This guest blog post was written by Sarah Rickerd, founder and owner of Carry Your Heart Jewelry and Gifts.
How do you say a good goodbye when you never said hello?
On April 23, 2013, I held my daughter Lena Grace, stillborn at seven months’ gestation, for twenty minutes, creating a sacred space for us amidst the beeps and blips of hospital monitors that would hold the entirety of our relationship together in this world.
With the two year-old son I now have at home, twenty minutes is nothing. Twenty minutes is an episode of Daniel Tiger that buys me enough time to get the dishes in the dishwasher. It’s the time required for me to negotiate that yes, you do in fact have to wear pants to church.
To wrap the whole of a relationship into twenty minutes strains my understanding of the word relationship. And yet, it’s a reality that I share with the hundreds of thousands of families who experience pregnancy loss every year.
As I joined “the club no parent wants to be a part of,” I learned that one in four confirmed pregnancies ends in a loss – even today, in our age of modern medicine. Ten times as many babies are lost to stillbirth as are lost to SIDS, and fewer than half of the 26,000 families affected by stillbirth are given an explanation for the deaths of their children.
I learned these statistics not just through my own reading and support group participation, but through my first professional position within the funeral industry – the one I took four months after the loss of my daughter.
I guess you could say I leaned into death (Sheryl Sandberg would’ve been proud). To be able to relate to the funeral directors who were my company’s customers, I studied the process of burial and cremation – the exact process I’d had to choose for my daughter four months earlier. I learned how firms support families after their losses in order to develop the aftercare materials we’d offer on our funeral home websites, taking comfort myself from the content I wrote for others.
The members of the peer support group I was a part of were understandably skeptical of my all-in approach to grief and healing; not, as I believed, because they didn’t think I’d be up to the task, but because, as I learned, many of them had had extremely negative experiences with funeral homes.
Take the story below from my friend Sharon, which I recently had the chance to share at NFDA 2016:
“When I gave birth to Gabriel, his heart had stopped just a few hours prior. He was full term and looked like a perfect baby who happened to have his eyes closed. The nurses gave him a bath and wrapped him up in a blanket and put a hat over his gorgeous curls. As painful as those moments were, I held our son, wrapped in his blanket and wearing his blue hat. I was really terrified of death, and dead bodies, and I was too scared to kiss him. I worked up the courage to kiss him on his head, but only on his hat. Since I never saw him naked, my memory of him is tied to his only “clothes”- that blanket and hat. The very blanket and hat that the funeral director disposed of, without asking us.”
As I continue my funeral industry work – now through my company Carry Your Heart – I’m regularly gutted by stories like these; stories of careless, negligent treatment by the very funeral professionals we entrust to guide parents through the unimaginable reality of losing a child.
I’m in the process of turning my NFDA session material into a continuing education course, and my company is working tirelessly to develop grief support materials for families facing pregnancy loss that we’ll distribute online and through funeral homes.
I’ve said it more than once before: the last thing I wanted was a calling. And yet, here I am, doing the work I believe must be done, fueled by my daughter’s memory. I named my company Carry Your Heart because that’s where her memory lives. As long as I’m alive, I carry her memory in my heart – and everything I do in this world is a reflection not just on me, but on her as well.
Nearly three and a half years out from my daughter’s loss, my grief is curiosity. The jagged edges of our loss have dulled into wondering who the person whose absence the wound of grief represents would have been.
Would she be a bossy big sister to a second child who would have come in my son’s place? Would she have his messy hair and stubborn streak?
Whoever she would have been, I hope she’d be proud of me.
Sarah Rickerd is the owner of Carry Your Heart Jewelry and Gifts. Learn more at www.CarryYourHeart.net.