The Compassionate Friends
Reprinted from We Need Not Walk Alone,
the National Magazine
of The Compassionate Friends
Revised May 2003
The Compassionate Friends, Inc.
P. O. Box 3696
Oak Brook, IL 60522-3696
Public Awareness Coordinator,
TCF Over Three Decades
of Sharing and Caring
BY WAYNE LODER
The story of The Compassionate Friends is one
PUBLIC AWARENESS COORDINATOR
of loss, but also of the love, caring, and
sharing that have emerged from those
committed to the idea that “We Need Not Walk Compassionate Friends started there,” wrote Joe. “Joan and
Alone.” Over its three and a half decades of Bill telephoned their thanks and we met for a cup of tea.
existence, TCF has supported hundreds of “Together, midst freely flowing tears, the four of us
thousands of families in dealing with the were able for the first time to speak openly of our children,
changes that inevitably occur following the without feelings of guilt that we were endlessly repeating
death of a child. Today, with nearly 600 the virtues of our children and of our vanished hopes for the
chapters in the United States, TCF has future. Together, we were all able to accept, for the first
time, the words used by many well-meaning friends but
emerged as the largest nonprofit self-help rejected almost universally by parents who have lost a
bereavement organization in the country. Learn beloved child: ‘I understand.’ We did understand, all four of
about the start of the organization in England us, and, in the immensity of our grief (and in reality is there
and then its development in the United States, any other tragedy of quite this enormity?), we all suffered
one of an estimated 29 countries worldwide in together.”
which it has established a national presence. For the rest of the year, Simon Stephens stayed in close
contact with both couples and observed their ever-growing
friendship and encouragement. “You are helping each other
in a way which I, and virtually everyone else, am unable to
IN THE BEGINNING . . . do, because of your shared experience; do you think it could
work with other parents?” he asked.
W as it fate or a higher being that brought Simon
Stephens in early 1968 to assume his duties as
assistant chaplain at the Coventry & Warwickshire Hospital
In January 1969, six persons, including Simon, attended
the meeting that resulted from this question, talking of an
organization that would help other bereaved parents.
in Coventry, England? Newly ordained but full of “What about a name?” wrote Joe Lawley later. “The
confidence, Simon quickly discovered he was not prepared word ‘compassion’ had been featured frequently in our
to deal with the death of a child. And he was needed to help conversation, and eventually the “Society of The
not just one set of parents, but two. Compassionate Friends” emerged. It sounded right then,
Joe and Iris Lawley came face-to-face with death May and now . . . in a slightly shorter form, it still sounds right—
23, two days after their 11-year-old son, Kenneth, was perhaps even inspired.”
rushed to the hospital with severe head injuries suffered
when he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle to CROSSING THE ATLANTIC . . .
“Our family stood around in stunned, agonizing
disbelief,” Joe wrote later. “The nurses in the intensive care O n October 8, 1970, a car-train accident caused the
death of 10-year-old Gabrielle Shamres. Her parents,
Arnold and Paula Shamres, suffered through overwhelming
unit cried; they never quite got used to the death of the
young.” grief, guilt, and anger, without guidance, and, though they
Simon Stephens delivered a prayer requested by the “functioned,” it was without direction. Then one day in
Lawleys as Kenneth’s death neared. Simon also prayed for 1971, they read an article in TIME magazine about the
young Billy Henderson, who lay dying nearby in the same British Society of The Compassionate Friends. They quickly
hospital from terminal cancer. A few days after Kenneth reacted to the article.
died, Billy also died. “Theirs was the very first letter to arrive at my
At Iris’s suggestion, the Lawleys sent flowers to the Coventry office seeking help and understanding as they
Hendersons. “We did not then know the significance of walked together through the Valley of the Shadow,” wrote
that act but, looking back, it might be said that The Simon Stephens. “The loss of one of their dearly beloved
children was indeed a bitter Hinsdale chapter. Following
blow to them; but through the program, the Shamres
their tears they could see the received more than 1,000
Valley’s end, and the founding phone calls and letters from
of TCF Britain gave them the people around the country
belief that a new day would seeking information on TCF.
dawn in which broken hearts The Hinsdale chapter also
and lives would find their received hundreds of local
healing balm.” calls and letters.
Simon came to Florida to In early 1978, Ann
meet with them and was Landers published a letter
inspired by the selflessness from a TCF member who
shown by the Shamres. described the organization
“In 1972, Arnold and and how it had helped her.
Paula Shamres kindled the Again, an outpouring of
TCF flame, which now burns letters from parents
so brightly in every state of interested in joining a
the union,” recalls Simon. “It Simon Stephens addresses early conference
chapter or starting a new
was hard work. There were tensions and misunderstandings one arrived at the national office.
as men and women, the early pioneers of TCF, did the hard
work of grieving in a society which was reluctant to THE INCORPORATION OF TCF . . .
acknowledge the very special needs of the bereaved parent.
But the vision became a reality.”
While Simon was visiting the Shamres, publicity of his
visit on The Today Show was significant in the earliest
F ollowing the earlier suggestion of Simon Stephens, in
April 1978, the Hinsdale chapter hosted an organizing
conference attended by 240 representatives from the 40
development of TCF in the United States.
From 1972 to 1977, approximately 40 “branches” of fledgling TCF branches. Simon told of his visions for The
The Compassionate Friends developed, primarily in Florida Compassionate Friends USA, and those present were also
and the Midwest, under the leadership of the Shamres, who addressed by grief expert Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
established a national headquarters in Hialeah, Florida. But there was real work that had to be accomplished at
One of the very first branches was in Hinsdale, Illinois, the conference. National bylaws were adopted, a board of
and was organized by the Reverend Don Balster and his directors formed, and national officers elected. The
wife, Marian. They had contacted the Shamres following organization was also incorporated in the state of Illinois as
the death of their son, Mark, and after reading a book by a nonprofit corporation known officially as The
Simon Stephens called Death Comes Home, about TCF Compassionate Friends, Inc.
and its goals. Suffering from a malignant brain tumor, Arnold
According to Marian (who eventually became the first Shamres was unable to assume duties as board president
administrative director of The Compassionate Friends and instead was named vice president. Don Balster,
following its incorporation), in April 1977, Simon Stephens became the first president of the board. Within a week of
visited several TCF chapters around the United States, the conference, a small office, staffed by volunteers,
including the Hinsdale chapter. “He asked if we would hold opened in Oak Brook, Illinois.
an organizing gathering of the established group and, in his “We thought we would have the summer to get
words, create a ‘national committee.’” A subsequent fall ourselves together and well organized, but then summer
meeting in Hinsdale of a half dozen core U.S. chapters came and Phil Donahue reran the shows,” recalls Marian.
resulted in plans for an organizing conference. “We were already inundated with a lot of requests for
It was evident to Simon that the independent U.S. information and we, in essence, divided up the work
chapters could benefit if they were united in a single amongst us volunteers. I took care of all the requests on
organization. how to form a chapter. Another volunteer coordinated the
The growth of TCF was fueled when, on July 7, 1977, volunteers answering all bereaved parent mail. We had
Harriet Sarnoff Schiff, groundbreaking author of The another who responded to inquiries from professionals.”
Bereaved Parent, appeared on what was supposed to be Money was another problem. “We had no funding
one episode of The Phil Donahue Show, recorded in whatsoever other than the contributions that were given to
Chicago. us at the organizing conference by the bereaved parents
Marian Balster recalls the day clearly. At Ms. Schiff’s themselves,” says Marian. “We started out on a wing and
request, Marian had worked with the Hinsdale TCF chapter, a prayer.”
SIDS, and Project Hope to locate 200 persons, all bereaved A national newsletter was created and published every
parents, who could attend the taping. other month, partially to provide support to those persons
“That show was so powerful and so many people were unable to be serviced by a chapter.
calling in that Mr. Donahue asked us to take a 15-minute In February 1979, less than a year after the national
break, and he then recorded the second hour,” says Marian. organizing conference, Arnold Shamres died, followed four
The Shamres’ address and phone number appeared on years later by the death of his wife, Paula, from cancer. Of
the screen several times, as did the phone number of the the Shamres, Simon Stephens recalls that “their lives were too
Today, the small staff has become full- Lighting annually illuminates the world
TCF’s 3 Decades . . . time, augmented by a part-time in a virtual 24-hour wave of light at 7
short. They still had much love to give.” development coordinator. p.m., lasting one hour in each time
An in-house newsletter, Friends Joe Rousseau, elected to the TCF zone. Tens if not hundreds of thousands
Caring and Sharing, was born in the fall board in 1982, worked with his wife, of people worldwide light remembrance
of 1979, and the Patron Plan was Elizabeth, to write the TCF Credo, candles on that day. Memorial messages
developed as a vehicle for bereaved which is widely used throughout the by the hundreds are received from
parents to support the organization. TCF family today. around the world to be posted on the
Art and Ronnie Peterson were By the close of 1982, the national TCF national Web site.
named national coordinators in the office had moved to its current location In conjunction with the Worldwide
spring of 1980, traveling the country on on Jorie Boulevard in Oak Brook, Candle Lighting, in 1998 TCF USA was
a volunteer basis to promote TCF and Illinois. This allowed more centralized successful in lobbying the United States
visit chapters. Later, again on a operations. Previously, volunteers had to Senate to declare the second Sunday in
volunteer basis, Art became executive store some materials at their homes, December “National Children’s
director. According to Marian, Art where mailings were routinely handled. Memorial Day.” A proclamation was
basically developed, with Ronnie’s The first sibling representative was signed by the president of the United
skilled writing, the Seven Principles of appointed to the national board in 1989, States, marking the day as perhaps the
The Compassionate Friends and the while the Sibling Credo was created by greatest single step ever in the
chapter leaders training manual. Ronnie a committee of TCF siblings and remembrance of all children who have
also became the liaison dealing with adopted in April 1989. The newsletter died in this country.
professionals. STAGES (Siblings Together Adjusting to A permanent “National Children’s
Don Balster stepped down as Grief thru Encouragement & Sharing) Memorial Day” on the second Sunday in
president of the board in May 1981, was started in the summer of 1990. December is TCF’s ultimate goal.
followed by Marian as administrative The first TCF Strategic Plan was Benefiting The Compassionate
director of the office in 1985. Art approved in September 1994, with goals Friends, a figurine was crafted by
Peterson, addressing the TCF national to guide the organization.These have Precious Moments creator Sam Butcher
conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1987, been updated on an ongoing basis. and distributed nationally in mid-2000
said of the Balsters, “If Simon and the Karen Snepp was elected board by Enesco, complete with an
Shamres can be credited with the president in July 1996, the first sibling information card about the organization.
conception and birth of TCF, Don and to hold that office. In December of the Established June 11, 2000, TCF
Marian are responsible for its survival. same year, TCF was awarded a grant of Foundation was created to provide a
They took the dream and made it a $100,000 (its largest ever) from the stable funding base to guarantee that
reality. Without their guidance during Project on Death in America to develop TCF will always continue, and a $1
those early critical years, TCF would a chapter leadership training program. million goal was established.
have slowly fallen apart and Joyce Andrews created and The first two-mile “Walk to
disappeared.” launched TCF’s official Web site at: Remember,” with 600 participants, was
The growth of TCF was www.compassionatefriends.org. held July 2, 2000, at the Chicago
astonishing, demonstrating the need for The award-winning Web site national conference. More than a
such an organization. Reports show 126 contains chapter locator information; thousand joined in the second walk a
chapters when the first national chapter Web site links; chat room links; year later. Concurrent walks have been
conference was held in 1979; 180 by national magazine information; available added by chapters around the country.
the second; 236 by the third; and 314 brochures; a media kit; national Following the resignation of Diana
by the fourth in 1982. Marian Balster conference information; links to topical Cunningham as executive director in
recalls there being 460 chapters by her newspaper articles and grief resources; September 2000, Patricia Loder, former
retirement in 1985. a history of TCF; and e-mail development director for TCF, was
The growth of the organization was connections to the national office staff. named to that position.
so great that when Art Peterson made In 1998, the two TCF national The Compassionate Friends has
the decision to resign as executive newsletters were combined into the now celebrated well over three decades
director, he suggested the board award-winning national magazine We of growth worldwide. It has been a
conduct a search for a full-time, paid Need Not Walk Alone, supporting all lifeline to hundreds of thousands of
executive director. On that basis, members of grieving families and the bereaved families through national
Therese Goodrich was hired in January people who care about them. organizations, local chapters, and
1984 to fill the full-time ED position. The first International Gathering newsletters.
She remained until her retirement in July was hosted in the founding country of Its growth continues because of the
1992, at which time Susan Salisbury- England in 1994. The second gentle love and light so many are willing
Richards was hired and remained until International Gathering was hosted in to share with those seeking support as
her resignation in 1995. Diana Philadelphia in 1997 by TCF USA, and they walk through the darkness of the
Cunningham served in an interim the third in Australia in 2002. Valley.
capacity until July 1996, when she was In 1997, TCF USA created the first Years later, those who have been
appointed by the board as executive Worldwide Candle Lighting, which is helped often sum up the support they
director. A small, part-time paid staff held the second Sunday in December of received with these simple words: “TCF
was hired under Therese Goodrich. each year. The TCF Worldwide Candle saved my life!”