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                                                                                                                                                  Life is Your Page

Newspaper Coverage

Linda Anderson’s National Award-Winning Play, CAMEO


"'Cameo' collaboration teaches, heals hearts"
By Anne Shaw Heinrich

Around Town Editor, Wednesday, October 14, 1992, Downers Grove, Illinois

I came prepared, prepared as I’d ever be. But as I pulled my little Pontiac into the parking lot at Good Samaritan Hospital, my feelings were mixed.

The devilish reporter mocked me from one shoulder, “Anne, this is one heck of a coop! Get in there, girl, and dig!” But someone else, a woman who talks with her husband about their future, a future with children, as if they already exist, whispered, “Watch out. This could be uncomfortable. Remember, no crying. You’re working, for God’s sake!”

I was en route to a rehearsal for a play, “Cameo,” in the Oaks Rooms and thrilled at the chance to be there, privy to the inner workings of a gutsy project that started with a broken heart.

“Cameo” tells the story of Stan and Jill, a couple whose baby son, Stanley, is born dead. Its playwright, Linda Anderson of Minneapolis, Minnesota, said she thought theater was the most personal way to give audiences a firsthand look at what happens when a bereaved couple leaves the hospital, arms empty.

The script’s reality is raw and real, based partially on Anderson’s own sad experience as a bereaved parent and from the stories she heard as a counselor for S.H.A.R.E., a support group for bereaved families who experience miscarriage, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy and neonatal death.

“I was finally at a point where I could write it with objectivity,” Anderson said. “But it wasn’t just my own story. The biggest thing I saw was marriages ending. People didn’t understand the grieving process and how husbands and wives grieve differently. If you have the information, you can say, ‘Now I know why we’re reacting to each other this way.’”

But the reactions come from everyone.

“It all happened for the best,” “There will be other babies,” “Try not to think about it,” or worse still, avoiding reference to the baby and the death altogether, are all well-meaning attempts by relatives, doctors, nurses, pastors to skirt those awkward moments that are bound to surface.

That’s just the way it was (and still is in many cases) handled, and as a result many parents bury their grief right along with their children, whether they want to or not.

But things are slowly changing. The “Cameo” project is evidence of that.

It’s a small world.

What do National S.H.A.R.E., the Theater of Western Springs and Good Samaritan Hospital of Downers Grove have in comment? “Cameo.”

The play will run at 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday, October 30 and 31, in the Theater of Western Springs’ Cattell Wing theater, 4384 Hampton.

It’s an intimate setting for an intimate subject; far more so than anyone might expect.

Seeing “Cameo” at a National S.H.A.R.E. convention stirred Good Samaritan’s registered nurse Pat Vaci enough to prompt a call to Anderson asking for a copy of the script, which arrived and sat on Vaci’s shelf.

“Two years later I saw the play again, and again I came back and pulled it off the shelf,” Vaci said.

This time she was determined to do something, but had no idea she would run into so many familiar faces along the way.

The S.H.A.R.E. facilitator at Good Samaritan, Vaci learned that Ginny Richardson was then the public relations coordinator at the hospital. Richardson . . . yes, she knew Ginny! Ginny had written award-winning articles about S.H.A.R.E. But she soon learned there was more: Richardson was active at the Theater of Western Springs and had experienced a stillbirth herself.

The “Cameo” script was soon in Richardson’s hands. Before long a committee formed, and “Cameo” was on its way. When Vaci learned that TWS active Chuck Bona of Hinsdale volunteered to direct the play, the whole picture came full circle.

Vaci remembered the Bonas from two years earlier when she helped the family through the death of their granddaughter, Jessica, who lived 11 months and one week. She also remembered hearing how Chuck and his wife, Cele, had experienced two miscarriages, one stillbirth, a child who lived one day and a child who lived two days.

This was going to be no ordinary project.

“The cord that feeds both of us.”

“The thing that impresses me so much is that they’ve talked to people in S.H.A.R.E. meetings to really get into these roles. There’s so much feeling going into this production. And they’re all volunteers. It isn’t just a play,” Vaci said, referring to the actors involved in the project.

None of the actors have experienced the loss of a child, but Vaci insisted that it didn’t matter, not for this project.

Whether your child is living or dead, the love is the same. There’s something about it that’s still the same,” she said.

That’s what Vaci told Bill Busch of Clarendon Hills, the actor who will play Stanley, a bereaved father. Busch and his fellow actors, Kathy Kusper and Mary Ellen Druyan, both of Hinsdale, still felt compelled to delve a little deeper, despite their uncomfortable feelings, those feelings that everyone who comes into contact with bereaved parents must experience.

“I was afraid I would say the wrong thing,” Busch said about his first S.H.A.R.E. meeting, noting that most of the things he heard from the parents sounded almost identical to the lines in the play.

Busch attended a morning meeting meant just for bereaved fathers and said it helped him develop the character.

“The men that I sat down with were very open. They wanted a chance to share their feelings. Some of them were in different stages of the grief process,” Busch said. “The male always is the one who tries to play his role out. A lot of bereaved fathers feel the way the character, Stan, feels when he says, “What about me?”

And Stan does play the bravado for a while, making the arrangements, walking around his wife tentatively, not mentioning the baby by name. He and his mother-in-law, Connie, even take down everything from the nursery before Jill gets home, all attempts to hide the grief.

Similarly, Jill’s reaction to the aftermath follows common patterns of most bereaved mothers who suppress their grief. She thinks she hears a baby crying and she tells a clerk in the grocery store that she did give birth to a living baby boy and that she’ll bring pictures by later.

And the strained relationship between Jill (played by Kusper) and her mother, Connie, (played by Druyan) becomes clear as the audience discovers along with Jill, that Connie, too, had lost an infant child.

She tells her daughter, “Your feelings, they will have their day. Now, or later.” Playwright Anderson incorporated that twist into the script for a very good reason.

“The mother-in-law shows the effects of what happens when you don’t allow yourself to grieve. I had no idea the number of decisions in my life that I had made based on this suppressed grief,” Anderson said. “Once after this play, I had a 70-year-old woman tell me she could still remember every detail of her experience. It’s one big ball of unresolved pain.”

Director Bona agreed.

“Don’t stuff it,” Bona said. “I really feel tied to this project. It’s such a wonderful avenue for not only the parents, but others. Now we’re going to have the opportunity to show physicians, nurses, undertakers and families ‘behind the scenes’ and why it’s important to speak about this.”

The play is focused specifically for members of the clergy, physicians, nurses and families who have or will come face to face with the tragedy that follows the death of a child.

Behind the scenes

Bona mentioned that he handed out the scripts early to the cast.

“Everyone pretty much told me that they were in tears,” he said. “This is a very powerful script.”

Bona seemed equally confident that his cast can do what they have to do by the time the show opens.

“They are so talented that they pick up on stuff very well,” he said, noting the moment when Jill first sees a picture of her dead baby boy. “She says, ‘He’s beautiful,’ and I said, ‘Now wait a minute. You know, he’s a person.’”

The next time the moment had a different feel to it altogether.

“Things like that are there, if you ask for them,” Bona said.

I watched for those things as I sat in the rehearsal. And they were there. But I was struck by an unintentional moment, one not written in the script. It was fleeting, barely perceptible.

“I’ll need a pregnancy pillow,” Kusper reminded Dorothy Parlow, assistant director.

“Don’t worry. You’ll get your pillow,” Parlow replied.

Oh, if the pain of losing a child were all that simple, a matter of removing a pillow from a shirt.

I thought about it all the way home.

Tickets for “Cameo” are $10, with proceeds benefiting National S.H.A.R.E. For more information, call 963-5900, Ext. 1520.



One act that plays a lifetime
by Vicky Edwards Gehrt

Chicago Tribune Sunday, October 25, 1992

Share. A good word. A word with positive connotations. Share with others. Share your good fortunes. Share your feelings. Share your pain.

Share your pain? What about keep a stiff upper lip? Bite the bullet? Keep your chin up?

The problem with those axioms of yesterday is quite simply that they didn’t work. What works, though, is acceptance: sharing pain, sharing grief, sharing sorrows. When parents experience the devastating loss of an unborn or newly born infants, SHARE, a national infancy loss support group, insists that recovery is facilitated by acknowledging and releasing the pain, the anger and the disappointment – not by denying that a baby died and that the hurt is immense.

On Friday, several people who have been emotionally touched by such a loss will share the intimacy of those feelings through a play cooperatively sponsored by Good Samaritan Hospital, the Theatre of Western Springs and national SHARE Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Inc.

“Cameo,” a one-act play about the loss of a baby, will be presented at 8:15 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Theatre of Western Springs.

The playwright, Linda Anderson, wrote the three-character play after losing a child and has designated all proceeds for national SHARE.

“It’s the story of a couple, happily, joyously expecting their first baby, and you can feel it with them,” explained Ginny Richardson of the Theatre of Western Springs. “The baby is stillborn, and all the wrenching emotions that occur because of that come out. It’s only through painful conversations that they begin to resolve it and they turn a slight corner into healing.”

Producers are not billing this as a play for the general public. Instead, they are targeting healthcare workers, funeral directors, ministry, social workers and bereaved parents.

“I don’t think if you want to go out and be entertained for an evening, that this play is for you,” warned Pat Vaci, Good Samaritan’s SHARE coordinator. “But there’s something in it for everyone. It’s about feelings, and it’s very heavy. There will be a lot of time afterward to just sit quietly, and many support people in the audience will be available if anyone needs processing afterward.”

“This is not for the mainstream public,” Richardson agreed. “You’ll go through this, you won’t just be observing. The catchword to this play is empathy. Our goals are that it be used as a teaching tool or as a catharsis.”

For Richardson, the play’s publicist, it is a catharsis. After spending years denying her own loss of a son born full term 20 years ago, today she is able to talk about her grief.

“I know firsthand the sense of isolation these parents feel,” Richardson said. “The message back in ’72 when it happened to me, from all the authority figures, was to treat it as if it didn’t happen, and I went right along with it. There was so much denial. I didn’t see the baby; I felt I was a bother to everyone; you feel an isolation like leprosy, where no one knew what to do or say.”

Modern psychologists recognize, however, that pain denied is not pain that goes away; eventually it resurfaces.

“I was in denial eight years,” Richardson said. “I was headed for a major depression. Each September, I’d have trouble. I’d stand in the kitchen making dinner and think, ‘What’s this on my face?’ and it would be tears.”

Richardson, who has since given birth to two healthy sons, had thought that would be enough for healing; instead she was headed for a breakdown.

“I had a one-weekend crying marathon, and that was the start of it,” she said. “I went to a therapist, but even then I was ashamed to have needed help.”

That shame was in part brought on by a medical community whose reaction to her loss was to ignore it. Although she doesn’t blame the nurses, whom she said had been taught to change the subject if talk about the baby was raised, she does resent her doctor’s insensitivity.

“The doctor walked in with the autopsy report,” she said, “and I started to tear up – I don’t mean wail, just tear up – and he just went like this,” pointing her finger and saying sternly, “Hey, hey, cut that out!”

“I’m euphoric that it’s handled differently today,” said Richardson, who works as the director of public relations for Hinsdale’s Wellness Community. “I don’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. I wonder how many years of private grieving could have been saved for me.”

Vaci believes that this play can raise awareness about grief. After seeing it in Atlanta a few years ago, she wrote the playwright for a copy of the script.

“Then I put it on the shelf, because I didn’t know where to start,” she said. “Then I saw it done again in St. Louis, and I had those same feelings again. I was so moved, I just had to do something.”

Vaci talked to Flo Northrop, the director of obstetrical services at Good Samaritan, and Northrop suggested a perfect resource: Ginny Richardson, who was working at Good Samaritan at that time, was involved in theater and knew about infant loss.

The project snowballed. Richardson knew Chuck Bona from theater work; Vaci knew Bona because of a loss in Bona’s family. The Theater of Western Springs’ artistic director, Ron Tobaas, supported the group, and nothing could get in the way of the avalanche that Vaci started.

Vaci believes that this production was simply meant to happen and that it has a strong teaching potential.

“The theory of grief says there are four stages,” Vaci said. “There’s shock and numbness, then searching and yearning, disorganization, then reorganization. Before, the way we were handling it, we were feeding into the stages, into the denial.”

Then, many people became stuck in a stage, unable to move on with the process. Now, Vaci said, awareness has increased but can still be improved.

“People recognize the grief the parents go through more now,” she said, “but they’re not always comfortable with the length of time it goes on. They’ve moved on, so they think these people should have gone on with their lives after a few months, but it just doesn’t work that way.”

“Cameo” director Chuck Bona can also give testimony to the changes in that last few decades. During the 1960s, he and his wife, Cele, suffered the pain of two miscarriages, as well as the births of a stillborn baby and two children who lived less than three days. Then, two years ago a granddaughter was born critically ill and lived just until weeks short of her first birthday."

“Ginny sent me the script,” Bona said, “and asked if I’d direct it. When I read it, I thought, ‘No way; the audience will be walking out in droves.’ I told Ginny it’s not for general audiences, and she said, ‘It’s not, it’s for SHARE.’”

Bona, who was familiar with Vaci and SHARE because his granddaughter was born at Good Samaritan (she was later transferred to Loyola Hospital) not only agreed to direct but also refused a salary.

“It seems like everything is coming to a full-circle culmination,” he said. “My wife and I have come a long way to acceptance. We lost our last child in 1963, and we have two girls buried in Texas, and we had never been back until just this year. We went to the cemetery, and it was a joyous moment, a feeling of ownership.”

Bona believes that today’s health-care system is much better equipped to handle parental grief.

“My daughter had all the help in the world,” said Bona, a Hinsdale resident and dentist in Chicago. “The neo-natal care at Loyola was outstanding. There are still people in health care who think you should forget it, make believe it never happened, and get on with your life. But you have to acknowledge it and you have to grieve to be able to get on with your life.”

Bona said that the play illustrates the denial of loss through the characters, Jill, her husband, Stan, and Jill’s mother, Connie.

“The play pretty much depicts us at that time in that my wife never saw the children, no pictures were taken, and I pretty much arranged the service and burial,” Bona said. “I’m not very proud of that now, but that’s what I thought was proper at the time. It took a lot of years for us to acknowledge our grief, but we’re in good shape today.”

Richardson is also in good shape today.

“I’m amazed at the joys I have in my life,” she said. “The hardest part of the whole thing was not being able to say hello to that baby, to acknowledge it as a person. You have to say hello before you can say goodbye, and that’s what hospitals are so much better at today.”

Richardson said she still feels her loss, but it’s a different kind of pain.

“I don’t dwell on it,” she said, “but it comes, and it will come the rest of my life, and I accept that. Now, in September, especially when it’s that day, I’ll think, ‘Thanks for letting me survive.’”

Tickets for “Cameo” are $10 each, with proceeds to benefit national SHARE. For information or reservations, phone 708-963-5900, ext. 1520.

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