July and August Newsletter

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EVENT TODAY! Join us for an Ice Cream Social at Friendlys in Florence, Tuesday July 10th from 4pm-9pm!

Meeting Times for July and August (please note all meetings are held at 140 Pine st. Florence, MA from 7-9pm). 

Miscarriage Support Group will meet on July 11th and August 8th.

Bereavement Support will meet July 25th, and August 22nd.

Termination for Medical Reasons Support Group will meet Thursday, July 12, but will not meet in August.

Subsequent Choices will meet July 18th, and will also take a brief hiatus for the month of August.

Saturday, July 28th, 10am-Noon our Parenting After Loss Playdate will meet at a local pool-- bring your suit and towel! Please rsvp to Autumn at 413- 896-5981 for more details ❤️

What We're up to this Summer 

We have two wonderful interns this summer: Caia from Mount Holyoke and Lisa from Smith College. We are very excited to have their help! Here are just some of the projects we are tackling this summer:

  • Writing our next 3 year strategic plan!
  • Compiling information for hospitals and parents about parents' rights to take their baby home for burial. Here is one mom's story of home burial in North Carolina
  • Writing booklet for providers on best practices for supporting bereaved parents
  • Creating an online training for medical practitioners based off the 4 hour in-person hospital trainings we currently provide
  • Applying to five new grants for Baystate expansion, sibling support, photography equipment, bereavement comfort kits, etc!
  • Updating our therapist and doula referral lists
  • Printing and distributing Spanish language support literature translated by an Empty Arms parent!

Meet Our New Spanish Speaking Peer Companion, Bevely Gonzalez!

La perdida de mi bebe ha sido una de las cosas mas duras que me ha pasado en mi vida. Y como mujer fuerte y obstinada, fue muy dificil para mi buscar ayuda y hablar con alguien. Pero cuando me senti lista, llame a Empty Arms. Lo que mas lamento es no haberlo hecho antes. Hablando con otras personas que verdaderamente me entienden como yo me siento me ha ayudado ser fuerte y sanar. Contando mi historia continua dandome fuerzas y a la misma vez aceptar mi sufrimiento. 

Losing my baby was one of the hardest things I’ve been through in my life. As a strong but stubborn person it was hard for me to reach out and talk to people or seek help but when I felt ready I reached out to Empty Arms. My only regret was not doing it sooner! Speaking to others who truly knew how I felt helped me cope and heal. Telling my story continues to help me heal and grieve. I understand that I will forever grieve but at least I’m not doing it alone and I have Empty Arms to thank for that.

Bev 

The Body Knows: How Grief Shows Up

By Sara Barry

“How are you doing?” a friend asked, knowing that May is a charged month.

Mother’s Day is a complicated tangle of breakfast in bed and flowering plants, homemade cards, and immersion in what is with an undercurrent of what was supposed to be. What was and then wasn’t and always is.

The end of the month brings the birthday with nobody to blow out the candles. And while I have a tradition, one I fell into rather than creating deliberately, of tending my Henry’s garden since I can’t tend to him, it is another complicated tangle. Joy for his being. Sadness that he isn’t here. Edges softened over time, like a rock in running stream.

“I’m doing OK,” I say. “I’ve been so busy, I keep forgetting it’s May.”

And it’s true. I’m not deliberately avoiding facing this month, but I’ve been caught up in a swirl of Science Night planning and late evening ice cream, Teacher Appreciation and getting the garden ready.

My mind is busy. I forgot that Mother’s Day was coming, despite the signs by the flower store and the notification in my calendar. Henry’s birthday loomed and I hadn’t bought anything for his garden. I hadn’t looked to see if our neighbors would be home for cake.

My mind keeps forgetting that it is May, but my body knows.

I’ve felt it in the number of times I need to take a deep breath, in and out.

I’ve felt it in the tightness across my back and in the heaviness that settles in my limbs and then lifts a little.

I notice the sharp intake of breath when I see a cardinal dart across the yard. 

I tense at the unexpected mention of a 6 month old named Henry who died from a heart defect in a novel about the flu.

I come to tears easily, whether it’s a video about babyloss moms or talking to my neighbor about her own different, fresh grief.

I find myself on the verge at church for no explainable reason at all.

I don’t say, “I’m having a hard month.” I’m not, but there is an undercurrent. My body knows what month this is. It is gathering energy like a storm moving in. The sky may still be sunny, but you can feel a change in the air, an electrical build up.

Come the end of the month, I will exhale. The pent up energy will expend itself in a torrent of tears or day of hard labor in the garden or it will just fizzle out and fade away like a storm that is pending but passes.

Come the end of the month, my body will relax and move on to June, a simpler month, a safer month. It will relax until the calendar turns to December, and then, even if I forget the date, it will start it’s wind up to the day he died.

The mind may forget, but the body always knows.

Does your body respond to certain dates? How does grief show up in your body?

Yo Te Puedo Ver/ You are Seen

By Gloria Agosto

Yo Te Puedo Ver
Es casi como si el dolor te hace invisible. El momento más duro el cual no se puede entender,
nadie y nada parece brindar algún alivio y más bien todos parecen alejarse. La Soledad se
convierte en tu único sonido por que cuando alguien trata de decir alguna palabra la mayoría de
ellas vienen sin compasión causando más dolor, por que es que ellos no entienden, Ellos no
pueden verte. Hoy yo quiero cambiar eso dejándote saber que te puedo ver, puedo verte por
que al igual que tu he pasado por lo mismo, por que se como se siente el tener ese dolor tan
pesado que ni tú mismo puedes llevar. Yo estoy aquí para ti, para apoyarte, para escucharte y
si no hubieran palabras que decir que mi abrazo y compasión te de tranquilidad. Estoy aquí
para ayudarte

You are Seen

It's almost like the pain makes you invisible. The hard moment is not understandable, and no one
seems to be able to comfort and instead everyone seems to go away. The loneliness becomes
your only sound and when someone tries to say a word most of them hurt more than the silence
that has been around you from that day. Because, they don't understand, they can't see you.
Today I want to change that, letting you know that you're seen, I can see you because I went
through the same, because I know how it is and how it feels to have such a heavy weight that
you sometimes can't even carry on. I'm here for you, to support you, listen to you and if there is no
words to say may my hug and companion give you comfort. I'm here to help you and here to
understand you. I can see you.

 

Caught Off Guard, or Variations on Familiar Questions

By Sara Barry

“And are your kids healthy?”

Thankfully I was still clothed when she asked me, not sitting awkwardly on the crinkly paper at the end of a table with a gown tied in the back and a drape spread over my lap. Even so, the question caught me off guard.

Subconsciously, perhaps I had expected something, but this was a new variation on “Three kids must keep you busy” or “How old are your kids?” or “Boys or girls?” The answers to the latter two are in my medical record, though you may need a little bit of math to figure it out.

So I was sitting on a chair, vinyl padded, I think. The questions were routine for the most part. My myomectomy, c-sections. She puzzled over the way they were written in my record, and I clarified that there were three.

“And are you kids healthy?”

Deep in the bowels of my records, there should be a note that Henry died. If nothing else, a letter I wrote about my experience to help ease the transition to a new OB/Gyn years before, but perhaps when they were copying things that got let go. Or perhaps the person doing intake wasn’t privy to those things or hadn’t bothered to read. It’s a thick packet. Not nearly as thick as Henry’s was, but thick enough.

For her the question is routine, one more thing showing up her screen. A quick yes or no check box. For me the question is . . . charged.

I got really still. I held my breath and then took a deep one. My lips turned in as my brain set up barriers to keep me from lying back in the hospital bed while he was taken away, keep me out of the NICU, the slow tick-tock stillness of the waiting room when he had surgery, the shock of his ambulance ride, the tangle of tubes and cords around him as he turned blue, holding his foot as they tried one last time to save him.

My lips turned in to that pursed place they do when I am holding it together and they caught on my teeth. Tears welled up into my eyes and nose. It’s probably good they got my blood pressure already.

My brain supplies the facts: Down syndrome, heart problem. It fumbles with the word defect and A-V canal, terms that had learned to trip off my tongue. I am out of practice. I pull out pulmonary hypertension, I say he died at 6 ½ months or maybe I round and say simply as a baby.

She says, “I’m sorry” without looking at me.

She fumbles with her keyboard. “It won’t let me enter this.” His death becomes a technical issue to solve. Eventually she is able to start typing. “You said Down syndrome?”

“Yes.” I don’t say the rest. I don’t say died again. She doesn’t need more information. I wonder if died got in there or if they’ll ask about my son with Down syndrome and the heart problem next time.

“My girls are healthy,” I add almost as an after thought. I don’t know if that goes into my record either.

It’s not really an afterthought. I am grateful for their health. People make sure to remind me to be, as if I wouldn’t be, as if, because I talk about Henry’s struggles and about my experience with him that I don’t see how lucky I am. I love their vitality and vibrancy. I feel the rise and fall of their breath when I check on them at night, smile at their laughter and antics. I am aware. I am grateful. I never seem to make it clear that it’s an and. I am thankful each day for their lives and health and I miss Henry. I long for his potential. I wonder who he would be.

She doesn’t notice that I have retracted, that there are tears in my eyes. She doesn’t offer me a tissue from the box hiding behind her laptop. She just asks the rest of the questions and I answer.

Yes, yes, yes, no, yes. I talk about my dad’s high blood pressure and my mom being pretty healthy, taking deep breaths all the while.

It’s been 10 years. It shouldn’t be a big deal any more, right? And day to day, it isn’t. But sometimes a question catches me off guard. Sometimes I have to say it again: my son died.

And ten years later, people, too often, still look away, change the subject, gloss over. We don’t know how to talk about death. We don’t know how to deal with it. I didn’t need to say a whole lot about it. But I wish she had looked me in the eye when she said sorry. I wish we could have paused just a moment to acknowledge that something big had happened.

She finished up her questions. I was polite and wished her a good day as she left. Then before I stripped my clothes off, I grabbed my own tissue, wiped my eyes and nose. Then I put the gown on, ties in the back, and just managed to get on the table before a knock on the door.

There are no more questions about my children. We talk about me. My overall health. Tests I’ve had or hadn’t. My diet. Perimenopause. Fibroids. It was my first time with this provider. It was a good visit . . . and what I remember most was that question.

***

I’ve been back to that office once since this experiences, and there were no surprises this time, no questions that caught me off guard. I’m more adept these days at handling even the surprising questions, but I remember how very hard they were in the first few years.

What questions have caught you off guard? How did you respond, and how did you deal with the emotional surge of the question?

Knowing Hearts, Helping Hands

By Carol McMurrich and Katrina Van Naerssen

It was a warm June day when I got the call, curiously on a day where I had planned to work, but didn't have a dreadfully long to-do list. I was sitting in the office when one of my dearest midwives called from the hospital down the road. I have a family I need you to go to, she said, right now. And I was able to say, I'm on my way. Less than a mile down the road, and I was there.

This couple, they were lovely. Their home was light filled, with a small collection of tiny shoes by the back door, so I knew this wasn't their first. They had only just walked in the door, having come home from the appointment that revealed that their baby girl had no heartbeat. They invited me in, and we retreated into their living room. They sat together on the couch. Katrina was beautiful, glowing. Her belly was round and perfect. It was hard to believe their baby girl would not come home.

These early moments are so dark and sad for me. I know that the family is in shock, yet I also know the worst is yet to come: the birth, the beauty of the time together, and the saying goodbye. I know that they are dumbfounded, thunderstruck by the sudden change in plans that has been foisted upon them. I want to change it. I cannot.

Walking with Kris, Katrina, and their two daughters was a privilege beyond description. The grace with which they welcomed little Annika, and the strength with which they honored their time with her, was humbling. The beauty of seeing the four of them together on the bed, Elodie natural and light in her two-year-old curiosity of her sister, was heart wrenching. As with every family whose life touches mine, I learned from them.

It is my privilege to be able to share with you today the words of Katrina, mother of Annika, who has written about her journey. Hers is one of many stories of the families we have touched over the past year. As an organization, it is hard to put words to the feeling of gratitude we have to be able to provide these families with what they would never have otherwise had: a loving guide, permission, and resources. It is because of you that we can do this.

So today, with my words, and with Katrina's, I thank you. - Carol

When you first get pregnant, your imagination immediately takes over.  You quickly calculate the child’s birth date and you begin to imagine your new life together with that child.  You imagine what they will look like, and how they will sound. You imagine their personality and the many milestones that lie ahead.  Once we made it through the first trimester, we assumed that we were in the clear. Our worries subsided, and we turned to preparation and celebration.  

With our pregnancy at 35 weeks, my husband, 2 and a half-year-old daughter and I were smoothly sailing into the final stretch.  We were washing onesies and prepping our baby’s room. We were reading big-sister books and planning for grandparent help. We had a big yard sale to make room for the baby’s new things.  But then, in a flash, it was over.

“I’m so sorry.  There is no heartbeat” and with those fateful words, our world was turned upside down and changed forever.

I will never forget how bright the sun felt when we left the doctor’s office that day.  How raw and exposed, and utterly betrayed and lonely we suddenly felt. All we wanted to do was curl up in a deep dark hole somewhere.  Here we were - pregnant, the parents of a baby that would be dead before she took her first breath.

In those very first moments, we were referred to Carol and Empty Arms’ Companion Program.  “Would you like to talk to someone?” our midwife asked, “I have someone who I’d really like to connect you with”.  We had no idea what to do. Our older daughter was at daycare; we were supposed to go back to work that day. We desperately wanted to talk to someone, and to talk to no one at all.  It had never occurred to us that this could happen. Our baby girl was due in just a few weeks. Everything had been going well…

Like the angel she is, Carol from Empty Arms showed up at our house within hours of us learning of Annika’s death.  Carol listened to our story, shared her own experience of loss, explained to us what would happen next and what options we had.  She explained that we could take as much time as we needed before checking into the hospital for delivery; that we could spend time with Annika at the hospital after she was born.  We could arrange to have our older daughter and other family meet Annika; we could have pictures taken if we wanted to. So many things to think about…All so foreign and so very scary.  Carol assured us that we would be OK; that there was no right or wrong way to do anything related to the upcoming birth and to the upcoming goodbyes. She would be there for us every step of the way.  And she was. That night we picked up our daughter from friends, and took our first steps together into our new reality.

Two days later I gave birth to our baby Annika.  She was 5lbs, 18 inches and so beautiful. She had dark hair, round cheeks, a face like her sister’s and perfect little fingers and toes.  A simple knot in her cord had taken her life. We were able to spend a full day with her. Holding and rocking her, reading her books and singing her songs.  Our older daughter came to meet her and gave her the stuffed bear she had picked out for her little sister. She touched her sister’s soft cheek and asked us a lot of questions.  We sang Annika Happy Birthday and took family pictures together (thanks to another Empty Arms connection – Erin who volunteered her time and took amazing pictures). Her grandmothers were able to come to the hospital and hold her.  For a moment, in our own strange way we were together as the family of four that we had imagined.

Carol was there alongside us through it all.  Giving us the strength and courage we needed to put one foot in front of the other.  She made 3D molds of Annika’s hands and feet for us to take home and later surprised us with a gorgeous photo book that she had made for our living daughter.  The book lovingly explained that our daughter was still a big sister - she just had different big sister jobs to do now.

These memories and mementoes are some of the most precious things we have.  They are what got us through those early days back at home and out in the world, and that keep us connected to our sweet baby girl today, now nine months later.  We are now regulars at the Empty Arms support groups, as we navigate the forever changing landscape of grief and gratitude, loss and acceptance.

My husband and I regularly reflect on how incredibly grateful we are to live where we do, to have Carol and the Empty Arms Community here, cheering us on and offering a safe and loving space when we inevitably fall.  Helping us get back up when we do. What would we have done without Carol and Empty Arms? Would we have spent time with Annika? Would we have introduced her to our older daughter? Taken pictures with her that we so cherish now?  Would we have any tangible memories of her to hold on to? Who knows… Likely the answer is no, or at least not to the same degree. The thought of that terrifies us. It is those experiences, those memories, those mementos, the steady support of Empty Arms that is getting us through.

Losing a child is one of the worst things any parent can ever experience.  It can be so lonely and so dark. Knowing hearts, helping hands, a safe and loving community are what get you through.  Empty Arms has been, and continues to be, instrumental in providing this love, support and community for our family. While there is not a day that goes by that we do not wish Annika was here with us, we cherish the limited time that we had with her and the many gifts that she left us.

Written by Katrina van Naerssen, with help from Kris van Naerssen

Bevely's Story: Part Four

Many people who suffer unexpected tragedy turn to generosity and giving back as a way of making meaning in their experience. Though many years had passed, I was thrilled to see Bevely at Empty Arms’ 10 year anniversary celebration last May. With her, she had her two little boys and together they made a quilt square and decorated rocks for Jelyna. During that time, we started talking and she told me that she was really interested in giving back and helping other people. I was so glad –  a bilingual woman, Bevely had so much to offer, especially as we began to make our move towards expanding to Baystate. Here, Bev talks about what it’s been like for her to turn her grief into a mission of helping others.

For years, ever since Jelyna passed, I wanted to do something but I didn’t know how or what. So I started going to some of your Empty Arms events, and reconnecting with you – it felt like a calling. And then the opportunity just came up – it felt like it was meant to be. It was the right time, I felt ready. Years ago, I wouldn’t have been ready. Unless I had the support, maybe that would have made me ready. I just want to give back.

The first time I went to a mother’s house and spoke to her it felt weird, but I had to remember: we are women, I’m here to support her. I wanted her to feel what I would have wanted somebody to do for me when Jelyna passed. I let that weird feeling go away, I got up, and I hugged her. She just cried and cried. And I cried with her.

Yes, it brings up memories, but it feels good to be there for somebody and show them that they’re not alone. It brings memories back but it’s in exchange for feeling good while doing something for somebody else.  It’s being able to bring someone else something that you didn’t have.

I told her it’s okay to cry, breaking that silence and that barrier – it’s okay that you feel like this, and I was honest with her – this is how you’re going to feel for a while and it’s okay – I didn’t know what I was going to feel and what it was okay to feel. It seemed like everyone expected me to be over it and I needed her to know that you don’t just get over it. It’s rude to expect someone to get over it – that’s not how you comfort them. You have to accept that they’re going to feel it for years to come.

You’re never the same person after a traumatic event. There’s no such thing as your old self, you have to learn to live with what just happened to you. Even family members who mean well don’t understand – they go on with their lives. For us, we have to almost build a new path – we can’t go on the same path anymore. So helping people, it’ sad – but it’s so rewarding to me, it makes me feel good. Now it’s been 12 years, so of course I’m still sad and I’ll still cry, but it’s easier for me to be a better support. And to show other people that you will get through it with time. You heal.

When I supported the most recent mother, I said look: I know how you feel, it will get better but it will never go away. You’ll always have that little part of you –  it will never be filled. It’s OK – years from now, you keep her memory alive, and it’s OK if you cry. Just because it’s been 5, 10 years it’s still a loss, you’ll still remember that person. You’ll function, like you’re supposed to- but it doesn’t mean it’s not OK to mourn. Others will move on with their lives, but they don’t realize the impact this has on somebody. It’s true – you’ll always mourn your baby.

That mother was talking about the baby’s stuff, and how hard it was to think about getting rid of stuff – I was like DON’T. If you want to hold onto it, you can! Make a box and hold onto it! And her family expected her to get rid of everything, and I helped her to know she could keep things. I said, get a box, create something and hang it on the wall – you don’t have to hide her, you don’t have to hide her stuff. She really liked that, I think. She was explaining how she had the baby’s name up and her son had asked her to leave it – I said, then leave it! She’s a part of your family, she’ll always be your daughter, always be the sister. I was encouraging her to let people see the baby. And a lot of people need that encouragement because society teaches us to hide people after they die. When you have a child and you lose them, your feelings don’t go out the window. She’s always going to be part of your family so keep her part of your family. Keep her alive somehow. That’s what I try to do.

I understand how this works, because I didn’t know how to do this.  I needed advice and guidance – I would never have known what to do except for the things people told me I could do. That’s why I think Empty Arms is such an awesome and amazing group. The awareness is not there in the general public, there is no other support, Where are these women going to get the support and the OK and know what they can and can’t do? I wish I had the support at the time. And now I’m happy to help and support it in any way, and want to continue to be involved in as many ways as I can!

Bevely's Story: Part Three

Knowing Empty Arms is there is something that Pioneer Valley families can return to again and again. While there are many families who use Empty Arms daily or weekly in the beginning, some only cross paths with us briefly, and yet our impact can still be significant. I often share this story with the people who are training to become peer companions to remind them that we can never measure our impact by how often we see a family return:

Many years ago, I was called to Cooley Dickinson to visit a family who had delivered their baby girl at just shy of 18 weeks. They had requested my presence, but when I entered the room, which was filled with siblings, loving family members, grandparents and friends, I was met mostly with stares. When I offered the menu of what Empty Arms could offer in terms of support, the mother very politely thanked me for coming and let me know that she’d call me if she needed anything. I left, thinking that the visit had been a failure, and worrying that I’d invaded their privacy. The next day, I returned and took photos and did tiny hand and foot casts of their tiny baby. The mother sent me a lovely text thanking me for those mementos, and I never heard from her again… until about 14 months later. That’s when I received a lovely note sharing with me the news of their new baby girl, born healthy and robust, and thanking me for all that I had done. “You were there for us at such a hard time and you were such a source of support for us”, the mother wrote. Who, me? I couldn’t believe it. I felt like I hadn’t supported them at all. But what this mother pointed out is the power of knowing that the resource is there if you need it. She may not have called, but it brought her great comfort to know we were there. Our presence, even though it was brief, made a difference. I have always remembered this story.

In this blog post, Bevely will talk about the ways in which she returned to Empty Arms after years had passed. Many families have come back to us after years, and it’s a privilege for us to be there for their life journeys.

Carol: What do you think drew you back to get involved?

Bev: I should have never left, first of all! I was trying to figure things out on my own, but when I got pregnant with my first son, Jon Carlos (2009), I thought about going back, but I felt better about it and my husband was very supportive. When I got pregnant with the second one, Jovani, (2012), I was so scared and worried. I don’t know what happened – I was scared and worried, I started having memories, I felt the emptiness again. I remembered looking up Empty Arms and realizing you guys had classes for somebody like me –  I was like OMG – it was meant to be!

I remember reaching out. I only went to 2-3 but then I went into birth a month early. It helped me tremendously –  it made me feel like I had people supporting me through the pregnancy. Nobody understood me! My family was like, you already had a kid and you were fine, so what are you so worried about? It made me feel like I’m not crazy, it’s normal for me to be feeling like this, and it’s OK. I went into labor early,  because I was having complications, everything was fine. He was just really colicky! It was the hardest thing ever.

Even after him it was hard –  because at a certain age, newborn age, with the hat on, both boys looked like Jelyna. So for both of them I went through a period where I was down, I’d cry and let it out. Especially the last one looked so much like her, it was so hard. For the first time ever, it was hard for family members. My sister saw what I saw and it was hard for her, too.

Honestly, when he was born, the pediatrician came in and told me that if it wasn’t for my doctor and her call, he wouldn’t be here today. I’m very intuitive, I think there was a reason I was so anxious. I didn’t feel like the doctors took me seriously – they thought I was anxious, but I was in labor. They had to give me a shot and stop my labor. The doctor had me come every single week. Every friday at my lunch break I had an ultrasound and a non-stress test.

That Friday, the ultrasound the lady did not like what she was seeing. When she got concerned, because he would not move, when she said we need to see the doctor, I can’t even describe how I felt. Then they said you’re having this baby today. I was crying and crying, I was so afraid. It’s funny because the doctor I avoided the whole pregnancy –  the one who told me about Jelyna – she was there to deliver my baby. She was scared, and I was scared. When he was born he had something wrapped around his leg (an amniotic band). The doctor at delivery said you have to commend your doctor for knowing he needed to come out. Imagine all that! I was a mess! But I knew something wasn’t right. People should listen to us women!

I’m so happy that new doctor came in and listened to me and took me seriously. If I hadn’t been getting checked every week, how would we have known? It helped going to those meetings because I was a mess to begin with! It made me not feel crazy. People, even the doctor, were like, you already had a healthy baby – what’s the problem? Why don’t people understand this?  I’m scared! I didn’t think there was a right or wrong to the situation. How dare people say that to people like us! That fear is always deep down in your mind whether you like it or not – it’s reality to us. It’s not a fear in our mind, it’s reality. This could happen.

Bevely's Story: Part Two

Coping with the early days and months can be the hardest part of loss. Often parents feel as if nobody understands, and that feeling of being misunderstood can prevent them from being present in their normal, daily routines even many months down the road. At Empty Arms, we’re able to structure for each family a network of support that feels right to them: whether that’s support groups, therapists, working with their family members, communicating with medical professionals, or setting up individual peer support. We have seen, over and over again, that when we offer families safe spaces to be present with their story, to honor their grief and move forward with healing at their own pace, they are much better off in other areas of their lives. It’s an honor to provide this space.

Carol:  What were the hardest parts in the beginning? What memories still stick with you?

Bev: Giving her back that second day – my family left and I had her all day with me. I didn’t know how to say – take her. How can you determine how you are ready? I should have just stayed with her until I left the hospital, but I felt like I was on a time limit. I felt rushed, like I had to give her back. So saying my goodbye, and letting them take her, that was the hardest thing. Then, going home to a house with all her stuff there, and still with a belly and no baby when I went home, reality struck. I don’t have a baby and I’m supposed to have a baby. I think it hit even harder when I got home. You go home empty, and you feel so empty and lost.

Carol: Did the people in your life understand?

Bev: Honestly I did not feel like anyone understood. I wanted to be alone, but I did not want to be alone at the same time. I remember talking on the phone every day, all day with my mother in Florida and occasionally my sisters. They were the only ones who comforted me, and all they did was listen! I needed them to listen. They did not know how I felt, so all I needed was for people to listen. Everyone else was saying, oh I’m sorry, oh I understand, but they did not know how I felt. But the nurses in the hospital, they referred me to a therapist, who used to work for Cooley, I contacted her. And I got the information about the meetings at Cooley Dickinson  (referring to Empty Arms).

I waited, and that’s my regret. I waited to get help, and when I finally went, I realized wow – now I feel I belong. Because I felt like these people truly understand how I feel. So if they say, I know how you feel  – it’s comforting because I know they truly feel that.

But I knew where to go when I needed help. It’s my culture – it’s how I grew up. It’s hard for me to express my feelings. Now I know it’s OK to seek help. I’m so glad Empty Arms was always there and never said no. I could come back every single time I needed Empty Arms. I’m grateful  – you guys helped me tremendously. You’ve made an indent in my life, just being there.

Carol: Do you think it would have made a difference if you had a companion?

Bev: I honestly truly believe that if Empty Arms had been there when I lost my baby and explained to me what was going on it would have made a huge difference with everything. I didn’t know anything  – I had never heard of a stillborn! I didn’t know anything about what I was supposed to do. If I had support with me it would have helped me to understand what I was going through. It took me such a long time to heal, and it was basically on my own. And then with the groups that I did go to, and the therapist, it made it okay to feel the way I felt. If I had support to say it was okay to feel those things, to guide me to recuperate, it would have made a big difference. You have this blow, and your sitting there broken and alone, and if I had the support that we give to everybody now –  it would have made a huge difference. I got depressed, I broke up with the baby’s father, I started drinking – I never drink – for almost a year, I drank every single day. With support I would have been completely different. I lived in Greenfield all by myself. After the funeral they were back to their lives, but I wasn’t. People go right back to their normal lives and don’t realize that I’m still not OK. And, my partner wasn’t supportive. He left me home and went back to work. That’s why I was calling my mom all day every day. I was alone. If I had somebody there to help me and support me, lives would have been different. I would have been able to heal quickly. It took many years, many years.

The way I started coping was telling my story again and again. It has helped me heal. I’m pretty good talking without crying now!

Bevely's Story: Part One

This is the first in a series of four pieces about Bevely Gonzalez. I met Bevely for the first time several years after the loss of her second daughter, Jelyna, who was stillborn in 2006. Over the years, Bevely kept disappearing, and then showing up. In 2012, at a Subsequent Choices meeting, there she was. Then again in 2017 at our 10 year anniversary party, we reconnected.

When we spoke at the party, Bevely was effusive about how important Empty Arms had been to her in her journey of healing. As she stood there, in the bright light of the party, her two young sons running around at her feet, I remembered the woman who had sat in the chair in the meetings years before. Here before me was a new version, one who remained deeply connected to her past, but who flourished in the present. Bev was a beautiful example of a person who had not just survived, but flourished after her loss.

Not two days later, I was buried in my office, deep in a search for the best way to develop meaningful services for Spanish speaking women who needed our services. Hospital interpreters would not even come close—if our goal was to offer a peer, the support needed to be offered by a peer. Suddenly, I thought of Bev. Could she help us out?

I emailed her the next day, cautiously suggesting that we might be looking for people to help to support others in Hampden county, and that we were specifically searching for bilingual support. Within minutes, an effusive, enthusiastic reply was in my inbox. Bev was in!

It has been beyond a pleasure to have  Bev join our team. She carries with her years of experience, a bright sense of humor, and a frank realism about the challenges that life can bring. This winter, I sat down with Bev and interviewed her, in the hopes of bringing her story to our community. It is a story of a mother who, determined not to be alone in her isolating journey of grief, sought out help again and again. And it is the story of that same mother who has been able to transform her own sadness into an energy that can help to hold others afloat in their darkest moments.

Thank you, Bevely, for offering yourself so unconditionally to the woman and families who have benefitted so deeply from your support. Empty Arms is grateful to have you as part of our team, and it’s my hope that your words, which will be shared in four parts over the next few weeks, will touch lives as you personally demonstrate the power of friendship and community in the face of a very difficult experience. - Carol

Post #1: Bevely’s story.

It was 2006, and my daughter Elyssa was only five years old, just shy of six. I just remember, we were very excited, we had planned for our new baby and we were looking forward to her. Then, I got into a minor fender bender – someone hit us from behind. I didn’t pay any mind to it, we went to the hospital and checked her and she was fine. Then, two weeks later, I noticed that she wasn’t moving anymore, and it felt like my stomach had gone down. I remember calling the doctor and asking about it, telling them that things looked smaller and that I hadn’t felt her move. They told me the normal things, she’s probably growing, and it’s up to you if you want to come in or not. So I waited until my appointment.

It was a nice, energetic Northampton doctor, she didn’t have any concerns. And I was there like so concerned, so concerned, so concerned! She almost let me go without checking the heartbeat. But I asked her, and she got the doppler, and she was looking, and looking, and looking. She got nothing, so she put me in the other room to check with ultrasound. I just started crying, because deep down inside I knew something was wrong. I didn’t want to look at the ultrasound, because when I did glance at it nothing was moving, and I knew it was bad. I looked at her face, and I knew something was terribly wrong. She went from being so happy and energetic to being flushed and her eyes were watery, she couldn’t even talk. There was silence –  which felt like for a long time. It was very silent, nobody spoke.

Finally, she cleared her throat and with a voice where you could tell she wanted to cry, her voice was cracky, she said, “I’m terribly concerned, is there any way you call  someone to come be with you? I don’t want you driving. I need a doctor to come and look at this, and I need the ultrasound technician to come in.”

I had to wait an hour. She closed everything up and said to call someone to be with me. I tried to call the father, but my aunt and my sister were nearby, so they came and picked me up. It was horrible because I was crying, but they were saying “Everything is going to be okay.” They didn’t understand how I felt, and how I knew something was wrong. They were so ignorant to the situation – they didn’t know what was going on and they wanted to think I was overreacting. And that made me cry more, and I remember yelling at them, saying, “You’re not understanding, there’s something wrong!” I made them bring me back to the office.

I was on the phone, trying to call the father. I got ahold of a different aunt, who had to drive to my house to pick the father up to bring him to Northampton. I called my mom, I was crying, I called my best friend. I was non-stop crying, I knew deep down inside something was wrong. That hour seemed forever. So I waited, and when the baby’s father came, they brought us into the room. The ultrasound tech was there and she did another ultrasound. She didn’t say anything, and told me the doctor would talk to me. They took me into another room, then the doctor came in and told me there was no longer a heartbeat.

It was a long wait to find out something that I already knew.

I was shocked, confused. I’d’ never heard of a stillborn before, I didn’t know that was possible. I wondered, how would they would get her out of me? The doctor told me I’d go to the hospital and they’d induce me, and I was like what!! I’m going to do what? She told me I could go home to take it all in, or go straight to the hospital. I felt like she was crazy – why would I want to go home? I was so scared!

So we went straight to the hospital, and I sat around for hours crying. I’ve never cried so much in my life. Nurse after nurse was coming in trying to speak to me, trying to make me feel better, trying to relate to me. At this point, I just didn’t care. I wanted to be alone.

When the doctor came in and started prepping me, I realized I had already started going into labor. I had my grandmother and another aunt and my uncle come and visit me. They were supporting me, and talking to me. My mom was in Florida so she couldn’t support me. The baby’s father didn’t say nothing – he was in shock, too, so we didn’t say much. I felt pressure  while we were talking, so I said go get the doctor – and she was coming out.

So she just came out – and it was so shocking at first, they put her on top of me, and I was so scared. You don’t know what to expect. I realized she looked so much like a perfect little baby – I wondered what could have gone wrong? I held her for a while, and then I called my sister and told my sister to bring my daughter Elyssa in so she could meet her. She came, I let her hold her. It was very emotional. We just cried a lot. My grandma held her, she cried so much I thought she was going to have a heart attack. My aunt held her, I had support there with me. It was just hard. I remember holding her for hours, and looking at her, at her hands and her feet, trying to figure out who she looked like. I remember I was exhausted. I was so drained. I just told the nurse to take her – I didn’t want them to take her, but I was so physically and mentally exhausted that I told them to take her.

I passed out for a while. And then the next day, I remember getting up and I had family come visit –  another uncle, and the baby’s other grandmother. I still felt the same. I was crying and crying all day, and one of the nurses realized I had more family from afar coming to visit. She asked me if I wanted to see the baby again. I was so shocked – I didn’t realize I could see her again. So I said yes, and they brought her back. She looked different to me, though. She looked even more like a normal baby. It was weird. She was wrapped in a blanket, with a hat on. My daughter came again. Even my nieces came.

I remember the priest coming and I remember asking, what do I do? Do I baptize her? He said no, we don’t have to –  she wasn’t born into sin – she is a pure angel. He said the church would pay for the funeral costs, which made me cry, I was so grateful for their help. I was so naive – I didn’t know I would be planning a funeral. I was in so much shock. Shock is the only word to describe it.

Every March comes by and you feel the sadness – but you just keep trooping through it. It’s been 12 years, but it’s still there. I tell people all the time – my oldest is going to be 18 – I would’ve had a little 12 year old as well. I work with kids now, there are a lot of girls who are like 11, they randomly give me hugs and I can’t help but think, wow, I would’ve had somebody around this age doing that. I’ve been fine all month, then some old friends brought it up. My friend was crying, and I was OK. She just kept wanting to talk about it, so then we all got emotional! She told me that she had a miscarriage, and how hard it was. So it was therapeutic for her, and for me to support her...


Bev’s story will continue in the next post.

February and March Newsletter

Support Group Meetings for End of February and March
All meetings are at our office in the Florence Arts and Business Building, 140 Pine Street, Room 2B, Florence, MA.

Wednesday, February 28th, from 7-9pm our Bereavement Support Group will meet.

Thursday, March 8th, from 7-9pm our Termination for Medical Reasons Support Group will meet. 

Tuesday, March 13th, from 7-9pm our Subsequent Choices Support Group will meet. 

Wednesday, March 14th, from 7-9pm our Miscarriage & Early Pregnancy Loss Support Group will meet. 

Wednesday, March 28th, from 7-9pm our Bereavement Support Group will meet. 

Join us for the first ever Empty Arms 5K! The Syrup Stampede will be held on Sunday, April 8 at 10 AM. Check out our amazing website www.syrupstampede.com for details and REGISTER TODAY!

Also, let us know If you're interested in joining our brilliant team of parent organizers to volunteer with publicity, prizes, pancake breakfast planning/organization, pancake breakfast cooking and serving, kids activities, waiver research, and syrup research!

Join us for a lovely afternoon at Painting With A Twist, to celebrate what would be Josie's fourth birthday. Sunday, April 15th from 4-6pm. Invite your friends to the event on Facebook, and RESERVE YOUR SEATS TODAY! Half of all proceeds will be donated to Empty Arms. 


As always, let us know if you have any questions, or if we can be of help.

Yours,
Carol, Sarah and the EABS Team

Writing Prompts from the Retreat

By Sarah Nichols

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We recently held Empty Arms' first day-long retreat with ten parents gathering at our offices in Florence for a day of writing, community, and crafting. Jess also led a lovely session of gentle yoga, using an amended version of Joan Halifax's guided meditation on grief. It was absolutely magic to gather together! Here we've shared some of the writing prompts we used-- we invite you to write to any of these that moves you, and welcome you to share any part of what you write in the comments!

Prompt #1

In her book Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, Bhanu Kapil writes:      

“From January 12, 1992, to June 4, 1996, I traveled in India, England, and the United States, interviewing Indian women of diverse ages and background. Originally, my question to them was, ‘Is it possible for you to say the thing you have never been able to say, not even to the one you have spent your whole life loving?’

Over the course of the last four years I asked these women—strangers I met in theaters, forests, Laundromats, temples, and diners—to respond more specifically to one or more of a predetermined selection of twelve questions. They agreed, on the condition of anonymity, to submit a spoken (tape-recorded) or written response in thirty minutes. My aim was to ensure an honest and swift text, uncensored by guilt or the desire to construct an impressive, publishable finish.”

We gather today to write in this same spirit—with the urgency and depth of shared company, setting aside of perfectionism in the name of writing what feels most true for us today. We will take the next twenty-five minutes to write towards a selection of Bhanu’s prompts. Feel free to write to all of the questions, one of them, or none at all if you have a question of your own making in mind.

"Who are you and whom do you love?

What is the shape of your body?

What do you remember about the earth?

What are you waiting, or what are you wanting, to be asked?"

Prompt #2

Letter writing is one of the most intimate forms of address. In a letter, we can say what we might otherwise be reluctant to voice aloud, or what must cross a great span of distance to reach the recipient. The act of writing a letter can be a threading or line of rope between you and the recipient, a pulling in or towards. Or, a lit match in the dark where you wish their voice could answer in response.

Write a letter— to the addressee of your choosing. Since we have gathered together as Empty Arms community members, you may wish to focus your letter on your loss. This can look all kinds of different ways. Here are just a few possibilities for whom you may write to:

To your baby  

To a nurse or doctor who was there with you, what you’re grateful to them for, what was particularly comforting about their care, or about the ways their actions angered, disappointed, or deeply hurt you.

To your partner or dear friend, what they said or did that stuck with you, the ways your paths of grief ran parallel, and the ways they diverged. An offering of the truths and stories you have forged together and alone.

To your younger self, about what has happened since, the ways you’ve healed, changed, and the places that are still tender. What you’d want to tell her, if you could. The ways you carry her with you.

Prompt #3

In her book It’s Ok That You’re Not Ok, Megan Devine writes about what tending to her grief has looked like since her partner’s untimely death. She offers several writing prompts— some are short, like the seedlings of prompts here:

"Today, my grief feels like…

I wish I knew…

Kindness to, and patience with, myself could look like…"

And a longer prompt here:

Imagine Recovery (p.176)

"There are many ways to craft an image of your own recovery. To get started, you might write your responses to these questions:

1. Given that what I’ve lost cannot be restored, given that what was taken cannot be returned, what would healing look like?

2. If I step outside cultural norms of “rising above loss,” what would living this well look like?

3. How will I care for myself?

4. What kind of person do I want to be, for myself, and for others?"

Finding Support When You Need It

By Lindsey Rothschild, Reposted from her blog Lindsey's Guide

Living in a community is not only about the good times. What can be the most telling is the support your find during the toughest times. Having moved here to start a family, we were overjoyed when I became pregnant with twins in the summer of 2010 (after 2 years of trying unsuccessfully in NYC). We were nurtured through this process first by the excellent  midwives at Holyoke Midwifery Care and finally through science at Baystate Hospital. However, our excitement turned to despair when we learned at our 20 week ultrasound that both of our babies were afflicted with genetic abnormalities that were “incompatible with life”.

Somehow the Empty Arms Bereavement Support pamphlet found it’s way into my hands. I nervously called the number one evening expecting to leave a message. Instead, the loving voice of Carol McMurrich, Empty Arm’s founder, answered the phone, listened to my story, and immediately I knew that I wasn’t alone. That began my relationship with Empty Arms. The support groups and community that Empty Arms offered us was our lifeline through that devastating time. We carry the love and loss of our twin daughters with us as well as the loving and supportive community of Empty Arms.

The Location of Loss

By Ryan O'Neil

My name is Ryan, and my wife had a miscarriage in December 2014. Since that time, one of the many things we’ve struggled with is recognition of our loss.

Katie and I have found small ways to integrate our daughter C.C. into our lives—writing about her for example, and taking photos that make us think of her impact on us. But we struggle with how to share her with people beyond one another. We explore this at the monthly miscarriage support group sometimes: Where in this world can we make C.C. known?

Recently in a class I’m taking for my master’s degree in geographic information systems (GIS) in Public Health, I had to work on a final project: mapping a broad set of data. Unsure exactly what I was looking for, I browsed the Connecticut Department of Public Health website.

I found the birth, death, and marriage data—“vital statistics,” as they are often collectively referred. I dug in and found there were data for fetal deaths: data that covered 17 years and recorded at the town level, which would be ideal for this project. I thought about whether I wanted to spend a number of weeks soaking in this data, of all the statistics I could submerge myself in. Resolute, I decided to steer into the skid and maybe help shine a light on the subject, even if only for my professor and classmates.

The information about this data said “fetal death” was defined as pregnancy loss at any point up to 20 weeks. We had lost C.C. at about 9 weeks. I went to the 2014 table and scrolled down and found our town. There was a “1.” Our C.C.

It felt comforting, in a way, to see that “1,” that she counted. Even if most of our friends and family had forgotten our loss, the State of Connecticut would always have a “1” there to count her.

I worked on the project steadily over the course of about four weeks, going back again and again to analyze the data, and adding things I wanted to do with it. I finally wrote the introduction to the project. I re-checked some things, including the state’s definition for fetal death. But I had initially mis-read the definition; it was any pregnancy loss after 20 weeks.

At the time, I couldn’t sit with what that meant for long. I had a lot of work to do and not enough time. I sighed and was thankful that at least the only thing I had to change was a single sentence in my introduction, since I had only used the term fetal death (as opposed to “miscarriage”) throughout the paper.

Since that time, however, I have had time to think about this experience, and my residual sadness about it. I had lost the comfort of our loss being counted.

Yes, that “1” belonged to another family in our town—a family that I felt sorrow for. And I wondered who they were and if I’d ever come across them at any point. But, as little consolation as it is, I felt envious that their loss had counted, statistically speaking. The State of Connecticut was just one more entity that didn’t want to know about our loss.

We’re still looking for where else C.C. gets to live, outside our hearts.

Meet Our New Miscarriage Support Group Facilitator, Brandi Gillen-Hing!

After I suffered 2 second trimester miscarriages, one in 2009 and one in 2010, I felt very lost and alone. I started finding myself gravitating to people who have had similar experiences, and looking to a future career of mental health support. I learned that sharing my experience with others helped some of the heaviness of loss lift up off of me.

I met Carol in 2016 shortly after the birth of my second living child, and was instantly elated to find out that Empty Arms existed! There was a place, other than chance meetings with other bereaved parents (some of whom became my closest friends), where the truths I lived with every day as a bereaved parent could be talked about. I immediately wanted to be involved, and set out on a path of becoming a facilitator for Empty Arms. So here I am a year later hoping to make safe the discussions that are hard, and hoping to be a supportive listener to anyone in need.

Brandi

Meet Our Support Group Facilitator, Lindsey Rothschild!

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I chose this picture for my bio because it was a very happy day. It was my birthday in 2010; I had hiked up Mt. Tom; I was pregnant with twins and was just beginning to show. Shortly after, my life changed dramatically. I had to say goodbye to my twin daughters, Flora and Bea, both of whom received catastrophic diagnoses. The devastating grief compounded with the trauma of trying to make sense of everything in a short period of time and having to make the most heart breaking of decisions of my life are experiences that have forever changed me. Learning to find a new normal has been a difficult journey and one that I can't even imagine without the support network of Empty Arms.

The gift my twins have given me is the ability to walk this road with others. I’m so honored to be a co-facilitator of the TFMR group. It is a great privilege to make space for families facing this devastating loss and to be able to connect from a place of understanding.

Does It Get Better?

By Sara Barry

I have a friend whose son died recently. He wasn’t a baby, but he was her baby, the one who first made her a mother. She’s been walking around in that fog of early grief unable to do much, sometimes feeling almost OK and other times feeling steamrollered.

“Does it get better?” she asked.

And my mind sifted through images of me alone in the house on a dark winter night feeling like this was not my home, searching in the blue light of a computer screen for a story like mine …

walking my cousin’s baby on the beach that first summer after Henry died, crying into her hair …

waiting for the bus that Henry never got on …

holding Kathleen for the first time as the darkness of a year of Henry gone settled around me …

standing on a hill in the cold, dark night on the anniversary of Henry’s death years later feeling joy welling up . . .

Does it get better?

Some say it gets better. Others say it gets different. Either way it takes time. I tend to tell people the brutal truth: Year 1 is almost unbearable, and year 2 is harder. Usually I tell them as they start in on year 2, floundering, struggling, wondering if there is something wrong with them that they aren’t “better.”

Does it get better?

It does, but it takes longer than we expect. It does, but it takes longer than we’d like.

You know how a stomach bug slams you hard, then once it passes, you are weak and exhausted for a long time afterward? You can’t do what you usually do. You wonder why you’re not back to normal.

Grief is like that too. It wipes you out for a long time.

And then it does get better. We refill our reserves. We get stronger again. We get more practiced in answering the hard questions. We get more used to telling our story and seeing kids of a certain age.

Does it get better? Will I ever be happy again? Yes and yes.

How can I live a full life with a huge hole in my heart?

You just do.

You tend the hole, tend your loss, and you open to life around you. You let love and joy and beauty in. You let yourself be loved. You let yourself be filled. You keep missing and your heart fills up at the same time. You don’t have to know how, you just have to open enough for it to happen.

What To Tell Kids

By Sara Barry

Recently a friend asked if I had any advice about her son’s recent questions about his sister, the one who died before he was born. She worried that her answers weren’t enough, because he kept asking.

It reminded me of the raw, numb days right after Henry died, when my young neighbor would come in each morning to wait for his sister’s bus.

“’Enry ’ome?” he’d ask.

The first time he said it, I couldn't breathe.

Each time he came, he'd ask again. I would say no and remind him that Henry was in heaven with Oma (his great-grandmother), which is how his parents had explained it to him. And he would walk over and look in the bassinet in the dining room, just to make sure. Then he would ask to see Henry's other bed (the crib that used to be his), and we would go up and look at the crib. We'd come back down stairs and he'd ask for Henry again. And I would say that we could look at his pictures, so we'd go around and look at all the pictures.

He didn’t ask them to hurt me. He asked again and again, because that’s what young kids do. He asked because he was trying to understand.

I told my friend she didn’t need to give more answer, but just keep answering. Her son would let her know if he needed more.

I wonder sometimes what my kids make of having a brother who died, a brother they never knew.

When my daughter Kathleen was three months old, somebody asked me if we would talk about Henry and show Kathleen pictures of him when she was older. I smiled, because Henry was already part of her life.

From the beginning, we have talked about him with his sisters. They grew up with pictures of him around the house. He’s in the alphabet book I made for Kathleen and on the family photo blocks she played with. He’s in the songs we sing at night.

He’s not here, yet very present in our lives.

My girls can say to me at bedtime, “I’m sad I never got to know Henry” or ask how old he’d be.

When a friend looks at a picture of Henry and asks, “Who’s that?”, they answer matter of fact, “That’s Henry. He’s my brother. He died.” Or, as I overheard on the soccer field, “Well I don’t have a younger brother. I have an older brother and he’s dead.” A simple statement.

What I love about kids is that statements like this don’t stop conversation. Nobody stops doing cartwheels or eating snacks because you say, “My brother is dead.”

And yet . . . I wonder what is going on as their growing hearts and brains understand things in different ways. How does grief work when you never know the person who died, when you grow up with a person missing and grief around you?

I go looking for information about grief of siblings who never knew a baby brother or sister and find descriptions of replacement siblings.

My older daughter grew in me in that first year after Henry died. She grew from newborn to toddler as I navigated year 2 of grief. I know that I loved her fully and fiercely for herself not as a replacement, and still I wonder if my emotions in those early days, or even now, affect her in ways that will show up later. 

After I wrote about the question “How Many Kids Do You Have?”, I worried. What if my kids read this someday and think they are my “just” two, that they are somehow less than because their brother died, when the truth is they fill my heart every day.

Because the paradox of having living children and one who died is that your heart is always missing someone and always full. I have three kids—and two. My heart is full and missing someone. I find joy and gratitude every day even as I recognize grief.

I am grateful to my girls for opening me wide again to joy, but I don’t love either of them because they took Henry’s place. I love them unconditionally and fully, each with their own space, each for their own being. Henry will always have a place in my heart. It isn’t their job to fill it, nor would I want them to. I want his space for him—and I want my girls to fill their own spaces.

I can wonder all I want how grief affects my kids, but the best I can do is listen to what they say, share my feelings honestly, and answer the questions they are asking as they grow and change and wonder differently.

 

How do you think having lost a sibling affects your living children?

From Our Family To Yours

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Dear Families,

I can remember leaving the hospital empty-handed, with nothing but a tan folder full of photocopied articles about grief and loss. The one thing that did mean something to me was a copy of Deborah Davis' Empty Cradle Broken Heart, which had a bookplate in the front. It read: "In memory of our daughter Elizabeth," with a date and her parents' names. Though the book was helpful, it's possible the most helpful part was the bookplate: it spoke to me and said, you are not alone. You may not know us, but we're out there, and this happened to us, too.

 

In the years since Empty Arms began, we've been trying to fine tune the resources we give to families. A copy of this book (with an inscription, of course) has been provided to many families, but beyond our own group literature we have struggled with what to provide. More information about grief? Web resources? Therapist’s names? What actually helps a family when they go home empty-handed?

 

My mind went back again and again to that bookplate- it said to me, "we're out here." THIS is the message we want to send to bereaved parents, and so we've set out to create a basket of healing - a care package of sorts - put together by parents that can show our support and love to family we haven't yet met. Our hope is that these bereavement kits will not only contain items that will assist with the challenging physical and mental aspects of healing, but will also be a gesture of kindness from one community member to another.

 Mug and cozy

Mug and cozy

The comfort packages will include notes (like the one above) from fellow bereaved parents, a mug and cozy, a copy of Deborah Davis' book, and several other small tokens from our Empty Arms community. If you'd like to contribute something, write a note, or want to share what has been useful to you, please let us know at emptyarmsbereavement.org. 

If you'd like to donate to help make this project a reality, all funds raised for Giving Tuesday this year will go directly towards comfort packages for bereaved families! 

Thank you so much for creating this community with us.  

--Carol

Happy Birthday, Johnny

by Ann Ward

When I was five or six, I started writing letters to my brother Johnny, whose 34th birthday would be today. I wrote them in a scented purple hardcover diary with a lock and key. Sometimes they just said, “Dear Johnny, I love you!!!” in huge penciled swoops. Sometimes they were poems.

When I was a little older, maybe ten, I would clear the books and Barbie clothes from the Rainbow Brite blanket my mum sewed and ask him to visit me. He sat, always in the same spot, at the foot of my bed. I talked to him, sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head. I asked him if he was an angel or a ghost, and if he was an angel was he very high up, like Michael (aka John Travolta), or was he just regular. And if he was a ghost, did he haunt any place other than my bedroom, or did he wander around all over the world? And if it would be okay for him to be my guardian ghost.

We never met Johnny in the flesh, but I know that Andrew, Jane and I each secretly thought he'd be our closest friend. But in the end it just made me more grateful for my siblings, whose cool talent I've spent my life trying to emulate.

Andy-roo and Janie, I love you brilliant, genius weirdos so, so much. The longer I live a border away, the more homesick for you I get.

Thank you, mum and dad, for having the strength to make Johnny a real and present part of our family. I can't imagine the pain of losing him.

Happy birthday, brother.

 Author Ann Ward (Center) with living siblings Andrew (left) and Jane (right).

Author Ann Ward (Center) with living siblings Andrew (left) and Jane (right).