Mothers in four counties in eastern England who are waiting for sons and daughters to return home from war in the Persian Gulf can turn to each other for support and understanding, thanks to efforts of Glenda Cocker.
Sister Cocker, a member of the Ipswich Ward, Ipswich England Stake, is mother of a 20-year-old son serving with a British armored brigade in the Persian Gulf. She initially organized the East Anglian Gulf Mums Association as a support group for mothers whose sons and daughters are in the Gulf area. "The initial idea was that Mum is the emotional support for the rest of the family, so our aim was for mothers to support and encourage each other, but we are now giving support to entire families," Sister Cocker said in a telephone interview with the Church News.By the end of December, some 20 families were registered with the association; within a couple of weeks after the war started, more than 170 families were registered. "I had a little bit of television publicity, after which two LDS mothers contacted me; they didn't know at the time that I was also LDS," Sister Cocker said.
The East Anglian Gulf Mums Association has 16 individual support groups within the region. "We take turns visiting in each others' homes and getting to know each other," she said. "It's a lot easier to give support to people when you've met them and know them. We also maintain telephone contact. Since the hostilities began, we have a telephone line that is open 24 hours a day. Members of the group take turns answering the phone, which is in my home.
"We're all working very hard. Our aim is to find positive ways to help each other get through the period while we're waiting for our sons and daughters to return home from the Gulf, and how to help them while they're still there.
"Among the sort of activities we do is collect toiletries and food items to put in parcels to send for distribution among service personnel in the Gulf. We also collect paperback books to send to field hospitals, and hardback books and children's toys to send to civilian hospitals in the east of England designated to treat war casualties and which will be visited by victims' families. We've also identified people who are willing to let families of military personnel stay in their homes, offer transport to the hospital, do child minding or give any support they can for families coming from other parts of Britain to be with their loved ones. Because our hospitals are detailed to take American casualties, we are also welcoming American families who travel either from the United States or Germany.
"With the future in mind, we're setting up meetings with psychiatrists who can tell us what kind of effect combat will have on our sons and daughters and how we can best help them when they come home.
"When mothers first contact us, they're usually very anxious and frightened. Once they've been in touch with our support group, they're very positive. They really feel a lot better because they're actually doing something. What we're doing isn't going to change the course of events, but it does make things easier for us to handle. It goes along with the idea that some kind of activity is much better for you than just sitting around waiting for something to happen."
Sister Cocker said she got the idea for forming a group for mothers after she read about a similar group in Wales. "I felt it was a good idea," she related. "I thought about it and prayed about it a couple of days, and just knew it was something I had to do. Really, I had no experience or expertise to draw on. I had to very much trust in the Lord to be able to organize the group and know what to say to families who call up and are distressed."
To announce and publicize the association, she used media contacts she developed as a ward public communications director.
Sister Cocker said Church members in her ward and stake are also doing their part to support and encourage British military personnel. "My son is the only member of the Church in his unit," she said. "Many members here write to him, giving him encouragement.
"The Primary children all wrote letters to be sent to the Gulf; some of them wrote very special and moving letters. The Valiant class expressed their gratitude for valiant people. The children said they too were trying to be valiant. I'm sure that big tough soldiers with soft centers will find that moving. A child in one of the Primary Star classes drew a picture of a soldier and wrote, `Be safe and strong, my friend.' It was such a simple statement, but I thought that it was beautiful.
"The bishop also wrote a message on all the letters that went out, saying that the letters were from members of the LDS Church in Ipswich."