Martinez resident Debra Allsup knows the grief that follows the death of a child.
Last year, just three days after Christmas, her 13-year-old daughter Katie Ridenour died of small-cell ovarian cancer at the Children's Medical Center at the Medical College of Georgia.
On Dec. 14, what would have been Katie's 14th birthday, the Allsup family will play host to A Time for Special Remembrance service at Christ's Sanctified Holy Church in Evans to help parents who are mourning a child cope during the holiday season. The 7 p.m. service is open to all parents who have lost a child of any age.
"I want this to be a celebration of sorts of the children's lives," Allsup said.
The service will include music, prayer and a ceremony for surviving parents to place ornaments in memory of their children on a Christmas tree in the front yard of the church.
Parents are urged to supply a Christmas ornament of their own that in some way symbolizes a trait of their deceased child. A limited number of free ornaments also will be available, Allsup said.
Throughout Katie's life, her family celebrated holidays as though they were borrowed time.
Katie was diagnosed with a brain tumor when she was 18 months old and doctors said she would never walk and had a 10 percent chance of living.
"Every holiday was just huge to us," Allsup said. "Now there is a huge void."
Christmas was a particularly special time for the Allsup family and for Katie's father, Bud Ridenour, Debra said.
Katie survived the two years of chemotherapy and thrived, her parents said, becoming an avid jazz dancer.
In March 2005, Katie was diagnosed with small-cell ovarian cancer, which was unrelated to her brain tumor. When the rounds of chemo began, her stepfather, Steve Allsup, shaved his head so Katie wouldn't feel alone.
"I told her I would go bald before she would, so I shaved my head," Steve said. "I can't let it grow back."
After six surgeries in five months, Katie died peacefully, Debra said.
Though losing Katie is still fresh in the minds of her loved ones, Debra said the love and support from others whose children had died supported her through the grief. Debra created the service, she said, to honor her daughter's memory and to help others get past their grief.
"Katie taught me how to live life beyond the circumstances," she said. "And I couldn't imagine life without her, but I still feel like she's here. She's here in spirit."
If You Go
What: A Time for Special Remembrance
Where: Christ's Sanctified Holy Church, 136 N. Belair Road, Evans
When: 7 pm. Thursday, Dec. 14
For more information: Call Debra Allsup at (706) 855-8553
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