DeKALB – Harold Politsch was playing a basketball game when he collapsed from a heart attack and died – four days before his 17th birthday.
Eighteen years after her son’s death, Donna Politsch has been helping other parents deal with such an unthinkable scenario, organizing a candlelight vigil for all children who have died, regardless of age and cause of death.
Led by Politsch and the DeKalb County Hospice Candle Lighting Committee, grieving parents and family members are invited to participate in the Compassionate Friends’ Worldwide Candlelight Service at 7p.m. Dec. 9 at the Hopkins Park Center in DeKalb.
Compassionate Friends is a nonprofit organization that offers support for parents after a child’s death, said Sue Rankin, the bereavement program coordinator at DeKalb County Hospice.
“Most of us assume our parents will die before us,” Rankin said. “So a child dying first is like a backwards reality for most of us.”
Such candlelight services are held on the second Sunday of December across the world, Rankin said. Both Rankin and Politsch said the holidays can be an extremely painful time for parents who have lost a child.
“Holiday time is always a bad time for people who lost somebody, no matter how long its been,” Politsch said, adding that the rest of the year can be equally challenging for grieving parents. “This just seems to be one of the harder times.”
The candlelight service will include live music and testimonials from parents who have lost children. Refreshments will be provided, giving grieving parents a chance to socialize and connect with each other.
“Sometimes you feel like you are the only one [who has lost a child],” Politsch said.
She said grieving parents are allowed to bring other people – for instance family members and friends – to the candlelight service. Even after 18 years after Harold’s death – and 12 years since she helped create the committee – Politsch said she still finds herself wracked with anguish.
“It’s rewarding to be there,” Politsch said of the service. “It was worth it, even though you had to go through pain and suffering to get through it.”