American author and educator John DeFrain said that the death of a baby is “like a stone cast into the stillness of a quiet pool,” sending concentric ripples of despair out in all directions. Though it may seem rare and elusive during a period of such bereavement, a ray of sunshine may also strike those waves that they might briefly sparkle like diamonds.
Having endured such an unthinkable loss herself and founding the Compassionate Passages non-profit group in 2001, Beth Seyda both radiates and reflects that light, striving over the past 15 years to provide resources and support to pediatric patients and their families during the illness and after the death of a child.
In support of Seyda’s foundation, the public is invited to come together in the waning days of seasonal sunshine and enjoy the warmth of fun and friendly competition in support of this great cause. A Tennis & Toss family-friendly fundraiser from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 1, at the Chapel Hill Tennis Club promises to be fun-filled event, including a tennis mixer, a corn-hole tournament, live music, a raffle, fresh pizza, desserts, and beer and wine.
The price for advance tickets for the Tennis & Toss is only $50 per person until Monday, Sept. 26, after which event price increases to $75 per person through Oct. 1. In addition to Compassionate Passages, the festivities will also raise funds for longtime fundraising partner Chapel Hill-Carrboro Sunrise Rotary Club, which provides volunteers to support a variety of local projects.
In addition to round robin doubles tennis and corn hole, tickets provide for wood-burning oven food truck pizza provided by “Flirting with Fire,” salads, dessert from Seyda’s husband and 411 pastry chef Mark Tachman, beer and wine, live music, and a raffle ticket for a chance to win gifts ranging from a $1,000 Delta Airlines gift card to resort stays in Antigua or St. Lucia.
Seyda said the event premiering next weekend has been incubating for about a decade.
It started as being sort of corn hole-centered,” she said. “We looked at different venues, but nothing came together,” she said. “We’d find a venue, but they’d want us to pay for it, and for a fundraiser like this, you want to get as much donated as possible. Then I was sitting by the pool here (at the Chapel Hill Tennis Club) one day, and I just thought, ‘Oh my God, we have room to do tennis and corn hole here.’”
Then, sitting one day by the pool at the Tennis Club, Seyda had a revelation: “Oh my God, we have room to do tennis and corn hole here.”
She proposed the idea to Alan Rader, the general manager of the Tennis Club, where Seyda had been a member for over 20 years. He was extremely supportive.
“Alan and pros and staff are generously providing the beautiful venue and donating a significant amount of time, products, services,” Seyda said. “It worked out fantastic. The pros are running the tennis portion, and Alan is even donating lessons. The club has just really come through.”
“We’re truly honored to team up with Beth Seyda and Compassionate Passages for this fine community-wide event and this fine charitable organization,” Rader said. “Our hearts and prayers are with all families going through such enormous loss of a child.”
After the death of her son Dylan in 1997, Seyda used her background in corporate research to approach the experience.
“Even though this was very personal, part of me was recognizing that we were in the middle of this intensive healthcare experience,” she said. “I could reflect on what was helpful and what was missing in terms of practical support and also interaction.”
Committing her thoughts to journaling was not only cathartic but of use to the healthcare support team.
“I said, ‘Here are the issues, here’s what worked and didn’t work, and here are recommendations,’” she said. “We got an amazing response to that, and I realized I had to speak up and share the experience.”
Seyda is regularly featured speaker at healthcare conferences and was part of a national team the developed a toolkit to help families cope during stressful times. Her Compassionate Passages organization strives to connect families who share the grief of a similar child’s illness (or) loss so that wisdom is shared. It recommends grief counselors and support groups, and it provides bereavement materials.
“I do a lot in our community, which is a strong healthcare community with both UNC and Duke,” she said, “but I also do a lot around our state and around the country. I get requests for shipping (books) all over.”
While Seyda, who’s lived in Chapel Hill for more than 25 years, volunteers through Compassionate Passages, books and other resources aren’t free; the Tennis & Toss event will help to offset these costs.
“We spend a lot of money on one of the resources we donate to families: a book called ‘Empty Cradle, Broken Heart,’” Seyda explained. “I go through a lot of those, and I can spend thousands of dollars just on that one resource. It was one of the resources that was so significant for (me).”
Seyda said she didn’t have specific expectations for this, the first staging of what she hopes will become an annual event.
“We do have goals, but that first time is always about bit learning,” she said. “Even now, we know about things we’d tweak for next time. But we never went into this thinking about it as a one-time thing. Right now we’re just concentrating on making sure everyone has a great time, and we’ll build on that for the next year.”
“We’re really looking forward to seeing…friends coming out to our wonderful club,” Rader said. “They’ll enjoy a Saturday afternoon filled with fun activities, incredible prizes, food, entertainment and more while supporting such a giving cause.”
While Seyda has reached out to community and other area clubs, those still interested in helping or becoming a sponsor should contact her at her email address: BethCompassion97@gmail.com.
For someone who has at times been so dependent on the love and understanding of both friends and strangers, Seyda remains awed by the generosity in her very own community.
“What’s been so gratifying is how generous everyone has been, from the band to food to the beer and wine,” she said. “It just warms my heart.”
And if Seyda is any example, then that bit of warmth will also send uncountable waves into motion, reflecting light like diamonds upon every shore.
The price for advance tickets for the Tennis & Toss is only $50 per person until Sept. 26, after which event price increases to $75 per person through Oct. 1. In addition to Compassionate Passages, the festivities will also raise funds for longtime fundraising partner Chapel Hill-Carrboro Sunrise Rotary Club, which provides volunteers to support a variety of local projects.