The grief that follows the loss of a child to violence is one of the most unbearable burdens life can impose on a mother. It is one of life's mysteries, then, that by gathering a dozen such heavy souls in one room, the burden on all of them becomes lighter.
"It hurts deeply to lose a kid," said Ann Dimes, a member of the "Helping Mothers Heal" group at the Watson Teaching Ministries on St. Charles Avenue. "So you reach out to another mother, another sister ... because life is precious. Life will continue to go on."
More than a year ago, the Family Center of Hope on St. Charles Avenue held a summit on the African-American male, a two-day discussion of ways to address the ongoing violence in that segment of the community. At the end of the conference, after the statistics had been shared and the solutions proffered, one grieving mother stood and asked what could be done for her, whose son was already gone.
Afterward the Rev. Pat Watson met with the woman privately, and out of their communion, she formed the "Helping Mothers Heal" group — initially intended as a six-week program.
"We started out to be a group to understand the pain and the hurt in mothers who have lost their sons to violence," Watson said. "Here we are, 16 months later, still sharing, still loving on one another, still caring."
The pain that mothers experience is almost incomprehensible, not only to outsiders, but to the mothers themselves. Some are unable to work, some turn to drugs or alcohol, and many simply wish they were dead, Watson said.
In therapy, once an individual begins to use her creativity to solve problems or build new things, it is viewed as a sure sign that healing has taken root, Watson said. As the program grows and helps more mothers channel their pain into action, group organizers hope to reach beyond mothers to family and friends of victims, creating a citywide movement to treat the problem of violence at its source.
"We sing this song in the church, 'There's an army rising up,'" Watson said. "I believe this is the new army."
On the following pages, you'll meet some of those women and hear their stories.• Martha Bullock and Cathy Rickmon
— This story was produced with our partners at Uptown Messenger. To learn more about "Helping Mothers Heal," read more stories from women whose children have been killed on the streets of New Orleans and see additional photographs, visit www.uptownmessenger.com.