MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. – No one wants to have cause to attend the Walk to Remember. The ceremony honors pregnancy, infant and child loss. Yet, for those dealing with the tragic loss of a young one, the sense of community found at the sixth annual event at Madigan Army Medical Center on October 16 was palpable.
As he welcomed the families assembled throughout Letterman Auditorium, Acting Commander Col. Scott Roofe expressed the sentiment often voiced by Madigan staff that, hard though it may be to see patients through such tremendous loss, it is hallowed.
“Taking care of our patients and families in bereavement is a special charge,” said Roofe. “With great sympathy, sensitivity and caring, they have dedicated themselves to helping our families navigate an exceedingly difficult path of grief. Sometimes staying in touch with families for many, many years. I know that they mourn alongside you and are significantly impacted by the loss of these precious children.”
Madigan’s Bereavement Committee took extra care to craft an experience that could take place in person and be in compliance with all COVID-19 safety precautions.
“I don’t think it felt any different,” said 1st Lt. Karaline Schmitz, a labor and delivery nurse on the bereavement team and officer-in-charge for this year’s event, of the precautions taken to ensure the safety of all attendees.
Since families from the same household can sit together, the usual social distancing restrictions were observed between family groups instead of individuals. All attendees wore face coverings, as is required at all times on the Madigan campus. Additionally, the walk itself took place around the Madigan Pond.
This year’s attendance was not abnormal. This event does not draw a large crowd; it is designed for a specific group of people. The chance for those dealing with pregnancy or child loss to come together and support one another is an opportunity cherished by staff and attended repeatedly by some.
The planning committee had extra meetings and involved additional personnel to make this event happen in person.
“Being together and surrounded by a community of support is really, really important,” said Schmitz. “I think that it was helpful for these families; it was helpful for the staff. So I'm really glad that we were able to figure out a way to put this event on.”
Lindsay Callahan, a guest speaker, has shared her story at numerous events to include previous Walk to Remember ceremonies.
After Callahan and her husband Tim lost their son in the final weeks of pregnancy, they have made it their mission to provide comfort for other families facing a similar loss.
When they had to say goodbye to their baby here at Madigan in 2014, they found the ability to have family visit was important. It took time for family to travel from Maryland and a “cuddle cot” allowed their baby to remain with them and be held by family when they arrived.
Since that time, the Callahans have raised money, purchased and donated two cuddle cots to Madigan, one to a hospital in Arizona and are working to provide others in the area to give the same expanded period for families to say goodbye to their little ones.
In addition to these donations, the Callahans are devoted to offering emotional support to their fellow military families who have endured loss.
“I read poems about grief, I read books and I write in my grief journal and I listen to music but most importantly, I talk about my son,” said Lindsay Callahan.
She also shared words of encouragement from her deployed husband who wanted the fathers in the audience to feel his support from afar.
“We're often there to support our loved ones, and we put our feelings to the side, but know that I understand what you are going through. It is okay to talk about your child. It is okay to ask for help. It is okay to grieve,” was Tim Callahan’s message.
Chaplain Candidate (2nd Lt.) Jamaal Cox echoed those words.
“This is really hard space to be in, but it's also a necessary space. We all experience loss in some form or fashion,” Cox said. “So, you got to find some community,” he added as he described how he and his wife have coped with losing their pregnancy at 32 weeks.
Beth Cox noted the hybrid world that families of loss live in when it comes time to celebrate the joys of life as sorrow often accompany those feelings of celebration.
“Death is such a severe thing and learning to walk with that is just always an adjustment,” she said.
This service offers families and staff a space to grieve and support one another on a subject that is difficult to talk about openly. For some the pain is too great, for others, the discomfort of those around them with the subject is a barrier.
In addition to the guest speakers, Capt. Amanda Tashjian, an Obstetrics and Gynecology resident, read a poem, Amelia Graham offered a musical reflection and 1st Lt. Ella Von Canon performed the reading of the names. As families heard the names of their little one gone too soon, they lit a candle in their honor.
Closing out the service was a walk around the pond and individual discussion among the attendees.
Schmitz found her way into caring for families through loss by initially stepping in to take photos of the babies for their families to cherish. She has seen firsthand how important the ability to celebrate and remember those babies is.
“I do know how sacred and special being around people who have experienced similar situations can be,” said Schmitz, acknowledging the room the service provided to talk and grieve openly.
This evening of walking, talking and communion provided space for solace.
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