HOW THE COMPASSIONATE
In 1969, in Coventry England two young boys, Billy Henderson and Kenneth Lawley died three days apart in the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital. Rev. Simon Stephens, a 23 year old Assistant to the Chaplain was moved by the emotions of both sets of parents. After sharing news of Billy’s death with Joe and Iris Lawley, Kenny’s parents, they felt deep compassionate toward the parents and sent flowers to Billy’s funeral, simply signing the card “”Kenneth’s parents,” realizing that the Hendersons would know who they were.
Shortly after the funeral, Bill and Joan Henderson invited the Lawleys over for tea. The four became very bonded over the deaths of their two sons. They were with others who understood their grief and allowed them to share stories and memories about their boys. It became common for them to get together, relying on each other for compassion and friendship. Rev. Stephens encourage them to open their hearts to include others who had lost children as well. Soon a grieving mom met with the two couple through an introduction by Rev. Stephens. There was a need, they all realized, to begin a self-help support group to actively reach out to newly bereaved parents in their community. Compassion was the truly nucleus of the group and so this new alliance became “The Society of the Compassionate Friends.”
In the 1970s Rev. Stephens became a Chaplin in the British Royal Navy. During his travels in ports all across the world he met scores of other bereaved parents and helped them to begin their own chapters of The Society of the Compassionate Friends. By this time the reputation of support derived from The Society of Compassionate Friends was growing throughout the U.K. and the United States. Publications such as TIME and GOOD HOUSEKEEPING magazines had printed articles. Paula and Arnold Shamres, bereaved parents in Florida , read the interview with Rev. Stephens in TIME MAGAZINE and invited him to visit Florida to speak with other bereaved parents there. He relationship with the Shamres began with that meeting and in 1972 the Shamres founded the first United States Chapter. Phil Donahue, who hosted the most popular talk show of the decade, as well as the columns of sister Ann Landers and Dear Abby, introduced the mission of Compassionate Friends to countless bereaved Americans, and interest rapidly grew.
In 1978 The Compassionate Friends was incorporated in the United States as a non-profit organization, offering support to bereaved families, and chapters began appearing across the country.
A dozen years later, at the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital where the two families had come together to begin what became The Compassionate Friends, Great Britain dedicated a plaque commemorating the founding of the organization. Countess Mountbatten, herself a bereaved parent, and a patron,. Unveiled the plaque.
In November of 1994, Queen Elizabeth presented Iris Lawley with The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire medal, in recognition of her work on behalf of The Compassionate Friends.
There are now Compassionate Friends chapters located in every state in the United States, as well as Washington DC and Puerto Rico ~over 630 ~ and hundreds of chapters in Canada, Great Britain and other countries throughout the world. In the United States, chapters welcome all bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings who are grieving the death of a ‘child’ of any age, from any cause.♥