MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. – To mark National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and embrace the families of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., community experiencing loss, Madigan Army Medical Center hosted its eighth annual Walk to Remember, Pregnancy, Infant & Child Loss Remembrance Service on October 26.
Providing a warm welcome in her master of ceremony duties, 2nd Lt. Sonya Rooney, a clinical staff nurse in Labor & Delivery, stated the intent of the evening.
“We hope this evening will be a time of reflection and comfort. While there are many grieving hearts in this room, there's also overwhelming love and support,” she said.
With Madigan Commander Col. (Dr.) Jonathan Craig Taylor, and a team of chaplains and social workers in attendance for support, the ceremony leaned heavily on the religious faith of the speakers and performers, including the musical offerings of 1st Lt. Laura Jacobs. Her acoustic guitar rendition of Eric Clapton’s Tears in Heaven provided a soft and contemplative prelude to the service.
In his invocation, CH (Capt.) Austin Bowler gave voice to a sentiment that would be repeated throughout the ceremony.
“These losses are difficult to understand as our separation feels much too soon,” said Bowler.
The guest speakers, Beth and CH (1st Lt.) Jamaal Cox, held their son Caleb after the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and ended his life in the womb at 32 weeks gestation four years ago. Lt. Cox was a licensed practical nurse in Labor & Delivery at the time.
As the chaplain noted, Beth dealt with confusion as she mourned.
“What was my baby's life? Was it just wasted? Was a not fit to be a mom? Was there's something wrong with me? And it's just lies that are coming in,” she said of all the messages that swirled in her head.
What helped her cope was the support of a stranger. A friend connected her with one of their own friends on the other side of the country who had been through the same experience. She gave Beth the ear and the understanding that helped her grieve with some healing involved as well.
Speaking directly to the men in the audience, Lt. Cox agreed with his wife that finding someone to talk through their emotions with is vital to their well-being.
Both repeatedly extended an invitation for anyone to reach out to them for that support.
“I cannot, like overstate how important that is that you have somebody in your life that can do that. If you don't have somebody like that, come up to Jamaal and I because you would love to be that person,” said Beth.
They each spoke of their continuing journey as they find ways to incorporate their son into their family life with their other sons, celebrating his birthday, for example.
Lt. and Beth Cox have worked through grieving differently and each conclude that their support from others has been all-important.
“We can't do this alone,” said Lt. Cox who is now in the final stretch of training as a chaplain. “This is not something that you want to walk around with, because it's gonna manifest. That grief is gonna tear at you, it's gonna be with you constantly. It's gonna start to spread into other areas of your life. So you need other people to be able to walk with you in this and hopefully you're able to find people who are understanding or loving, who can guide you in the right direction and honestly, just sit with you.”
Lt. Cox asserted that Madigan is a very good community to be part of, especially in this type of situation because the support offered by staff and the community.
He pointed to the many resources throughout the JBLM and Puget Sound community.
One good place to look for support at Madigan is on its webpage at: https://madigan.tricare.mil/Health-Services/Behavioral-Health/Counseling-Options/LOSS-GRIEF
Lt. Cox made good on his promise to support as he spoke with and warmly embraced fellow dads following the reflective walk around the Madigan Pond.
Following the guest speakers were elements of this annual ceremony that have become tradition, to include poetry, music and candle lighting.
Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker Sharon Willett recited the poem, “Oh Precious, Tiny, Sweet Little One,” author unknown.
“We dreamed of you and your life and all that it would be. You'll always be our child, the child that we have. But now you're gone. But yet you're here. We sense you everywhere. You are our sorrow and our joy.”
Jacobs picked up her guitar and added her voice to a rendition of “Hymn of Heaven,” by Phil Wickham. Rounding out the ceremony, Danille Miller a LICSW, read the names of children lost by attendees. As each was read, the family turned on a battery-operated candle that was provided for the ceremony as a memoriam.
CH (Capt.) Antoinette Stewart offered a stirring closing prayer. She also drew on her clinical experience and education in grief to introduce a new piece of the ceremony – a bereavement bowl.
As Spc. Trinity Leland, a religious affairs specialist, advised the gathered families that they could write a message to their loved one on the degradable paper that was provided and place it in the bowl next to the Pond where it would emulsify.
“This is a symbolic for the grief that is moving forward. Not here, but still connected to the love that flows forevermore,” said Leland.
Leland expressed an appreciation for the gesture of placing a message in the bowl, noting that water has powerful symbolic power in many cultures.
“This is just one of those ways that we have found that tangibly provides a way for families to pull their grief out and to put it into the physical space,” she said.
Organizing this event each year is a nurse who works within Labor & Delivery or the Mother/Baby unit at Madigan. This year, 1st Lt. Shaylee Jelinek has worked in the latter for about a year. She spent the past few months working with the Department of Ministry & Pastoral Care, social workers and others to prepare the service.
“The highlight was getting to do such an amazing event to help families who really need our support. And I think it touched my heart because I have multiple people in my life who have had the same experience. And so being able to plan an event that honors these families is more than I could ask for and I think it has made it even more important to me when taking care of patients and truly being a good support to them,” she said.
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