|FAMILY SUPPORT GROUP|
When I lost my husband Dale in 1995, I was left to raise an 18-month-old daughter and felt as if the floor had been pulled out from under me. After a short time, I was contacted by Nancy Baker, then serving as the coordinator of the Fire Department’s Family Support Group. I didn't even know that such a group even existed and wasn't sure that I would belong to it or need it. As time went on, I realized what they all knew was a very different grieving process. I felt as if I had lost an entire family…or so I thought.
Over the years since its formation, the Family Support Group has grown to include many widows, and its coordination has passed amongst its membership like a torch of hope. For the most part, the group meets in a social setting. As bittersweet as the group’s formation, I have made some of the most precious friends that I will ever know. At 35, I was considered to be a young widow, but was accepted without prejudice and instantly became one of the group. My daughter would often tag along to the luncheons and, soon, she had a handful of new friends, too. The Family Support Group meets on a regular basis for lunch, holiday events, and often travels to many places. Each year in early May, members also attend the Firefighters Memorial Service, hosted by Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman and the Fire Department’s Chaplaincy Program, to honor their loved ones and remember their service and sacrifice.
The Family Support Group’s mission is to be there for the family whenever a fellow firefighter has lost his or her life. Our focus is to also be there for the widow, in particular, to help her navigate much of the financial and other matters which must be handled. Helping them work through their loss, we also discover how special these ladies really are.
Since I became coordinator of this group a few years ago, many inquiries from other fire service agencies have been received regarding the Family Support Group’s mission and how support services are provided. In fact, some of our current members are the widows of other agency firefighters. Our group was also involved in the inauguration of California’s Firefighter Memorial in Sacramento.
While some of our members have remarried, including myself, I still am one of the group and continue my involvement as coordinator. Together, we share with those going through the grieving process to send a message that there is a light in the distance. As the Fire Department once told me, “We will never forget.” Yet, we do need to move our lives forward. I will always be grateful to the Los Angeles County Fire Department and to the ladies of the Family Support Group. I also thank my predecessors, Nancy Baker, for serving as coordinator for 10 years, and to Sue Schmidt, for dedicating themselves to reaching out to helping other firefighter widows in our organization and throughout Southern California.