When my son died in July 2016, a close friend asked me, “Do you know anyone who has lost a child?” The answer was one. I knew one person. Soon after, I received a card in the mail. It was from her. She and a group of friends had gone in together and bought a brick in memory of our son Joey that would be laid in the Ben Rau Memorial Garden in Blanchette Park in St. Charles, Missouri. We were invited to a dedication service that October sponsored by Share Infant Loss and Pregnancy Support*. Share’s mission is to serve those whose lives are touched by the tragic death of a baby through pregnancy loss, stillbirth or in the first few months of life.
We went as a family holding white balloons to release at the end. When we arrived, I was surprised at the crowd. I had lost my son a few months earlier, but I was clearly not alone. All of the people surrounding me had lost children recently as well. Grief has a way of enticing the griever to self pity. If I had any self pity, I left it there in the garden that day. For all of the suffering that I would face as a grieving mom, I was not unique in my loss. Many had gone before me, and and many were right there with me. As I looked around at families, siblings, dads and grandparents, I knew that I was part of a community and that we could support each other.
I remember feeling compelled to know their stories. Most could not speak but I felt comfortable to ask a few what their child’s name was. There was one mom that really stood out to me. After the ceremony was over, I felt compelled to talk to her. I asked her what her child’s name was and she shared her story with me. I gave her a balloon and we released them together. I found her later on Facebook and when our new friendship hit the news feed I got a private message from a mutual friend. Shocked that we had a mutual friend, I set up a phone call. It turns out our mutual friend had been praying that we would meet. She knew both of our stories and though she could not think of a natural way to introduce us, her heart told her that we could support each other. When I told her how we met in the garden, she was amazed. I was also amazed. It was such a large crowd, and yet, we met. We did support each other that year and we still do. We are a part of a club that no one ever wants to join, but once you are in, the bond is deep.
It’s been two years now and if you asked me how many people I know who have lost a child, it would take me a long time to stop and count them. I have met so, so many. We find each other because we need each other. This past spring a new mom joined our ranks. I’ve never met her but a mutual friend told me about her sweet son who flew away. I found myself sending a card in the mail. It was time to pay the brick forward. This October, she and her family will be at the garden dedication ceremony and she will know that she is not alone. They say that when a baby dies it is a mother’s instinct to protect their memory. In a tucked away garden in St. Charles, bereaved parents are given the opportunity to do just that. They walk away knowing that they are not alone and that their child will always be remembered. That is a gift of hope.
*Share is a national organization with more than 75 chapters in 29 states. Their services include bed-side companions, phone support, face-to-face support group meetings, resource packets, private online communities, memorial events, training for caregivers, and so much more.