- Associated Press - Monday, May 5, 2014

EL DORADO, Ark. (AP) - She started having headaches - bad headaches - when she was only 16 years old - a sophomore in high school with dreams of a bright future.

Eighteen months after Hannah Sullivan died, her grieving parents decided to do something to help other parents who continue to mourn the loss of a child.

Brad and Jill Sullivan now share their story and have created the “While We’re Waiting,” faith-based retreats for bereaved parents.

“The Sullivan Four” are Brad, Jill and their two daughters, Hannah, who died in 2009 at the age of 17, and Bethany.

They lived in El Dorado from 1999 to 2003, and Brad served as assistant principal at El Dorado High School. He now serves as an assistant superintendent at Fountain Lake in Hot Springs, director of curriculum and instruction.

Jill is a speech pathologist, and they live in Magnet Cove. Their daughter, Bethany, is engaged to be married and is studying dental hygiene at the University of Arkansas.

They share their story of God’s faithfulness throughout their daughter’s illness, what He taught them during the past five years and how the church can best minister to grieving parents, Jill said.

Brad and Jill are co-founders of “While We’re Waiting,” with Larry and Janice Brown, and currently, retreats for parents who have lost children are held at the Family Farm, a Christian day camp in Glen Rose, owned and operated by Stan and Donna May, Jill said.

All three couples have lost children.

Jill said Hannah was first diagnosed with glioblastoma when she was in high school. Hannah went to Arkansas Children’s Hospital for surgery to remove the tumor and then endured chemotherapy and radiation treatment and almost one year after her diagnosis.

On Feb. 26, 2009, she died.

Glioblastoma multiforme is the most common and most aggressive malignant primary brain tumor in humans. GMB is rare, with incidence of two to three cases per 100,000 in Europe and North America.

Treatment includes surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy and radiation.

“God gives children with cancer a special grace. Hannah accepted it (her cancer) and never questioned why. The night before her surgery, she told us about how God allows storms in life to show others about Him. When we got her diagnosis, she said it was her storm,” Jill told The El Dorado News Times (http://bit.ly/1u4CZLt). “It is amazing what God has done through Hannah.”

Jill said Bethany was 12 and in the seventh grade when her sister received the brain tumor diagnosis.

“She had to watch her sister deteriorate, and she (Bethany) struggled for several years with her sister’s death. God put her back together,” she said.

“No one completely understands (the loss of a child) like parents who have lost a child,” she said. “It’s very helpful to talk to other parents,” Jill said.

Jill said after Hannah died, they realized there weren’t many faith-based support groups for parents who had lost their children.

“We hope that ‘While We’re Waiting,’ fills that gap,” Jill said.

“While We’re Waiting,” also offers retreats for couples, some just for dads, on the Sullivan Farm in Yell County near Briggsville and the Fourche LaFave River. Mini-retreats are planned for moms in the home of Janice Brown on Lake Hamilton for massages, fellowship and a five-course meal.

Retreats planned for bereaved parents are provided at no cost to participants, and Jill said they also send out “Hope Packages” to parents who have recently lost a child. The packets include a book on grieving, a journal and other items. She said the retreats are paid for with donations, and they also have a support group that meets once a month in Hot Springs.

“These retreats are a safe place to talk about grief,” Jill said, explaining that about six couples attend the retreat at one time, and there is already a waiting list for a November retreat.

She said at the retreats, parents talk about difficult days, such as birthdays and holidays; dealing with the child’s bedroom and belongings; relationships that may be strained by the loss of a child and parenting the surviving children.

Long term goals of “While We’re Waiting,” include building their own facility on 50 acres of land the Browns are donating to WWW. Jill said they are hopeful the facility can be completed in the next two years.

“We love meeting with groups of bereaved parents and are willing to take our ‘While We’re Waiting’ events ‘on the road.’ We are available to do parents’ weekends, dads’ weekends and mini-retreats for moms in other locations. If you can get a group of four to five families together and a location where we can meet, we’ll be happy to visit with you and work out the details,” Jill said.

She said to visit their website, www.whilewerewaiting.org, for more information.

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Information from: El Dorado News-Times, http://www.eldoradonews.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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