Anderson’s National Award-Winning Play, CAMEO
collaboration teaches, heals hearts"
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
“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
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?
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
“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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
by Vicky Edwards Gehrt
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
The playwright, Linda Anderson, wrote the
three-character play after losing a child and has designated all proceeds for
“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.”
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
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
“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
Bona said that the play illustrates the
denial of loss through the characters, Jill, her husband, Stan, and Jill’s
“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
Tickets for “Cameo” are $10 each, with
proceeds to benefit national SHARE. For information or reservations, phone
708-963-5900, ext. 1520.