By Kirstin Grace-Simons (Madigan Army Medical Center)October 26, 2018
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- "For every joy that passes, something beautiful remains."
Linda Gowenlock, a palliative care clinical nurse specialist at Madigan Army Medical Center, read these words from the poem "The Tide Recedes" by M.D. Hughes during the fourth annual Walk to Remember Oct. 19 in the hospital's Letterman Auditorium.
From miscarriage through childhood, the Walk to Remember honors the lives of children lost and the eternal impression they made on the hearts and lives of their families.
The grief of loss can be expected when a child dies. Often overlooked is the celebration of the life itself, full of hope and possibility, which touched a family.
Acknowledging the pain of loss in his welcoming remarks, Madigan Commander Col. Thomas Bundt said, "Oftentimes we don't have the opportunity to know our children when they pass, obviously, so suddenly, or when they pass before they're even able to be born. And it's something that sits with you pretty much forever."
As solemn as the evening was, it was also filled with the love of family and the compassion of strangers.
"We want this remembrance walk to be a blessing to you. That you can go another day knowing that your baby's name was honored and remembered," said Sandra Moore, who serves as the bereavement coordinator for the Labor and Delivery unit.
Bundt added some of the hope of the evening as he said, "Time does heal wounds, but only to a certain extent. You'll never be able to completely erase the challenge and the hole that that leaves in our hearts. But, at least it leaves them a place for their spirit to return to."
Madigan's dedication to its motto of "care with compassion" can be seen nowhere more than in times of loss for a family.
"The darkness that is this situation was given a bit of light by the actions you performed on that day," described an award submission by an anonymous parent on the DAISY website for one of Madigan's Labor and Delivery nurses, Melissa West.
West was also thanked by another patient's parent.
Timothy Callahan is an active duty Airman with the Maintenance Operations Control Center who is also the first father to speak at a Walk to Remember event at Madigan.
Tim and his wife Lindsay delivered their first child, Travor, here at Madigan in 2014. His heart stopped beating less than a week before he was due to be born.
When Lindsay knew something was not right and they made the longest drive from Lacey to Madigan they could remember, they were asked if they'd like to induce and deliver their son that night. Lindsay declined, knowing that she needed another day with her son.
"The next day, we went to Madigan and the staff were amazing, and still are," said Lindsay as she spoke at the walk just prior to her husband.
Since that time, the Callahans have attended group support meetings, done numerous walks and, most importantly, talked about their son.
Tim never said much in those groups because he was always the only male in attendance. While he notes there are no real support groups out there for fathers, he said, "talking helps. It helps a lot."
"They were our babies too," Tim gently reminded.
"I know it's an awkward conversation to have, but there are people out there that'll listen. That helped me, along with, as my wife explained, the cuddle cot. When we discovered that was a thing, I knew right then and there that that was going to be Travor's legacy," he said.
After their loss, the Callahans were thinking about what they could do to help other families and when they saw this, and heard the word "time" they knew this would be their son's legacy.
Within a year of Travor's passing, the Callahans had collected enough money donated by friends and family to give Madigan a cooling system to keep stillborn babies with their families long enough to spend time with them and say goodbye. They have since donated two more cots in total.
Comfort also comes to families in this situation from teams of caregivers ready to help in any way possible.
"We walk with each loss family we care for in their darkest hour," said Moore in detailing the ways the labor and delivery care teams work to assist families. "We support them through labor and delivery of their baby, make memories, such as footprints, handprints, pictures and memory jewelry."
She noted in her remarks at the event, "We say goodbye to your baby with you. It is a great privilege to share these sacred moments with you. We cherish the time we get to have with you and your little one. And it is our mission to help you in all of these ways."
Following a musical reflection sung by Dorothy Strobl-Lucas, a registered nurse and lactation consultant, who was accompanied on the piano by George Wagner; 2nd Lt. Karaline Schmitz, a clinical staff nurse, read the names of 15 children for whom families and friends gathered to light candles, walk around the Madigan Pond and remember.
Moore noted that after caring for families through a loss, "It is a humbling honor when a family asks me to take care of them if and when they hope to have another baby."
The Callahans walked with their daughter Elizabeth in memory of their son and in support of the 70 other families in attendance.
In speaking to these families, Bundt hoped that, "Knowing that you always have family here at Madigan will hopefully give you some solace."