Using lived experience to help bereaved families move forward


A support group whose members use their experience with grief to help bereaved families hopes to widen its reach in Victoria with a new board and vision.

The Compassionate Friends Victoria provides peer support for family members after the death of a child. Parents, siblings and grandparents can access services including a support centre, 24/7 helpline, monthly Support and Social Group meetings, Time-Out Program, grief and loss information and a bi-annual weekend retreat “The Gathering”.

Each year TCFV conducts a moving Candle Lighting Service to remember lost loved ones. It started in the USA in 1997 and is held at the same time globally, providing ’24 hours of light and life’. This year’s Melbourne eventwill be held in Camberwell on 8 December.

Six new TCFV board members were elected last weekend (see next page) and all are bereaved parents or siblings. Associate board member Ken Briscoe has been elected by the Board.

TCFV president Andrew Weatherhead says the new board has a great mix of skills and much experience with grief. With around 35,000 people aged under 50 dying in Victoria each year, the new-look Board hopes to reach out to many more bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents.

“This is a really good opportunity to widen our reach,” Andrew says. “We are the only group in Victoria helping this group of bereaved people with peer to peer support and sharing lived experience.

“When people find someone with a similar experience who they can share it with and can open up with in a feeling of safety, it’s a momentous thing for our members.”

Andrew says events such as the candle lighting ceremony mean a lot. “It’s very important for the 100 plus people who attend,” he says. “Pre-Christmas is often unbearable, so the timing is important, and the ceremony is very meaningful.”

Other events include the Walk to Remember in March/April, a Trivia night in May, a Winter Solstice event in June and other social and fundraising events.

Andrew and other board members can discuss TCFV and their personal stories (see following page). For more details:

The Compassionate Friends Victoria

Our Mission: We provide peer support for grieving family members following the death of a child

Our Vision: Parents, siblings and grandparents can access our services when needed

Our Values: Provide a Safe Environment: Listen, allow people to tell their story. Keep confidences confidential.

Treat everyone with Respect: Offer friendship, understanding and support.

Be Patient: Accept that each person grieves in their own way and at their own pace.

Act with Integrity: Be consistently truthful, open and sincere in all that you say and do.

Andrew Weatherhead

Andrew became a member of The Compassionate Friends after his son Max died in 2009. Andrew had a career in physiotherapy but had public speaking experience so in 2011 began speaking on behalf of TCFV to various groups about grief and about TCFV. Andrew was on the Board from 2013-2015, then became a member of staff to manage Community Education. From 2016-2019, Andrew returned to the Board as President. He will step down in the new year but continue as a mentor.

Lisa Gelbart

Lisa is a Bereavement Counsellor with more than a decade of experience. This includes the coordination and training of volunteers, group facilitation, peer support, workshops, hospital presentations and public speaking. She is bereaved of two infant sons and volunteered for The Compassionate Friends Victoria for several years from 2007 and reconnected in 2018. Lisa has had numerous volunteer and paid positions in the not-for-profit sector. She combines her lived experience with her professional training and is studying her Masters’ of Counselling. Lisa’s experience also encompasses the LGBT+ community, disability and mental health.

Kevin Purvis

Kevin is a recently retired Primary School teacher. Prior to that he worked in pastoral ministry for more than 20 years, in various Baptist Churches and Chaplaincy positions. In both these roles he gained wide experience in committees and boards of management. Kevin is the bereaved father of Stephen, who died by suicide in 2001. He has three daughters and four grandchildren, enjoys lawn bowls, cycling and is a member of the Croydon Film Society. The Compassionate Friends was a great support when Stephen died and Kevin looks forward to joining his wife Jenny, who leads one of the bereaved parent groups, in contributing to this important work.

Theresa Yeo

Theresa migrated to Melbourne in 2001, soon after the death of her daughter, Clara. Since she started volunteering, TCF has been her support lifeline for the past 16 years. She was on the TCF Board from 2005-2012, mostly as Treasurer. She has been a community worker in Church, auditor in banking, before leaving her career to start a Fair Trade shop. Since Clara’s death, she has focused on volunteering. Through TCF, she has found mutual support for her grief, meaningful use of her skills and continued learning.

Jo Knoll

Jo Knoll is married to John, the mother of three children and grandmother of two. She has worked in offices and primary and secondary school libraries. Jo joined TCFV in 1999, a year after their son Matthew died. She has completed all TCFV courses and as a trained Public Speaker for TCFV has spoken at hospitals, funeral directors’ meetings, community, church and TCFV groups in the city and country. Jo has also networked with journalists, editors, film makers in the hope of seeing a documentary produced about 40 years of TCFV to make it a household name.

Harriet Clegg

Harriet is passionate about art, learning and helping others. She currently volunteering with the TCFV magazine team. After losing her much loved brother in 2017 Harriet has found comfort in attending the support groups to share his legacy and enjoys engaging with the kind staff members in the office. Working in local government and studying a Master of Social Work, Harriet is looking forward to supporting and contributing to members’ experiences as part of the many services offered at TCFV.

John Sedunary

John is CEO of TCFV. He brings to TCFV broad senior management experience from the corporate and not for profit sectors. John’s career has focussed on HR management, organisation development and project management. He has been instrumental in the design of organisational structures, the integration of people, processes and technology and managing several innovative technology-based projects. John has also chaired the Board of a not for profit organisation and provided strategic and operational advice to several other charities. Married with three children, he is also long-suffering Saints supporter.

Daniel Bendel

Daniel is TCFV Treasurer and has a Bachelor of Business (with Distinction) and Graduate Diploma in Taxation. Daniel began his professional career in the mid-1970s as an accountant (FCPA) and has worked for several organisations. In the last 30 years he has simultaneously worked as Director/Company Secretary at The Stafford Group and run a successful accounting practice. In 2003, Daniel joined The Compassionate Friends after his son, Joshua, died in December 2002. He became Group leader in 2006, then a Board member in 2009.

/Public Release.