When a Child Dies … The Compassionate Friends Can Help

When a child dies, families mourn and begin the long and difficult grief journey. The many different emotions experienced by bereaved families may include shock, disbelief, loneliness, depression, fear, anger, hopelessness, guilt and regret. These feelings are all a normal and natural part of the emotional reaction called “grief”. Feelings of grief may be overwhelmingly intense and each family member may process them differently. Some tend to keep feelings inside, while others are able to express their grief easily and openly.

The Compassionate Friends
The Compassionate Friends (TCF) is a self-help support organization whose mission is to assist bereaved families as they walk the grief journey following the death of a child of any age and any cause, and to provide information to help others be supportive to those who are grieving.

The concept of The Compassionate Friends is simple: those further along in their grief and the newly bereaved share their stories, their pain, their sadness and their hope with each other, which in turn brings a measure of healing.

The Compassionate Friends is open to all families that have experienced the death of a child from any cause, at any age, from pre-birth through adulthood. The term “member” is used loosely by TCF – there are no individual membership dues or fees of any kind.

The Compassionate Friends is funded through donations by individuals, businesses, philanthropic organizations, and annual Chapter contributions. Additional support is provided by the TCF Foundation, established to accept larger donations in support of TCF, Inc. TCF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization; all donations are tax-deductible.

The National Organization
Much of the work of The Compassionate Friends national organization takes place in the Oak Brook, Illinois National Office where a small administrative staff supports the Chief Operating Officer and the Executive Director.

In addition to providing assistance in the formation of new Chapters, TCF’s National Office offers numerous support services for existing Chapters. A complete leadership website is maintained by the national organization to support the volunteers involved with local Chapters, as well as a network of Regional Coordinators who work with the Chapters. The national organization also provides Chapter leadership training programs around the country. TCF holds a national conference each year that attracts as many as 1,500 bereaved families and includes additional leadership training for Chapter volunteers and Regional Coordinators.

The Compassionate Friend’s national website is a source not only of comfort for bereaved families, but also of information for both the public and TCF members. The website includes the Online Support Community program with volunteer-trained moderators designed to provide a safe and nonjudgmental online support atmosphere for those wishing to talk about their grief. The Online Support Community is an example of how volunteers within TCF play an important role nationally as well as locally. TCF also offers a variety of closed Facebook groups covering many specific areas of grief. These pages may not be accessed unless the moderators of a given page approve a request to join, thereby making them virtually private. These pages were established to encourage connection and sharing among parents, grandparents and siblings.

More than 30 TCF-created brochures are available through the National Office. Available from the website by subscription (without charge) is The Compassionate Friend’s e-newsletter, which provides information on current activities going on within the organization, as well as the twice-yearly TCF national magazine, We Need Not Walk Alone. However, the most important activity in the office is that of responding to the thousands of calls, letters and e-mails received each year from bereaved families or their friends and professionals seeking solace and guidance. Each one is answered individually by a staff member.

In 1997, The Compassionate Friends initiated an annual Worldwide Candle Lighting and has made it a gift to the bereavement community. TCF welcomes other organizations and individuals all around the globe to join hearts in this meaningful event that is held each year on the second Sunday in December, by lighting candles at 7 P.M. in their local time zone to honor all children who have died “ . . . that their light may always shine.”

An annual Walk to Remember is sponsored and held annually on the final day of each national conference, where up to 1,500 family members and friends walk in remembrance of all children gone too soon.

The Local Chapter
The Compassionate Friends reaches individuals through more than 600 local Chapters, each made up of parents and other family members who have been bereaved for various lengths of time. The more seasoned Chapter members volunteer in leadership roles, helping and comforting the newly bereaved members.
Chapters are found in small towns and in large cities. Monthly Chapter meetings range in size from just a few people to more than a hundred; Chapter meetings with larger attendance break up into smaller sharing groups. Chapters regularly publish newsletters, maintain lending libraries, provide telephone support, and conduct remembrance programs and other activities at no charge to members.

In conjunction with the Worldwide Candle Lighting, a large number of Chapters hold remembrance programs. Many Chapters also sponsor concurrent walks on the same day as the national Walk to Remember. A number of Chapters also sponsor teams in the Friends Asking Friends virtual walk, a fundraising program that supports TCF programs on a national as well as a local level.

The Chapter Meeting
Sharing with others is the very heart of TCF Chapter meetings. Chapter meetings are havens where members feel free to talk about their children who have died, the painful and sometimes thoughtless comments that may have been made to them, their roller-coaster ride of emotions and other subjects that many others may find difficult to hear. They discuss the progress they are making and ways of coping that have been helpful to them. Because of these connections with other bereaved families, they will come to find hope for the future and the ability to reinvest in life again, in their own time.

The Compassionate Friends is not a therapy group nor are Chapter meetings “therapy” sessions. Chapter meetings are led by peers where members learn they are not alone in facing this terrible tragedy – others attending the meetings have also faced the isolation and desperation the loss of a child can bring. Chapter meetings are beneficial to those who are coping effectively with their loss as well as those who may feel discouraged by a lack of progress. While there are no instant solutions, no easy answers and no timetable for grieving, TCF provides comfort and a sense of direction through the cumulative knowledge, understanding and grief experience of its members. By sharing their story and their journey, bereaved families are able to find hope, healing and the will to survive.

Origin and Growth
The Compassionate Friends was founded in England in 1969 by Reverend Simon Stephens, a newly ordained assistant chaplain, at the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital. Through the deaths of two young boys at the hospital, their parents met and a meaningful friendship developed.
Reverend Stephens saw the special way these parents were able to help one another. Concluding that they were better support to one another than he could ever be, Simon Stephens worked with them to form an organization that would offer support and understanding to other bereaved parents throughout the United Kingdom.

The first TCF Chapter in the United States was organized in Miami, Florida in 1972. Incorporated in 1978 as a nonprofit organization, The Compassionate Friends has grown to include Chapters in more than 600 communities throughout the country with chapters in all 50 United States plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and Guam. The Compassionate Friends has a presence in approximately 30 countries around the world, making it the largest self-help bereavement organization in existence today.

Sponsored by Noah’s Mom
in memory of Noah Samuel Costa –

© 2018 The Compassionate Friends, USA

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