email protected] More about Compassionate Friends can be found at https://www.compassionatefriends.org/.