The Story of The Compassionate Friends

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					           The Story
    The Compassionate Friends

                                  Reprinted from We Need Not Walk Alone,
                                           the National Magazine
                                       of The Compassionate Friends
                                             Revised May 2003

The Compassionate Friends, Inc.
National Office
P. O. Box 3696
Oak Brook, IL 60522-3696
Toll-free: 877-969-0010
Fax: 630-990-0246
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                        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!”