The story of Brief Encounters begins in 1976 with Pat Schwiebert, a registered nurse, then working in Hospice care and Labor and Delivery as well as teaching childbirth education classes. In those classes, parents were encouraged to take responsibility for their own health and the health of their babies. Then, when the unthinkable happened and parents suffered losses, they were empowered to speak up and make their needs known. At that time, hospital staff encouraged parents not to talk about their dead babies – not to see them, hold them, or name them. Parents were told to “forget about it,” “move on,” or “just try again.” But Pat’s patients told her that this wasn’t helpful. They wanted to talk about their babies. They needed to know that their feelings of loss were normal, that they weren’t crazy.
And Pat listened. She had heard of Compassionate Friends, an organization that supported bereaved parents who had lost children of all ages. She decided to form a Compassionate Friends chapter in Portland. The group began with about a dozen people meeting at the downtown library and soon grew to over two hundred people meeting at a church. Over time, Pat saw the need to form subgroups to meet the specific needs of those who’d suffered unique kinds of loss. Her heart had always been drawn toward families who had lost babies. So in 1990, she formed Brief Encounters, a group specifically for bereaved parents of pregnancy and infant loss.
Over the years, Brief Encounters has helped hundreds of families primarily through parent support groups. Though meetings are led by trained facilitators, the healing that occurs is born of parents reaching out and supporting each other. Outside of meetings, a dedicated group of volunteers also offer support over the phone, through email, and by raising awareness in the community. A newsletter is sent out monthly to over 700 families and quarterly to medical, pastoral and mental health professionals. A volunteer group of parents make up the Brief Encounters Board. Our mission has remained constant: Through talking or just listening, we learn what grief is and how, through understanding and caring, we heal. We continually strive to find ways to help as many bereaved parents as possible find support and healing.