‘A Walk to Remember’ honors pregnancy and infant loss awareness month
Kathy McMillan, coordinator for bereavement programs at Loma Linda University Medical Center and Children’s Hospital, welcomes the crowd of more than 200 participants to A Walk to Remember, a memorial service dedicated to the memory of the more than one million pregnancies that end in miscarriages, stillbirths, or the deaths of newborn infants in the United States each year.
Losing a baby may be every parent’s worst nightmare, but for the 200 people who attended “A Walk to Remember” at Loma Linda University on October 14, 2007, it’s a tragic reality in their lives. The event—which was held in honor of pregnancy and infant loss awareness month—commemorates the more than one million pregnancies that end in miscarriages, stillbirths, or the deaths of newborn infants in the United States each year.
The most emotional part of the afternoon was the ceremony that took place on the lawn in front of the Good Samaritan sculpture before the walk began. After a welcome by Kathy McMillan, coordinator of bereavement programs at Loma Linda University Medical Center, chaplain Saul Silva led out in a heartfelt prayer.
Next, attendees were treated to a poignant reading of Tear Soup, Pat Schwiebert & Chuck Deklyen’s wise and knowing story of a grandmother coping with grief after the loss of a loved one.
Leandra McHargue, coordinator for the neonatal intensive care unit, read the story with dignity and emotion. Following the story, Ms. McMillan invited the audience to participate in a responsive reading of “A Litany of Remembrance” by Roland B. Gittelsohn. After she read each line, they responded with the phrase, “We remember them.”
The longest and perhaps most touching part of the service came when Janel Isaeff, RN, chief patient care director at LLUCH, invited parents, relatives, and fr
A flock of white doves, released at the conclusion of the poignant memorial service in connection with A Walk to Remember, begins its flight home. Recognized around the world as symbols of hope and faith, the beautiful birds executed a sweeping right turn over the steeple of the University Church before passing into the afternoon light.
iends of the deceased infants to come to the microphone and share their stories of loss and tragedy.
Family after family came forward to say the name of their departed little one and talk about their own painful journey from suffering to healing. Outbreaks of tears and expressions of grief punctuated the recollections and prompted hugs of consolation.
The ceremony concluded with two very memorable events. The first was a beautiful rendition of the healing song “Cry Out to Jesus,” by Sharon Strum and her husband Scott Strum, MD. As Ms. Strum lifted her voice in empathy and love for the family members and friends who have lost infants, the powerful spirituality of the music lifted the hearers into a place where the love of God can heal, cleanse, and transform. Between the plaintive elegance of the song and the tragic losses of the people in the audience, one could feel the presence of angels from heaven. Dr. Strum played a reverent accompaniment on acoustic guitar. He is a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician at Loma Linda University Medical Center.
The second concluding event was the dove release. As the music subsided, a solitary white dove was released into the bright autumn sky. A moment later, it was joined by a flock of the serene white birds that circled the area high above the lawn, arched over Loma Linda University Church, and began the flight back to their home in Redlands. The symbolism was profoundly solemn and meaningful.
After the ceremony ended, participants began the “Walk to Remember” by heading up the steps beside the Heritage Room, past Burden Hall, and over the sidewalk to the intersection of Stewart and Anderson Streets. The walkers traversed almost a mile on a course that flanked the outskirts of Drayson Center before returning to the place where it began. At that point, groups of families and friends mingled with representatives from Children’s Hospital, as well as Loma Linda University Medical Center. Some posed for pictures, others renewed acquaintances or made new friends. Nearly everyone helped themselves to refreshments, as well as fliers and brochures about bereavement assistance programs.
At the end of the day, Ms. McMillan shared observations about the particular types of grief experienced by families who have lost newborns or infants.
“Many people have the mistaken impression that losing a baby is easier than losing an older child or an adult family member,” she observed. “They assume that since the parents didn’t have a chance to get to know the baby, it must not hurt as much. However, there are other types of loss that compound the pain. There is a very real grief for what one will never know. Because they never have the chance to see the baby mature and grow, to learn what the personality was like, to see what the child would have looked like, the sadness is overwhelming.
“Many times, society negates the loss with comments like, ‘You’re young. You can have another baby,’ or, ‘You’re lucky you have other children.’ Other children are a blessing, but they will never replace the one who died. Miscarriage is particularly difficult because family and friends often cannot understand how it can even be viewed as a loss.”
The response to the event highlighted the tremendous need for public awareness of the enormous private pain felt by families who have lost newborns or infants. Staff members remarked that many family members reported strong gratitude for the event.
Loma Linda University Medical Center and Children’s Hospital provide three bereavement follow-up programs—the HOPES program for families that have lost children, the CARE program for families that have lost adults, and the SEASONS program in the emergency department for the families of people who suffer sudden traumatic deaths.
The program was started in 1988 at Gunderson Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The RTS program provides special training for health care employees in assisting family members who have lost an infant or newborn. Currently, about 125 staff members of Loma Linda University Medical Center and Children’s Hospital regularly participate in bereavement follow-up programs.
A Walk to Remember was a joint project of the administration, marketing, and spiritual care departments of Loma Linda University Medical Center, and Children’s Hospital.
By Jim Ponder