By ANDREA BARKAN
Pilot Staff Writer
When Zachary Owen died in 2003, his mother's life ended too.
On May 25, 2003, Georgia Cockerham's son was 27 and celebrating his first wedding anniversary.
He was riding his Harley motorcycle home in Phoenix after renting a video.
He and his wife planned to spend a quiet celebratory night together.
Then a car ran a red light and hit Owen, killing him.
"Effectively your life ends when your child dies," Cockerham said Monday in her Brookings home.
"When one loses their child, there is a sense that you cannot go on," she said.
"You feel as though your chest was ripped open.
"And you've got to learn all over again how to live."
Cockerham said she wouldn't have been able to learn that without a national, nonprofit support group called The Compassionate Friends.
"I was pretty lost," Cockerham said. "I was introduced to the compassionate friends group and they literally saved me."
Now, Cockerham and her husband, Bruce Cockerham, have started a chapter of The Compassionate Friends in Brookings.
After her son died, Georgia just couldn't bear to spend Christmas in her Benicia, Calif. home.
So she and Bruce drove up the coast and discovered Brookings.
"We feel very strongly that Zach led us here to Brookings and he is helping us to help other people," Georgia said.
They quickly fell in love with Brookings, but when they looked up the nearest Compassionate Friends meeting, they found it was in Coos Bay.
Georgia knows first-hand the importance of getting support from others experiencing the same type of grief.
And she knew inevitably there had to be people in Brookings who needed that support just as badly as she did.
So she and Bruce talked with police, funeral home personnel, hospice officials and members of the faith community.
Everyone agreed the group was needed in Brookings, Georgia said.
The Compassionate Friends is for parents, grandparents and siblings of the deceased.
"When you sit in a group with other people who have also lost their children ... the person for whom the loss is very recent learns how to go on by listening to the others," Georgia said.
"I personally had to see people who has survived this and see that they were whole."
When Georgia talks about Owen, she speaks of a vital, hard-working young man who served with the U.S. Marine Corps, started a carpentry business and graduated from a fire department academy.
Then he heeded the calling his true passion.
"He had a penchant for working on engines," Georgia said.
He'd long worked on vintage cars and expanded his know-how by enrolling at the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Phoenix.
Georgia said he'd completed 13 months of schooling when he was killed.
The grief never goes away.
"You never get over it," Georgia said.
"What you learn through The Compassionate Friends is how to go on living with that grief," she said.
"The power comes from sharing our stories: how our children died and how we survived the loss.
"Part of going on in life is being able to learn to place aside your grief for part of the day," Georgia said.
The group will hold a candle lighting ceremony, part of a worldwide vigil, at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 12, in Azalea Park.
Everyone is invited.
It's a way for family and friends to show support for those parents, siblings or grandparents who are grieving.
"The best thing people can say is that they're sorry," Georgia said. "But this is something people can do. That's why the public is invited."
The Compassionate Friends meet at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month in the Chetco Community Public Library.
For more information, call Georgia at (541) 469-5814.