TOWNSEND -- Gail Derboghosian smiled at a laminated photo of her youngest child, Jesse Todd Newcombe. It has been nearly five years since her son died from an overdose at the age of 20.

Early in the grieving process, Derboghosian learned about The Compassionate Friends, a nonprofit that offers support for people who have lost a child. Since receiving help from those who understood her situation, she has used her experience to give back to the group.

"I thought the most benefit is from helping someone through their grief," Derboghosian said. "If it weren't for (the group), I would be dead."

She is a co-leader for the North Central Massachusetts chapter based in Westminster. The group encompasses Townsend to Athol, communities south toward Worcester, and ones east toward Harvard.

Monthly meetings are open to parents, grandparents and siblings at Redemption Rock Church in Westminster.

People process grief differently. They may become angry, depressed, or feel guilty. The goal is to help them through the feelings and find a way to move forward with their "new normal," Derboghosian said.

There are different subgroups for deaths relating to substance abuse, cancer and other diseases, suicide, or accidents.

"Grief is grief, no matter how they die. ... The point is you have to live with it," she said.

The typical chapter meeting lasts about two hours.


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People introduce themselves and talk about their children. Facilitators guide attendees to share stories or talk about the topic of the month, which can include celebrating death anniversaries or getting through the holidays.

At the end, they stand, hold hands, and say goodnight to their children. Sometimes the group will celebrate the birthdays of children they have lost.

Groups are separated based on where people are in the grieving process. Newly bereaved are those who have lost a child within five years.

The second year is typically the hardest, Derboghosian said, because it's when the loss really sinks in.

She recalled that around that time she began to focus less on how her son could have joined the Army or returned home and more on accepting his death.

More people have been coming to the meetings due to more outreach from the group, Derboghosian said.

The group has brochures at funeral homes and hospitals in the area and flyers posted on community boards.

About 50 people attend the meetings, she said. The chapter is looking at holding them in a larger space to accommodate everyone.

As a volunteer, Derboghosian ran the group's lending library, planned candlelight ceremonies, and researched obituaries, and as co-leader she oversees fundraising efforts.

The chapter receives "love gifts" -- donations in memory of a child -- for birthdays and anniversaries. An annual remembrance walk raises money for the whole year that is used to send out newsletters, flyers and brochures, she said.

Derboghosian is also on the board for North Middlesex Cares, a nonprofit that focuses on education about prescription drug use. She said it's also volunteer-based and a way to have an impact on the community.

Although she works full-time as a restaurant assistant manager, Derboghosian finds time to volunteer because she thinks there's always a way to offer help to others.

"It can get time consuming," she said, "but it's worth it."

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