Newsletter of The Compassionate Friends, Inc.

Atlanta Area Chapters

January - February 2000

 "The mission of The Compassionate Friends is to assist families in the positive resolution of grief following the death of a child and to provide information to help others be supportive."

A Nonprofit Self-Help Organization for Families Who Have Experienced the Death of a Child

A New Year's Prayer

God grant us this year a wider view
So we see other' faults through the eyes of You..
Teach us to judge not with hasty tongue,
Neither the adult...nor the young,

Give us patience and grace to endure
And a stronger faith so we feel secure,
And instead of remembering, help us forget
The irritations that caused us to fret

Freely forgiving for some offense
And finding each day a rich recompense
In offering a friendly, helping hand
And trying in all ways to understand

That all of us whoever we are
Are trying to reach an unreachable star..
For the great and small...the good and bad,
The young and old...the sad and glad

Are asking today, "Is life worth living?"
And the answer is only in loving and giving..
For only love can make us kind
And kindness of heart brings peace of mind,

And by giving love we can start this year
To lift the clouds of hate and fear.

Author Unknown - shared by Meg Avery, Sugar Hill, Ga

It’s 2000…Where Are You?

    The New Year came in around the world, quietly in some places, loudly in others, but received by each person differently. For some it’s a time of beginning again, new promises, new hopes and goals. For others it’s a time to renew – just as Nature renews during winter – by laying the foundation for spring growth in their physical, mental or spiritual lives.

    But, for some of us who grieve the loss of a child, grandchild or sibling, the New Year is another reminder of what we no longer have, of the joys we no longer experience, of the one we so desperately miss. We seem to be reminded at every turn of the hole in our lives and hearts. Who would have thought that a January white sale could cause a mother pain? Or the ads at year-end advising parents to get the needed dorm room fixtures at sale prices could make a father cry?

    If we make it through January, we are besieged again when February hits. Here comes Valentine’s Day. The day for love, the day for remembering loved ones in a special way. And we can only think of the loss we feel.

    If these feelings seem familiar to you, you’re grieving. If you seem to "plan ahead" for the big days, like Christmas and Easter (and actually get through them pretty well), but get "blind-sided" by ordinary days, you’re grieving. If you find that you can cope with your loss for days, weeks, months on end, and suddenly you can’t make it through a day without crying, you’re grieving. And you’re okay. Grieving has no calendar, no timetable, no set-in-concrete rules of time. And there are no standards of "correct" and "incorrect" behavior – either for those of us who grieve or for those who try to comfort us. The important thing is that we do grieve, that we do acknowledge our pain, and that we do allow ourselves to grieve as we need to, as long as we need to, and in the way that brings us the most help.

    So, it’s 2000. Where are you? Learning to live again, we hope; learning to love again, we hope; learning to hurt and survive, we’ll bet.

    We wish for the new millenium that will see you learning…and living.

    With our loving wishes to all of you for peace and understanding in 2000,

    Tom & Sondra Wright, TCF Atlanta

    ~reprinted from Jan-Feb Linked Together

Challenge and Change

    As I look back over the past six years since our son died, I realize how much I have changed. When we talk about grieving, we often forget to mention that we grieve, too for the person we were before our child died. We might have been energetic and fun-loving, but now are serious and absorbed.

    Our friends and family miss the old us too, and their comments show it. "Don't you think it's time to return to normal?" "You don't laugh as much as you used to." They are grieving for the person who will never be the same again.

    Like the caterpillar that shrouds itself in a cocoon, we shroud ourselves in grief when a child dies. We wonder, our families wonder- when will we come out of it? Will we make it through the long sleep? What hues will we show when we emerge? If you've ever watched a butterfly struggle from the safety of the cocoon, you'll know that the change is not quick or easy- but worth the effort!

    We begin to mark our struggle from the cocoon of grief when we begin to like the new us. When our priorities become different and people become more important than things; when we grasp a hand that reaches and reach in turn to pull another from the cocoon, when we embrace the change and turn the change into a challenge, then we can say proudly: "I have survived against overwhelming odds." Even though my child's death is not worth the change in and of itself, the changes and the challenges give me hope that I can be happy. 

    I can feel fulfilled again. I can love again.

    Sherry Mutcher TCF/ Appleton, WI

But shall the angels call for him much sooner than we've planned, 
We'll brave the bitter grief that comes and try to understand.

~Edgar Guest


    Dr. Arlen is the medical director of the Hospice at Somerset Medical Center. She is board certified in rehabilitation medicine, and she is a psychotherapist, specializing in the losses associated with death, disability and life-changing illness. 

    In the month of February, we are still in the firm grip of winter. Bone-chilling winds whip around bleak, bare trees, gray days alternate with bright, blue skies, but give little warmth. Having survived January, we have learned to conserve our energy, and we have grown accustomed to the weather. 

    Though we may still intensely dislike the wintertime, we have learned to take pleasure in the bright sun and the clear, blue sky. The stark landscape may even be appreciated for its unique beauty. Why does this happen? Why do we accept the bundling up and the shivering of winter? How is it that we can find pleasure and beauty in our misery? The answer is a paradox; We have a choice, and we have no choice. We can continue to wish for balmy air, laden with the scent of flowers, or we can mumble about the cold and grumble about the necessity for bundling up to face the chill days. If we focus only on what we don’t have, or long for the past warmth of summer or the future rebirth of spring, we tend to lose any ability to notice the aspects of this month that might engender some pleasure. Try as we might, it is impossible to change the course of nature. We cannot bring back the summer anymore than we can fast-forward the seasons. By focusing on what no longer is, we lose the capacity to find beauty, happiness, or pleasure. If we continue to bang our heads against unchangeable situations, it only increases our feelings of helplessness and futility.

    Our alternative is acceptance. By February, we recognize that hoping, wishing and dreaming will not bring back the summer’s warmth, so we accept what is. We learn to live with reality of the situation. It’s not that we don’t remember the various beautiful times of the summer, it’s not that we don’t yearn at times for them again; but now, we recognize that has passed. Though our souls may be warmed by the memories of

    summer, summer is gone. Now, we are free to live in the reality that is today. We enable ourselves to find beauty and joy in February. The mid-winter landscape has a quieter and more tranquil beauty. Rarely flamboyant, it does not overwhelm the senses; and the ability to recognize and appreciate this soft beauty can give us a sense of peace. 

    The month of February is similar to the completion of that long, middle phase of bereavement that results in acceptance of what has occurred. The memories of precious times will always be there to warm our hearts, and they will continue to bring tears and pangs of yearning, but realization of the finality of the loss had also occurred. 

    It takes a long time to accept situations that we do not want as permanent. It takes much time and heartache to recognize that we cannot change situations. It is a long process during which evolves a changed concept of ourselves, the world, and our place in it. It is not that the world has really changed, but with the death of a loved one, OUR world has changed. Again, we have a choice. That long and painful middle portion of the bereavement process may remain with us for a very long time as we struggle to maintain our old ways of being in spite of the agonizing loss. 

    If we become fixed or stuck at this time, there is a double tragedy. Life is lived in the past and the present is filled with yearning for what should have been and what has been stolen from the survivor. Certainly, we are not "happy" about the situation, but slowly we realize that things will never again be the same and that as survivors, we must go on. After a time, which varies from situation to situation, we accept the finality of the loss. With this acceptance, the ability occurs to perceive beauty without feelings of disloyalty.

    Though Valentine's Day does not have the same tradition and resultant dread of Christmas and other holidays, it can still bring a great deal of pain. The very symbol of this day, Cupid’s arrow piercing the heart, can feel quite literal for the bereaved whose hearts feel as if they have been broken. Old, tattered, cherished cards will be wept over, as well as bits of lace, red satin ribbon, and the poetry of a spouse, parent or sibling that is especially precious.

    Red roses and red valentine hearts are symbolic of the invisible blood that the bereaved have shed over their loss. When we feel despondent, isolated or cheated on Valentine’s Day (or any other day), the pain we are feeling is because of the great love we had. The experience of that love will never die, the memory of that love, of that loved one, will live on in our hearts. We must now live on—for the sake of ourselves and our loved one.

    We must give ourselves permission to enjoy again, even through tears. Let’s remind ourselves of the blessings that we have had, despite the deprivation, and let’s not deny others their blessings. 

    We should seek things that will bring us peace. A snow-covered landscape can be beautiful, glistening, and pure. Any view of a situation takes on the meaning that we assign to it. If we choose to believe that a scene or a situation is bleak, it will be bleak. If we focus on one aspect of beauty, we see beauty. 


As I look up into the beautiful sky

I can only ask myself one more time--why

Of course people tell me it was your time

But they don't know what it's like

to pretend to be fine

To live each day with the hurt and pain

From deep inside you don't know where it came

They don't know how it feels to have to live

Without the child who had so much to give

To go on and on and never know why

I can't understand no matter how hard I try

I try to be patient and not get mad

But of course I'll always be sad

There is such a void and emptiness inside

You can't imagine how much I've cried

And I know if I really knew why you had to leave

You still wouldn't be here I'd still be bereaved

(author unknown) ~submitted by Barbara Sockwell

I May Never See Tomorrow

I may never see tomorrow,

there's no guarantee,

and things that happened yesterday

belong to history.

I can't predict the future, 

I can't change the past,

I have just the present memories

to treat as my last.

I must use this moment wisely,

for soon it will pass away,
And be lost forever 

as a part of yesterday.

I must exercise compassion,

help the fallen to their feet,

Be a friend unto the friendless,

make their life complete.

The unkind things I do today,

may never be undone,

And friendships that I fail to win,

may never more be won.

I may not have another chance

on bended knees to pray,

And I thank God with a humble heart

for giving me this day!

I may never see tomorrow,

but this moment is my own.

It's mine to use or cast aside:

the choice is mine, alone. 

I have just this precious moment 

in the sunlight of today.

Where the dawning of tomorrow

meets the dusk of yesterday.

~written by George L. Nolan


    Almost all, if not all, of you are here because you are seeking ways to get past the pain of losing somebody you loved better than yourself. Well, that pain will eventually become a part of who and what you are, and you will learn to live with it. I haven't found a way to totally make it go away, but it certainly is nice to know that it does get better, and it doesn't have to consume a large part of every day. I can't tell you exactly when I reached that point, but I do know I welcomed it because it allowed me to get on with my life.

    In order to get to that place I had to learn to give up some thoughts that had become a familiar way of thinking and looking at things. All those feelings had seemed a justification for all the pain I had been through. It turned out they weren't a justification at all. They were more like a heavy weight around my neck that held me in that mindset that didn't allow room for my recovery.

    After some time, just a few simple things helped me to start my life in a different direction. I realized then that I was getting better when my tears were no longer an all day affair. Oh, I still shed them all along but I'd move around and risk something else getting my attention but I no longer sat all day bemoaning all that I had lost.

    I knew I was getting better when I realized who I had left was just as important as who I had lost. This realization came to me not too long after my son died. I had invited a psychiatrist in the Atlanta area to speak at a meeting just before Mother's Day. He had not lost a child but shared the story of how he and his two younger siblings had been denied any joy for life from their mother who had experienced the premature loss of her first two children. He told of how most of his young life had been spent trying to find ways to make his mother happy, always trying and always failing, and always feeling that it was his fault for failing. 

    I came home that night determined that my surviving daughter was not, many years down the road, going to lament the fact that, no matter how hard she had tried, she was unable to create any joy in my life. I had recognized her importance. 

    I knew I was getting better when I realized that the guilt that I felt for the responsibility for my son's death was not legitimate. I had such foolish thoughts that said if I hadn't invited him over for dinner that night, he wouldn't have been where his accident occurred. It was all my fault. It took some time for me to realize that, if I hadn't invited him over for dinner that night, he would have had his accident some place else, and I would have felt guilty for that. It was a no win situation. Feelings of guilt were not legitimate and I could let go of them. 

    I knew I was getting better when I was also able to let go of the anger that had plagued me since my son's death. You know, anger really does eat the container in which it is held. My greatest anger was directed toward my two best friends. When I was able to sit back and think about the relationship with them both long and hard, I realized that my part of the friendship with one of them was for me to listen to her problems time and again but, when I needed her to listen to mine, it was then I knew she didn't have the depth of character to understand what I was going through. 

    I knew too, that telling her would not magically make her aware. It was my decision to let go of her. The other friend I felt was worth a try, even though I had written her and told her about my pain and my need for her support to no avail. So, when she called me one day long distance, she said, "Mary, I think you're angry with me." I said, "Oh yes. Do you want to talk about it on my nickel or yours?" She said "Mine." So I told her how miserably she had failed me.

    She cried and said she was so sorry, that she had no idea how bad it was for me, I told her she still didn't know, that I had only given her an inkling of how bad it was, but I didn't ever want her to fail anyone else that she cared for so miserably again, and I forgave her and let go of the anger for both of them.

    I knew I was getting better when I learned that my misfortune was one of the worst, but it wasn't the only worst.

    I knew I was getting better when I learned that, because one bad thing has happened, it doesn't give me an immunity to other bad things, so I'd better appreciate what's left for me.

    I knew I was getting better when I learned that man is not made so that he can hurt with the intensity of fresh grief forever; that it will eventually get better, whether you want it or not. Not as good as it was before, but better than fresh grief.

    I knew I was getting better when I learned not to go to dry wells looking for water. People who don't understand your needs are like dry holes. They have nothing to offer you in the way of sustenance.

    I knew I was getting better when I learned that helping others who had been unfortunate enough to lose a child was the most helpful thing I could do for myself.

    When I had learned all of these things, that was when I knew I was getting better.

    Did I say back there that these changes were simple? Looking back, they weren't simple at all, but certainly worth striving for, for learning these things are the best and kindest things you can do for yourself. I assure you that it will be worth the effort when you too can say "I'm getting better."

    ~reprinted with permission of Bereaved Parents USA, A JOURNEY TOGETHER NEWSLETTER


A friend is someone we turn to,

When our spirits need a lift.

A friend is someone we treasure,

For our friendship is a gift.

A friend is someone who fills our lives,

With beauty, joy, and grace.

And makes the world we live in,

A better and happier place.


Is this the first day
when you can bear to remember
how you smiled together,
that day in spring,
that morning in the rain?

Are you discovering 
how many gifts of comfort
he left behind,
this child who died 
too soon?

His life is gone,
but he endows your time
from this day forward,
with all the faithful treasures
of remembrance.

~words of Sascha from her book Wintersun

Dedicated with love to our son, Craig, on his Birthday, January 14th.

Judy and Joel Blumsack, Sandy Spring, Ga

Bereaved Presidents…..Did you know that…

    Twenty of our 42 presidents and their wives were and are bereaved parents? 

    Our second president, John Adams, lost his son Charles, 20, while he was president.

    Thomas Jefferson had six children and only two lived to maturity. One daughter, Mary, 26, died while he was


    James Monroe lost a son two years of age.

    John Quincy Adams lost a daughter in infancy; a son died while Adams was president; and another son died five years later.

    William Harrison had ten children; six died before he became president.

    Zachary Taylor had six children; two died as infants and a daughter died three months after her wedding.

    Millard Fillmore’s daughter Abigail died at 22.

    Our fourteenth president, Franklin Pierce, lost two sons in infancy. History records his wife’s grief so great that he resigned from the Senate. Two months before his inauguration to the presidency, their only child, Benjamin,

    11 years old, was killed in a railroad accident. Mrs. Pierce collapsed from grief and was unable to attend the inauguration. She secluded herself in an upstairs bedroom for nearly half of her husband’s term in office.

    Our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, lost two sons during his lifetime: Edward, four years old, while President Lincoln was in office; and William, 11 years old. He wrote, "In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all…it comes with bitterest agony…Perfect relief is not possible except with time. You cannot realize that you will ever feel better…and yet this is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have experienced enough to know what I say." The president’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, unable to cope with the assassination of her husband and the death of yet another son, Thomas, 18 years old, was confined to a sanitarium. Although she was released after a few months, she was never to be well again.

    Rutherford B. Hayes had eight children, three of whom died in infancy.

    James Garfield had seven children; two died while still infants.

    Chester Alan Arthur’s eldest son died in infancy.

    Grover Cleveland’s eldest daughter, Ruth, died at 13 years of age.

    Our twenty-fifth president, William McKinley, lost both children: Ida, four months old, and Katherine, four years

    old. His wife became so overwhelmed with shock and grief that she became an invalid for the remainder of her life.

    Theodore Roosevelt’s son died at 21 years of age.

    Calvin Coolidge had a son, Calvin Jr., who died at 16 while his father was in office. Recorded in his autobiography, the president said, "When he went, the power and glory of the presidency went with him."

    Franklin Roosevelt’s son, Franklin Jr., died in infancy.

    Dwight Eisenhower’s son, Doug Dwight "Icky," three years old, died at Camp Mead, Maryland. In President Eisenhower’s autobiography written in 1969 (49 years after Icky died), he stated, "With his death a pall fell over the camp. When we started the long trip back to Denver for his burial, the entire command turned out in respect to Icky. We were completely crushed – it was a tragedy from which we never recovered. I do not know how others have felt when facing the same situation, but I have never known such a blow. Today when I think of it, even as I now write of it, the keenness of my loss comes back to me as fresh and terrible as it was in that long, dark day soon after Christmas, 1920."

    John F. Kennedy’s two-year-old son, Patrick died while his father was president; Kennedy lost another infant prior to becoming president.

    George Bush and his wife Barbara lost their daughter Robin to cancer.

-Harriet Deshayes, TCF, Fresno, CA

Newly Bereaved...

    There is a wide variation in time for recovery, just as there is a wide variation in our grief experiences. How long it will take each of us to reach this point of being comfortable is impossible to predict, and different for each of us. I think much of the timing has to do with how effectively we have faced and worked through our grief. Because I did not grieve in a healthy way for many years after Arthur was killed, I had to begin to grieve properly six years after to reach a point where I feel no pain at the thought that Arthur is dead. My daughter, also a bereaved parent, had the support of TCF and reached a comfortable point in a much shorter time. 

    I know that what I have said is hard to believe. For that reason I would suggest that you accept this with blind faith for the time being. Then, when the pain becomes more devastating than usual, think of what I have said. Think of it as a rope hanging "out there" for you to grab on to. Think of it as a rope of hope. Recovery is the end of this terrible journey.

Margaret Gerner TCF, St. Louis, MO


    Why? Every bereaved parent I know finds himself or herself using this word much more after their child's death than they did before. Why my child? Why so young? Why that way? Why now? Why?

    Most of the answers that society offers us are inadequate at their best and inappropriate at their worst. Maybe the real answer as to why can be found in the words of a bereaved father from more than forty years ago.

    Earlier this month at the memorial service for the six firefighters who died in Worcester, Mass, Senator Ted Kennedy said, "In 1958, my father wrote a friend whose son had died. And since then that letter read and re-read, has helped our family endure through the most difficult times. In 1944 my oldest brother, Joe, had been killed in World War II and my father referred to that when he wrote these words.

    "When a loved one goes out of your life, you think of what he might have done with a few more years and you wonder what you are going to do with the rest of your years. Then one day, because there is a world to be lived in, you find yourself part of it again, trying to accomplish something - something that your son did not have time enough to do. And, perhaps, That is the reason for it all. I hope so."

    Perhaps that something is working to prevent another suicide or traffic death. Or becoming an advocate for organ and tissue donation. Or getting involved in your church or community work, a faciliator, steering committee member, or chapter leader in TCF. A big brother or sister, the scouts, a teacher's para-pro.

    Or maybe because your grief is so new, you haven't found that something yet. The timetable is yours and yours alone. It takes as long as it takes. So whether you've found your something or are still searching, perhaps ultimately that is the answer to the question why….I hope so.

~written by Pat Malone and read at the Lawrenceville Chapter TCF Candle Lighting

Waiting for Answers

    Years ago I left my first meeting of The Compassionate Friends and drove home in tears. My son, Max, had died a few short weeks before and I had been anxiously awaiting this evening. These people must have some answers, I thought. With paper and pen in purse, I was ready to take notes and do as they prescribed. I should do anything to ease the ache in my soul. But when I walked out into the spring air later that night, I felt betrayed. I hadn't heard any answers. Instead of learning how to leave my grief behind, it had been confirmed, made more real with expression. I knew I would miss Max forever. Now I wondered if I would grieve forever. Would it always be this way, a flash of pain aligned with every memory? During the next months and years, I attended TCF meetings and conferences, read books, raged, kept busy, sometimes spent the day in bed. I wrote, cried and talked about Max. Slowly, I discovered the answers I had long feared were true; yes, I will grieve forever, and yes, my memories will often provoke tears. But something had changed. My grief was now more forgiving, my tears almost sweet with memory. Max's life took shape again as the anguish of his death began to recede. If I would always miss him, I would also always have him with me in so many ways. I wanted to carry his memory into the future; the joy, the lessons, and the inevitable pain. How could I do otherwise? As I walked to my car after the first meeting, the TCF chapter leader caught up with me. "How can I stop this pain?" I asked. She put her arm on my shoulder. "Just do what feels right to you," she said "Listen to your heart. And we'll be here to listen too." Sometimes the best advice is none at all.
Mary Clark, TCF, SugarLand/SW Houston Chapter 

Who was "Valentine"?

    Who was Valentine? This question is not an easy one to answer. Depending on which book you read you might find one author making the case that there were two different men named Valentine whose lives were mixed together to form one legend, and another arguing that two different legends arose about the same man. Even still another author might say that there were three men named Valentine. 

    Here are synopses of several different stories... 

    Valentine was a Roman priest who was martyred during the persecution of Claudius the Goth around A.D. 269 or 270 and buried on the Flaminian Way. Valentine was a bishop of Terni martyred in Rome. Valentine as a young pagan, though unsaved, helped Christians during a time of persecution. He was caught and put in jail, became a believer there and was clubbed to death for this on February 14, 269. While in prison he is said to have sent messages to friends saying, "Remember your Valentine" and "I love you." In one story it is said that Valentine was a priest that secretly married couples, defying the law of Emperor Claudius which temporarily forbid marriages. Valentine was imprisoned for refusing to worship pagan gods. Making friends with the jailer’s daughter, he is said to have cured her through prayer, and on the date of his execution (Feb. 14th) he is said to have written her a note signed "Your Valentine."

    The one thing we can be sure of is that at least one person by the name of Valentine did live and that he was killed for being a Christian. Beyond this we are on shaky ground. 

    The 14th of February was set apart as the special day to remember Saint Valentine. This was one day before the Roman feast of Lupercalia, a pagan love festival. In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius changed Lupercalia from the 15th to the 14th to try and stop the pagan celebration. The church realized that there was nothing wrong with celebrating love, only the pagan elements insulted God. Lupercalia was done away with, but it had left its mark on Saint Valentine's Day. Valentine had become known as the patron of lovers.

    Part of the Roman festival of Lupercalia was the putting of girls names in a box and letting the boys draw them out. These couples were supposedly paired off for the whole year. A similar practice was begun in the fourteenth century. A sweetheart was chosen for a day by lot. This was done to correspond with the belief that the springtime mating of birds took place on Valentine's Day. Messages sent between these randomly chosen pairs were a forerunner of the modern Valentine's Day Card. Specially printed cards for Valentine's were just becoming common by the 1780's. They were a big hit in Germany where, they were called Freundschaftkarten, or "friendship cards."

    So, should Christians celebrate Valentine's Day? Absolutely. Though we're not quite sure who Valentine was, we certainly know that God approves of love, even romantic love. Let's just make sure that Valentine's Day is an extra special day to display even more love than usual to those around us, and not our only day to show love this year. 

    ~from an Internet site,

    "St. Valentine’s Day Legends"



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