Vivian Kehrer of Sarasota is so proud of her son Eddie that she has pictures of him everywhere in her home, his trophies proudly displayed and makes sure that people know whom Eddie was.
"I talk about my child everyday," Kehrer says.
Most people know her as Sarasota Sally — her supper club persona and website where people gather to dine at some of the area's best restaurants. And those who get to know her more find out about the eternal love of her son, Eddie Philip Meyer Jr., who died in a car accident on his way to hockey practice in Clinton, N.Y., on Dec. 11, 1979. He was 16.
She continues to remember Eddie and helps other parents who have lost a child through the Sarasota chapter of The Compassionate Friends — an international support group specifically for families who had a child pass away.
"Unless somebody loses a child, you can't comprehend what's going on, so being in a group with people who have all lost a child, you can laugh, you can cry," Kehrer says. "You don't have to talk. Nobody's going to make fun of you. Nobody's gonna say anything nasty to you."
, including today, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Kehrer's home in north Sarasota where folks from Bradenton and Venice also gather to chat and grieve. (Call 941-365-4230 to join; it's free.) And the group also has an annual event coming up that welcomes the entire community to participate.
It's the fifth annual . It takes place from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 20 at Phillippi Estate Park. It costs $10 for adults and students and children are free.
The walk involves a stroll around Phillippi Estate Park with signs displaying the name of a child who was gone too soon, along with some lighter moments including live music by Marc Anthony Roman, a raffle, refreshments and a white dove release by Sarasota Dove Release. Folks are also asked to bring an unwrapped toy to donate for Toys For Tots.
To help defray expenses to buy the Compassionate Friends brochures and materials and events, the group fundraises, gains sponsors for events and accepts donations or "love gifts" as they call them.
Compassionate Friends is not affiliated with any church or religion and goes by the motto, "You need not walk alone. We all walk together."
Everyone grieves differently, but the first step is talking, Kehrer says, but the group doesn't pressure anyone to talk if they don't want to. They have to be ready for it, so the environment the parents are placed in helps bring out those first words.
Sometimes she'll start the meeting asking folks at the meeting what has bothered them since the last meetings, at other times, she'll have people write about suggested topics anonymously on a piece of paper.
"It takes some people longer than others to talk about their child," she says.
And that bond is key, Kehrer says, to make healing possible, which is where the events come into play to help provide a change of scenery. In November, there's a holiday potluck, on Dec. 9 there's the international Compassionate Friends candlelight vigil, Mother's and Father's Day events, too.
And part of it, she says, is that the holidays are the hardest part to grieve. Having Eddie killed two weeks before Christmas was harsh, but Kehrer didn't back down from acknowledging the holidays. It's what her son would have wanted.
"A lot of people say, 'we're not going to put up any Christmas decorations up since we lost our child. We're not doing this; we're not doing that. We're not celebrating any holidays.' Well, if there are other children in the home, you really need to do it," she says. "When I lost my son, I was a single mom, and he was an only child. He loved holidays. Christmas was his favorite."
Roberta Palentino lost her son Vincent Palentino to a rare antibody syndrome on July 16, 2008, when Vincent was 29 years old. He had graduated from with honors in 1997 and received a bachelor's degree in 2001 in health service administration from the University of Central Florida.
She could never imagine that her son would come down with a rare disease that would attack his own body and suddenly lose him. Compassionate Friends gave her the outlet she needed.
She attended her first meeting about a month after his death when she was still in shock.
"They feel what you feel because they also lost their child recently," Palentino says. "For me, it was kind of a release to be able to talk to people that felt the same way and didn't have friends to help them get over it."
From being barely able to vocalize her thoughts and feelings four years ago, Palentino now helps others through those first steps and also assists Kehrer with the activities and operations of the local chapter, but still not a day goes by without thinking of Vincent.
"Some days he's just on my mind and other days I can function normally," she says. "I try to explain to them that I also felt the same way they feel and that will past after you get past the what-ifs."
Some tips that Palentino likes to use is find a routine or tradition that your child might have enjoyed — similar to how Kehrer decorates her home during Christmas.
"My son's favorite candle was vanilla cupcake believe it or not," she says. "Every night the candle sits next to the TV, and I light the candle each night."
They say time heals all wounds, and Kehrer has certainly put the time in to heal.
"I turned a tragedy into something being my passion — helping other people," she says.
But sometimes Kehrer needed to take time to help herself.
See, her son Eddie was never forgotten in his hometown New Hartford, N.Y., located just south of Utica.
Eddie was driving to an ice rink at Hamilton College for hockey practice along with teammate Scott McLaughlin in a Mercury Cougar on that December morning. The car skidded around a bad curve and struck a tree. McLaughlin survived, while Eddie later succumbed to his injuries in the hospital.
His high school hockey team, the New Hartford Spartans, wanted to make sure that Eddie's character and contributions to the team and friends and family were never forgotten, so they started the Ed Meyer Memorial Award. It goes to a hockey player in his junior year that displays strong skills and good citizenship.
Though Kehrer still speaks today to his son's friends and hockey teammates and coaches, she always wondered if that award was still around because she moved to Sarasota about a week after Eddie's death.
Head coach John Cunningham told her that of course the team gives out the award. Cunningham was the assistant coach when Eddie was playing, so how could he forget?
In 2009, for the 30th anniversary of the award, Kehrer traveled to New Hartford to personally hand out the award, and the moment brings tears to her eyes today.
"When we got there, they had that hotel set up for us, and the news guy came with this huge write-up of 'Mom Comes Home To Give Award,'" Kehrer says as tears fall down her cheek. She made sure that the recipient also had a picture of Eddie to make sure the new generation of award recipients knows exactly who he was.
"I think I'll go again for the 35th year," she adds.
Still, Kehrer has one more goal that her son would have loved to see her put in the back of the net — to see a hockey game once again.
"You know, I've never been to a hockey game since my son's been killed?" Kehrer says. "I think it's time to go."
The Compassionate Friends
The Sarasota Chapter, which also serves Bradenton, meets the second Monday of the month from 7 to 9 p.m. at the home of Vivian Kehrer in north Sarasota. To join and for directions, call 941-365-4230.
Fifth Annual Loved Ones Remembered Walk
9 a.m. to noon, Saturday Oct. 20
Phillippi Estate Park, 5500 S Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
$10 for Adults; Free for students and children
Features remembrance walk, live music, refreshments, raffle and white dove release