With more than 660 chapters of The Compassionate Friends across the United States, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam, there are a number of different chapter meeting formats. Chapter leaders and steering committees work together to determine how the sessions can best be structured to help both the newly bereaved and returning members in their area.
Generally, most meetings are held once a month (some chapters do hold two or have a secondary meeting location that serves a neighboring area) for 1 1/2 or two hours in the evening or on the weekend. Our meetings should not be confused with counseling sessions. Participants are all bereaved parents (guardians), adult siblings, or grandparents who are dealing with the death of a child. We have been where you are and we continue to return to offer friendship and support through the natural grieving process after a child dies.
Chapter meetings often consist of two parts, a sharing session plus a program related to bereavement after the death of a child. Some larger chapters may break up into smaller groups for sharing so that everyone has the opportunity to talk about their grief. Some chapters also have special sub-groups for siblings, Spanish language members, or even the most newly bereaved.
You will hear from others whose child died from pre-birth to adulthood. Some who attend will be young and some will be old. Some will be women and some will be men. Some will come alone while others will come as couples.
Oftentimes there will be a preplanned speaker who will talk about a bereavement issue. Sometimes a bereavement topic of interest will be chosen to discuss. Some chapters offer special programs such as a memorial service.
If you’re shy or unable to talk about your loss, you do not have to speak, although you will have the opportunity. No one is forced to talk about his or her loss. Much can be gained by listening. Some people believe it’s harder to talk in front of strangers about something so intimate as the loss of a child, but because everyone else at the meeting has had a similar experience, they understand much of what you are feeling and you will eventually reach a comfort level with those you meet. A point to always keep in mind is that what is said in the meeting stays in the meeting. The privacy of our members is important. We’re all there to work toward healing.
It may be hard for you to believe, but occasionally you will hear laughter. This is not a dishonor to any child. Rather it is often a reaction to a wonderful memory of a child.
When you come to a meeting of The Compassionate Friends, we ask that you attend at least three meetings before you decide if the group is for you. For many, the first meeting may also be the first time they’ve been able to talk about what has happened to them and to their family and to the child. This can bring a lot of emotion to the forefront, emotion which seems to disappear over the months as you talk about your loss. Don’t worry, we’ll bring the tissues. Tears are a natural release for a grieving person and is a way to help cleanse the body of toxins.
More than 17,000 bereaved parents, siblings, and grandparents in need of support attend TCF meetings in the U.S. every month. You will find it is so very true what we often say, "You Need Not Walk Alone!"