Compassionate Friends offer guidance and understanding

Jim Grant/Nevada AppealGeorgette Riley describes the loss of her brother at the Compassionate Friends meeting last week.

Jim Grant/Nevada AppealGeorgette Riley describes the loss of her brother at the Compassionate Friends meeting last week.

Andra Woolman doesn't feel so alone when she attends a Compassionate Friends meeting. While not a day passes when she doesn't live with the loss of her son Jeremy, 13, in 2006, Woolman, of Silver Springs, mostly keeps her grief to herself.

During those monthly meetings where membership is never sought, but soon becomes invaluable, Woolman, and those like her, can talk about the children, grandchildren or siblings they've lost.

No matter how much time has passed no one dares look at them and wonder when they'll get over it.

"I don't know what I would have done without Compassionate Friends," said Woolman. "It really helps to be able to talk about it."

The Compassionate Friends began in 1969 in Coventry, England, following the deaths of two young boys there. When happenstance brought together those two grieving families, a hospital chaplain asked them to reach out to other newly bereaved parents.

There are now Compassionate Friends chapters in every state in the United States - almost 600 in total - hundreds of chapters in Canada, Great Britain and other countries throughout the world, according to

Chapters are open to all bereaved siblings and other family members who are grieving the death of a child of any age, from any cause.

The same year that Compassionate Friends began, Sonja Strom of Minden suffered an inexplicable loss. Her 8-year-old son Scott died in his sleep from an infection that stopped him from breathing.

Strom said she didn't spend enough time grieving for Scott. Then in 2000, Strom lost her surviving child, daughter Julie, 35, to a brain tumor.

When Strom moved to the area in 2000, the first thing she did was look up the Compassionate Friends chapter here.

"There's a total understanding and compassion and its an opportunity to pour your heart out to people who truly understand and know the right things to say. They just become family," she said. "When I lost Julie that was the last bit of family that I had, so they were especially valuable to me because I had no one."

Strom said part of the program is to help newly bereaved understand their grief.

"We hate to see new people come in, but I know there's nothing worse than the feeling of being alone with your grief," she said.

Delores Sherman, leader of Compassionate Friends Northern Nevada Chapter, said while everyone grieves differently, the stage you are at in your grief will be of no surprise to anyone at the meetings.

"We're all on equal ground. We've all had children who have died, and it makes you know that you're not insane, because there are others who feel the same way you do," said Sherman, who will mark the 26th anniversary of her 18-year-old Tommy's death in a car accident next month. "What happens is your friends or your coworkers have all these cliches to say, that they're in a better place, they're not suffering anymore. When you go to a meeting you can talk with other people and they understand that you wish your children were with you and not where they are."

The meetings are on the last Tuesday of each month at the Cancer Resource Center on the Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center campus in North Carson City.

What is shared in the meetings is confidential. Compassionate Friends espouses no specific religious or philosophical ideology. And while everyone is given an opportunity to be heard, no one is compelled to speak.

"It's so easy. You don't have to talk, you can just sit there and listen," said Sherman.

For more information on the Compassionate Friends Northern Nevada Chapter contact leader Delores Sherman at 849-1979. For more information on the program visit or To receive newsletter contact Georgette Riley at .


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