Luncheon Helps Grieving Mothers Move Forward
From left, Becky Savage of the 525 Foundation, with Barbara Gillmeister and Maureen Cappuccino of Gilly’s House
By Grace Allen
A yearly luncheon hosted by Gilly’s House attempts to acknowledge and address the profound grief mothers feel after losing a child. Held each November, the luncheon is an opportunity for mothers to gather, reflect, and learn how to move forward.
“Everybody grieves differently, but I’ve met so many mothers who have lost a child and are stuck in their grief process, even years later,” said Barbara Gillmeister. She decided to hold the annual event as a way to help local mothers shift their approach to grief.
Gillmeister, along with her husband David, founded Gilly’s House in memory of their son Steven, who passed away from a heroin overdose in 2016. Gilly’s House, located in Wrentham, is a sober home for young men who have completed treatment but now need a place to continue their recovery.
Eighty women attended this year’s event, which was held on November 14 at the Chabad Jewish Center in Milford. Mothers who lost a child from any cause were welcome.
The luncheon is free, with all the food provided by the center’s leader, Rabbi Mendy Kivman, and his wife Rochy. Mrs. Kivman cooks the meal, while beverages, goody bags, and door prizes are donated by sponsors.
Each year, the luncheon features speakers who demonstrate how they have found new purpose after losing a child. Becky Savage, who lost two sons in one evening to an oxycodone overdose, spoke at the Nov. 14 lunch. She and her husband started the 525 Foundation, an Indianapolis-based organization dedicated to raising awareness about the dangers of alcohol and prescription drug abuse.
“We try to present people who have done something in honor and memory of their children,” said Gillmeister. “It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but it hopefully gives these mothers ideas on how to find a purpose to help them move forward.”
The luncheon also provides camaraderie for grieving mothers, many of whom have lost a child to substance use disorder. The shared experience can be very powerful, said Gillmeister.
“You’re with a group of people that totally understand you,” she explained. “Everybody cries and laughs together and there’s no judgement of whether you were a good parent or not. It’s comforting to be with other people who you don’t have to explain your feelings to.”
Gillmeister says the luncheon is always held in November, before Thanksgiving, for a reason.
“It’s the beginning of the holiday season, and the empty chair at the table is really hard,” she said.
Lynn Wencus lost her son Jeff in 2017 to a drug overdose. The Wrentham mother has attended the Gilly’s House luncheon the past two years. It’s comforting, she said, to be around other mothers who are going through the same experience, and to hear the inspirational stories of the speakers.
“I think, for a mom, the worst thing that can happen is to lose a child,” said Wencus. “You carried them for nine months and fell in love with them before they even came into this world. While it doesn’t give you peace, it’s nice to be around people who get the grief and pain.”
After Jeff died, Wencus became involved in advocacy work with Team Sharing, a national organization of parents who have lost a child to substance use disorder.
Rae Finn, the owner of Hogwash ‘n Rhinestones, was a special guest at the luncheon. Her MetroWest-based organization upcycles clothing and accessories, providing used items with new life. The theme “tattered and relentless” was presented to the mothers as a tangible way to acknowledge they are not the same persons they were before. Like Finn’s upcycled items, they can reinvent themselves and find new meaning in life. For an ice-breaker activity, Finn provided the attendees with lapel pins and letters they could personalize with their child’s name or a message such as Strength or Hope, for example.
Gillmeister says feedback from the luncheon is uniformly positive, despite how emotionally difficult it can be for some to even walk through the door. The experience can be draining yet cathartic, and she hopes the yearly gathering can help mothers find a purpose to help them on their grief journey.
In her welcome address to the mothers, Gillmeister said, “Our children would not want to see us stuck, unable to move from that awful moment in time that changed our lives forever. We need to take our memories, hold them tight, and move forward with our lives.”
For more information about Gilly’s House, or to be put on a mailing list for next year’s luncheon, visit gillyshouse.com or call 508-384-2251.