Families grieve infant loss in A Walk to Remember

(Photo provided) A family places a butterfly on a tree as a symbol of their loss of a baby during Bon the annual Walk to Remember and Memorial Service Oct. 17 in Greenville.

(Photo provided) A family places a butterfly on a tree as a symbol of their loss of a baby during Bon the annual Walk to Remember and Memorial Service Oct. 17 in Greenville.GREENVILLE—When a couple loses an infant, their grief needs to be recognized.

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and Bon Secours St. Francis Health System hosted Greenville’s annual Walk to Remember and Memorial Service Oct. 17 to do just that.

The event is for parents, family, friends and professional caregivers whose lives have been touched by all types of infant death, including miscarriage, stillbirth and SIDS.

An estimated 175 people attended the service, which was organized by Karen Riley, St. Francis director of Mission and Spiritual Care.

“The world forgets or doesn’t know these babies,” Riley said. “This is a very empty, lonely grief. We’re there to help them remember.”

The service is cosponsored by Greenville Hospital System University Medical Center and SHARE Upstate—Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support.

Riley said it is designed for the whole family because an infant’s death affects everyone.

One of the participants described it in an e-mail as “a day we remember all babies born sleeping, those we carried but never met, those we have held but could not take home.”

The memorial included prayer and music, with a focus on fathers sharing their personal stories of loss.

Brent and Shannon Kaseman had the joy of sharing life with their daughter, Anastasia, for only three days. Mr. Kaseman told the crowd that a father’s grief is often masked because they have to care for their family. The couple had everything ready to welcome their daughter home, including a room filled with books and toys.

For the few days he could, Mr. Kasemen read to Anastasia while she was in the neonatal intensive care unit because he knew he would not be able to do it later.

“I couldn’t protect my two girls,” he said during the memorial service. He had to hold himself together to emotionally support his wife and take care of the necessary day-to-day things such as dealing with hospital paperwork and insurance, and knowing he would soon have to go back to work.

Chad Groover was another of those men. He told the crowd how he and his wife Gwen lost their daughter at the 20th week of pregnancy while on vacation in England. He described how the Lord was in every detail of the trial they experienced.

“On May 24, our little girl, Amelia Kate, went to heaven to be with her heavenly Father,” he said. “This was so unexpected and by far the hardest thing we had ever faced. But as hard as it was, we had such a peace that could only come from the Lord. That peace came from knowing that God is sovereign and loves us with a never-ending love.”

The memorial service included the reading of each baby’s name. Parents placed butterfly ornaments on one of three metal trees in the hospital lobby.

“The butterflies are a symbol,” Riley said. “Even though we didn’t meet or know these children, they had a huge impact on our life.”

The  group walked the perimeter of the building, and stopped in the hospital courtyard for the dedication of the Tree of Memory.

The annual walk is also a part of Tiny Touches, an infant loss program for St. Francis patients and their families, which provides emotional and spiritual support for the bereaved.

Riley is passionate about the program because in 1975 her daughter was stillborn. She later had two miscarriages. She said it changed her life, and she helped start a support group for people in her situation.

“It can either shape your life in positive or negative ways,” she said.

Riley now has two sons and a grandchild named Jenna, after her daughter who died.