Betty Jones' son, Steven, died in 2008. And -- like so many parents who have to bury their own child -- she didn't know how to deal with such an enormous loss.
"Mainly I was numb. Just numb. Floating through life," she explains.
Jones sits at a table with Carla Farone-Haught and Janet Eyring -- two other Mentor moms whose children died. All three belong to The Compassionate Friends, a support group for families who have lost a child.
"It was..." Jones pauses a moment to find the proper word.
"Surreal," Eyring suggests.
Jones nods her head and continues. "Yes, I couldn't even listen to the radio. I felt like everyone was moving and I was standing still. I hated to hear laughter or even a child's name."
Eyring says she also felt numb when her daughter, Jennifer, died in 2006.
"That first year, I was physically present on this earth but that was the end of it," she says.
Farone-Haught lost her son the most recently of the trio. James Polewchak died .
"I was having a serious meltdown," she says. "My husband wanted to help me but he didn't know how. He went to the computer and I don't know what he typed in -- 'grief' or whatever -- but your web site came up."
Farone-Haught called Kathy Gipson, the coleader of Lake County's Compassionat Friend chapter.
"I swear I talked to an angel that night," she says.
'You can never understand the pain'
Jones says she was terrified the first time she went to a Compassionate Friends meeting.
"It took every bit of strength not to bolt for the door."
When it came time for her to speak, she barely squeaked out her name.
"Eventually, I was able to form words."
Despite her fear, Jones recognized something -- these parents understood, truly understood, what she was going through.
"The most important part of the group is you are in a room with people who understand you," Eyring says. "Unless you've a lost a child, you can never understand the pain -- nor would you want to."
Eyring notes that a parent's first meeting can be intimidating.
"It takes courage to walk through the door of a Compassionate Friends meeting. Because -- let's face it -- it's a group nobody wants to have to belong to."
At Compassionate Friends, the parents share their stories and their grief. Eyring says even that sharing can be scary, especially for people who have been holding all of their pain inside.
"You feel like you're going to explode into a million tiny pieces if you let it out," Eyring says.
Unlike Jones, Farone-Haught says she had a good feeling from the first moment she walked into a Compassionate Friends meeting.
"These people are angels," she says. "They can relate to you. They understand. They empathize.
"When your child dies, you feel alone. You feel isolated. But they made me realize that we need not walk alone."
'You never forget but you can go on'
You never "move on" from the loss of a child -- not completely. All of the moms are clear about that.
But, while the hole inside of you never disappears, its edges get softer.
"There's hope that the deep cavern you fall in is slowly going to get shallower and you'll see yourself on top again," Farone-Haught says. "You never forget but you can go on."
The three also agree that the Compassionate Friends have helped them in that process.
The Lake County chapter meets at 7:30 p.m. every third Tuesday of the month in the BEA conference room at . Siblings of deceased children are also welcome.
Jones says she is the happiest she's been in four years.
"There's an inner peace," Eyring says.
"Exactly," Jones replies. "And it's due to this group."
Those who wish to know more about the Lake County Chapter of The Compassionate Friends can call 440-479-0225.