Phillip sees divine design in life as she joins Ian's Place

Martha Phillip doesn't know what it's like to lose a child. But she has witnessed people close to her mourn that loss.

"I lost my brother two weeks before his 16th birthday, suddenly," she said, noting she was 13 at the time. "I watched my parents grieve this."

While her parents had support from their church and friends, they lacked resources specifically designed to help parents after the death of a child. So when friends Rebecca and Andy Wells lost their son, Ian, two years ago in a tragic accident, Phillip offered her support.

Later, when the Wells decided to open Ian's Place at 215 Burlington Ave. in Clarendon Hills to offer bereaved parents comfort, healing and hope in a Christian environment, they called on Phillip to serve as spiritual director. Rebecca and Phillip had met initially through a women's Bible study at Christ Church of Oak Brook.

"We share the same values of finding truth and hope in God's word in the scripture," Phillip said.

Ian's Place invites others to share in its start with an open house Wednesday, Oct. 20. The organization will offer resources like support groups and Bible study, but it also will be a place parents can simply stop by when they need to.

"Rebecca felt compelled to start a place where people could gather and cry, yell, hold each other, who are going through the same thing, loss of a child," Phillip said.

Phillip stressed that she and the others involved on the steering committee are not professional counselors, therapists or Biblical scholars.

"I just enjoy searching the Scriptures for truth alongside other women," she said. "We don't have answers and we may not even find the answer that is satisfying to our hearts, but we want to search together."

She sees a divine hand in the group of women who have come together to support Ian's Place. The timing also has been fortuitous for her, as she retired just last year after spending 13 years as a paraprofessional with the La Grange Area Department of Special Education, also known as LADSE.

Phillip studied child development with a concentration on developmental delay at Purdue University. But it was her minor, art and design, that she put to use in her first job working as a store designer for Crate & Barrel.

"I loved merchandising. Then when I got married, that's how I helped out in the stores," she said, referring to the Phillip's Flowers and Gifts locations owned by her husband, Baxter, and his brothers.

Phillip still designs the window displays at the store on Washington Avenue, where she often runs into friends and acquaintances.

"I get distracted all the time," she said. "I can't get anything done. People come in or I see them. It's so fun to know our customers and just stand on the sidewalk in front and chat and find out what's happening in their lives."

Phillip said for some reason, many of the people she comes in contact with have lost a child. She sees it as her calling - as everyone's calling - to comfort others with the comfort God has given.

"That's what we're here for," she said.

- story by Pamela Lannom, photo by Jim Slonoff

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean