IF YOU GO

What: The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting Ceremony

When: The group will meet at 6:15 p.m. Sunday. The ceremony starts at 6:30.

Where: San Juan College Little Theater, 4601 College Blvd., Farmington

More info: The Compassionate Friends group meets the second Monday of each month from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. at 608 Reilly Ave. in Farmington. Call Ginny Jones at 505-860-9381, or visit www.compassionatefriends.org.

FARMINGTON — Many people view the holiday season as a time of joy and togetherness.

But for those who have lost a child, this time of year can be painful and lonely.

A local group called Compassionate Friends provides a supportive forum for those who have lost sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and grandchildren. The group, which meets monthly, is participating in a worldwide candle lighting ceremony on Sunday to honor the memories of deceased loved ones.

Aztec resident Ginny Jones lost her son, Matthew, 25 years ago when the infant was stillborn. Although she lived in Ignacio, Colo., at the time, a devastated Jones located a Compassionate Friends group in Farmington and traveled to attend the weekly meetings.

"It was the one thing that helped me," she said.

Jones said that when a child dies, friends and relatives often adopt the attitude that there should be a set amount of time for a parent should grieve.

"Most of us hear the same thing, 'How long are you going to be grieving?' and "When are you going to get over it?'" she said. "But there is no calendar on grief. No one expects to bury their children, and it's not something you 'get over.' You can get through it and learn to live again, but it takes longer than anyone expects. You never 'get over' it."

Jones said the way society deals with the death of children can also add to the difficulty.

"For those who lose a child, there's no special name like 'widow' or 'widower.' It's so isolating, especially if you don't know someone else who has been through the experience of losing a child," she said. "You don't want to go out because you're hurting, and it's a very lonely experience."

Jones said because men and women grieve differently, her marriage disintegrated several years after Matthew's death due to the loss. And, she said, she also lost many friends after his death.

"I think part of the reason people distance themselves is because they don't want to watch your pain, but I think also they don't want what happened to you to happen to them," she said.

Jones said she was able to work through her grief at Compassionate Friends meetings, surrounded by those who had been through a similar loss.

"I had to tell my story over and over again until it got softer, until it got easier to deal with," she said.

Jones, who later re-married and now has three grown children and 10 grandchildren, attended Compassionate Friends meetings for several years before organization went dormant. About four years ago, she and a friend got the group going again, and they meet monthly with other grieving parents, siblings and grandparents.

Bev VanSickle and her husband lost their 17-year-old son, Greg, nine years ago.

VanSickle said that while there are support groups for those who lose an elderly parent or a spouse, having a group like Compassionate Friends is important because losing a child carries with it a special kind of pain.

"I'm not saying those other deaths aren't tragic or horrible, but there are so many layers when you lose a child -- no matter what age. It's just hardest knowing it's your child that's gone," she said.

VanSickle said being around those who have experienced similar pain provides a sense of hope.

"I think there's a common bond any time there are such tragic circumstances," VanSickle said. "You're searching for some sort of answer, something that can soothe your soul. When newly bereaved parents can come and visit with someone whose loss is further behind them, they can see that it's possible to still have a life. It helps to have someone who understands what you've been through."

The worldwide candle lighting ceremony will start at 7 p.m. in London, and then continue at that same time in cities throughout the world, serving as a wave of light that passes around the world. Farmington's ceremony will consist of readings and music. During the candle lighting ceremony, those who have lost a loved one can say that person's name as they light the candle and can display a photo of their loved one.

VanSickle said the candle lighting ceremony is not just for those who have lost a child.

"Anyone who's had a loss in their family can participate, or even those who just want to come to pay a tribute for someone else's loss. All are welcome to attend," she said.

Leigh Black Irvin covers health for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4610 and lirvin@daily-times.com Follow her @irvindailytimes on Twitter.