INDIANAPOLIS — Cheryl Shockley remembers her son, Jack Shockley, as the life of the party.

“He was the funniest, he was the fun in our family,” Cheryl said.

Jack was killed in a shooting on Indy’s east side in August 2020. Though it’s been two years since his death, Cheryl said every holiday without him is a painful reminder of that loss.

“Everybody has a role in a family, and then when that person’s gone, then the family has to figure out a way to go on,” she said.

Part of that journey has connected Cheryl to DeAndra Dycus, who leads Purpose 4 My Pain. Dycus started the non-profit after nearly losing her son, Dre, to a stray bullet in 2014. Though he survived, his life was forever changed as he remains paralyzed and unable to speak.

Through her organization, Dycus has offered outreach and resources, like grief support groups and retreats, to help numerous families impacted by gun violence.

“I’ve been talking to a mom just earlier today, whose son was killed over the weekend, this is brand new and this is fresh,” said Dycus. “Having that empty seat is gut-wrenching, and it’s just a very difficult space to navigate.”

Sadly, many families are forced to feel that reality this year as Indianapolis reaches close to 210 homicides so far. Heading into Thanksgiving, four lives were lost in separate weekend shootings throughout the city.

Dycus said it is important people have grace for families and individuals, who may be struggling with grief this holiday.

“You need a support system that shows you grace during your grief and no judgment,” Dycus said. “I hate it when parents say ‘Well someone asked me you’re not over that yet? You haven’t gotten over that?'”

“You don’t get over losing a child or having them altered and live life differently,” she added. “You don’t get over it, you just learn how to navigate it differently.”

Julie Leet, a grief counselor through Community Health Network, said it’s also important that friends and family check in with their loved one after a loss.

“I would say initiate contact,” Leet said. “I would say the loved one’s name out loud, thinking of you, call them, and if they don’t answer, leave a message. It doesn’t have to necessarily be deep and in-depth, but people feel isolated, people feel alone.”

“People will naturally want to withdraw because it is so painful to be around others who are jolly and having a great time,” she added. “Reaching out and letting people know I’m thinking of you, and saying the loved one’s name, can be really meaningful.”

If you are struggling with grief, Leet said it’s vital that you take care of yourself, properly hydrate, get adequate rest and make smart, healthy coping choices.

“I know we’re drawn to doing things for self-care, like ‘Oh yeah, let’s have an extra eggnog’ or let’s do certain things, and it’s not going to help,” she said.

When it comes to holiday gatherings, Leet said there’s no right or wrong decision and to do what’s best for you.

“I want to give you permission to do what you need to do, and that might mean saying no, I can’t come, or that might mean saying yeah, I’m going to give it a try,” Leet said. “Let’s say we always go to church, or we always go to this service. Then, maybe sit in the back. Sit next to the end of the pew, so that you can get up and excuse yourself if you find that you’re overwhelmed or that you need a little breathing space.”

Cheryl, who is preparing for another holiday without Jack, said her family continues to find comfort in new traditions that honor his memory.

“For us, the first year, we just couldn’t do it hardly. So, we decided to, all of us, dress up like Jack, which he was like the slouchiest kid on the planet,” Cheryl laughed. “I mean, he’s so blindingly handsome, but he didn’t care about clothes. He didn’t care, he was always just in sweatpants. So, the whole family dressed like a slouch, and it made really funny, funny pictures of that.”

As the Shockley family continues to navigate their own grief, Cheryl said she finds peace in speaking life into Jack’s name. However, she knows for many others, that may not be as easy.

“The grief is always going to be there, but it’s ok. It’s ok,” she said. “It’s ok to grieve, and it’s ok to not talk about them or to talk about them as you need to, and I feel like I still need to.”

Both Community Health Network and Purpose 4 My Pain offer free resources to families and individuals struggling with grief. You can visit the links provided in the story for contact information and services.