When Cheryl Smith Lee was in need of help, somehow Valerie Lawrence sensed it. A phone call by Valerie to Cheryl confirmed it. The widow of FF/PM Brian Lee explained to her that life had been a bit hard as of late. Raising twin girls alone, caring for her other children, and trying to maintain a home had overburdened her. Letters from the homeowner’s association had been piling up, threatening legal action if she didn’t complete some needed repairs to her home. Cheryl didn’t know what was going to happen–that is, until Valerie and other members of the newly formed LAFRA Family Support Group took charge. With a few phone calls, Valerie had LAFD member Juan Albarran and his friend Dean head out to Cheryl’s house, paint brushes and tools in hand, ready to work. They painted the home’s shutters and the front door and even took the time to hang an American flag on the front porch, something Cheryl had been wanting to do since Brian’s death in 2014.
Cheryl is not alone in these types of situations. Many widows and widowers of LAFD members find themselves in need of a little help from time to time. That is why the new family support groups was created. The LAFD Chaplains, in cooperation with the Los Angeles Firemen’s Relief Association, have formed a new alliance for surviving spouses and other family members. The LAFRA Family Support Group assists those who have lost a loved one, either active or retired by helping them through the difficult transition from spouse to widow or widower.
Fixing plumbing issues and doing a little painting is not the only reason the support group was formed. We all know that when a member passes away, the remaining spouse goes through a grieving process that can be very painful. Surviving family members must take on many arduous tasks, often alone and without advanced warning. From funeral arrangements, to mountains of paperwork, to handling other home and financial matters, the passing of a loved one is a stressful time. The Relief Association wants all of our members to know that they are here for them. Trained grief counselors like Valerie Lawrence (widow of Captain John Lawrence) and Diane Vigil (wife of Relief Association Trustee Joe Vigil, who has worked with the autism community for years), as well as the department’s chaplains are all here to help.
The LAFRA Family Support Group, however, can’t do it alone. Active and retired members are needed to volunteer their time and “fix-it” skills to help surviving families with general repair and construction issues relating to plumbing, roofing, landscaping, painting, automotive and other issues in need of general maintenance. If you have the time and the skills, please contact the group at (323) 259-5277 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More than anything, the Relief Association wants you to know that you are not alone. Each person’s loss is different and will grieve for different periods of time. If you are looking for support resources, a compassionate heart, a listening ear, or a sense of hope, do not hesitate to reach out to us.