Compassionate Friends Offer Comfort To Bereaved
This I say, that those who have never
Had children, who know nothing of it,
In happiness have the advantage
Over those who are parents.
So says the chorus of women in an ancient Greek play Medea, by Euripides. It is a highly debatable claim, obviously. But the chorus does provide several reasons to support the claim that childless people are happier than parents, and finishes the argument off with this concluding reason:
…if God so wills it,
Death witll away with your children’s bodies,
And carry them off into Hades.
What is our profit, then, that for the sake of
Children the gods should pile upon mortals
After all else
This most terrible grief of all?
The question about the joys and pains of parenthood aside, it is clear that the ancient Greeks knew about tragedy. And some Greek parents knew “the most terrible grief,” the death of a child. But that grief did not expire with the ancient Greeks; even in modern-day Nebraska, home of the Good Life, children die. Recent tragic accidents in and near our area underscore that fact. And parents who lose a child are faced with a grief that can be so overwhelming as to make going with life seem ridiculous.
“We knew we had to talk to someone, had to have some form of counseling,” says Mark Metcalf, of Sutton. He and wife Pat lost their 20 year old son Clay in 2009. “The pain and sorrow we felt were almost debilitating,” he says. “We needed help in a big way.”
After weeks of searching, the Metcalfs were told of the Fillmore-Thayer counties chapter of an organization called The Compassionate Friends (TCF). “I had heard of the group before,” Metcalf says, “but had never given it much thought. We never planned on losing a child.”
With some hesitation, the Metcalfs walked into their first meeting at the old Fillmore County Hospital. There they were greeted by the chapter leader, the late Kathy Nun, and her husband Clarence. Also in attendance were Roland and Leona Saltzman, Ralph and Louise Gipson, and co-founders of the chapter Lola Johnson and Don Nun and the late Shirley Nun.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” says Metcalf. Members began the meeting by sharing their stories of loss and invited the Metcalfs to tell their story. “I could hardly speak through my emotion. Once I got started though, I was spilling out all kinds of details about our son’s ordeal, and his eventual death. I caught myself and apologized for going on and on.”
It was at that point that the group responded in the TCF manner. “They said, ‘No. Go on. You need to tell us what you have to say.’ I relaxed,” says Metcalf. “I clearly could say anything to these people. And it would be okay. I felt we had come to the right place.” TCF is not affiliated with any religion and does not prescribe what its members must do in coping with their grief.
Long-time members Ralph and Louise Gipson, of Fairmont, agree. “After two years without any support, I needed some help, and The Compassionate Friends was the place where I found that,” says Louise. The Gipsons lost their daughter Leone, whose illness was misdiagnosed. “In the continuing years I still find value in being able to express your thoughts on a bad day and hear your child’s name mentioned.” According to Louise, some parents chose not to come to the meetings initially, but eventually did attend, even years after their loss, and continued to attend. In several cases, only failing health kept bereaved parents from attending TCF meetings. While TCF may not be for all grieving parents, the consistent attendance by a core group is evidence that the meetings are valued.
The Compassionate Friends was founded in England in 1969 when an Anglican priest named Simon Stephens arranged for the parents of two recently deceased boys to meet. The parents found that listening to one another and sharing their pain helped them to cope with their loss. These parents and Fr. Stephens decided to form an organization that would offer friendship and understanding to other bereaved parents.
The first U.S. chapter was established in Florida in 1972. Today the U.S. headquarters are in Oak Brook, Illinois, and TCF chapters are spread across the U.S. and the world. Currently there are 13 chapters in Nebraska.
The Fillmore-Thayer counties chapter, founded in 1989, is working to increase local awareness of the chapter’s existence. Two chapter members, Shirley Nun and Kathy Nun, have died recently, but the group is determined to maintain its ability to help bereaved parents in this part of the state. “I was grateful for the group’s existence, grateful that these people had kept the chapter alive long enough to be there for us. We now feel a responsibility to maintain this resource for grieving parents,” Metcalf says. A motto of TCF is “helping is healing.”
Lola Johnson, who co-founded the chapter with the help of P.R. Farmer of Geneva, says, “TCF helps with my own empathy with others and my desire to help.” She also appreciates the fellowship and socializing that are an important part of each meeting. Johnson’s daughter Deb was killed in a traffic accident.
The group meets on the first Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m., at the new Fillmore County Hospital. There are no membership dues. Group members are encouraged to speak freely and openly about their grief experiences and to listen respectfully to others as they speak. A typical meeting involves a brief program involving comments by all who wish to speak, readings appropriate for grieving parents, and information about local, regional, and national TCF events. After the meeting time is set aside for socializing and refreshments.
The Fillmore-Thayer counties chapter of TCF encourages people in the community to inform bereaved parents — no matter when their loss occurred — to consider attending their meetings.