As reported by the Republican-American, December 12, 2005.

Event Honors Loved Ones Lost

By Kurt Moffett

WATERTOWN -- While Dia Gwizd may never completely overcome the death of her young son, the devastating blow to her life can be softened somewhat by the comfort of others.

Gwizd, of Plymouth, organized a candlelight vigil Sunday night at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5157 on Thomaston Road to memorialize her son, Scott A. Gwizd Jr., and other children who have passed away prematurely.

The Gwizd family was at a picnic at a cousin's house in town on Sept. 3 when Scott, just 21 months old, choked on piece of cantaloupe and died. Sunday marked what would have been his second birthday.

The second Sunday of December is also National Children's Memorial Day and across the world, people light candles at 7 p.m. in memory of those children who passed away. The tradition was started nine years ago by The Compassionate Friends, an international nonprofit support group that assists families with the grieving process.

"While it's sad to know that so many other children have passed away, it does help to know that there are other people out there who know and understand what I'm going through," Gwizd said.

At the VFW hall, approximately 100 people attended, most of them family and friends of the Gwizds. But there were a couple of other mothers there who also lost children recently. Sandra Heady of Waterbury said her son, Corey Vann, was 4 when he died Oct. 13. The family is still waiting for autopsy results.

Debra Lopez of Torrington said her son, Xavier Outland, died on Oct. 21. He was just 15 months old. Xavier suffered from Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID. Lopez said her son underwent a bone-marrow transplant, which did not take.

All of the mothers said they believe a gathering like Sunday night's vigil will help them cope.

"It's really nice," Lopez said. "I've been looking for something like this, to talk to someone who's going through the same thing I'm going through. It becomes harder as time goes by -- when reality kicks in."

Gwizd, who works at The Learning Center daycare in Plymouth, said she is certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, and knows how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver. But at the picnic, neither she nor her friends or the paramedics could save her son. She said her son was sitting right next to her when he began to choke and 911 was called immediately.

"It happened so fast. Within a minute he passed out," Gwizd recalled. She said her son had been eating "chips and garbage all day," so she wanted to give him something nutritious -- the cantaloupe -- instead.

"He loved to eat and we just got too comfortable," she said.

Karen Steinberg, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, said gatherings like candlelight vigils can help parents who have lost a child feel less alone and isolated. She also advised that such parents should not feel pressure to get over their grief quickly and pretend all is OK.

"Often times, avoiding the feeling of pain just gets us more in trouble," she said.

Family and friends at the vigil said Scott Gwizd was a charismatic child who laughed a lot and loved to hug and kiss. His mother, 27, who also has a 5-year-old daughter, Taya, and is pregnant again, said people tell her she is emotionally strong.

"Sometimes I don't feel it," she said, "but I have to be for my daughter."