online support for grief
Where can a grieving family turn for online support after the death of a child? Sarah Bain, still reeling with shock eight months after the birth of her stillborn daughter, desperately needed to know she was not alone. “Something has to get you out of bed in the morning, and that’s what the MISS Foundation did for me.” Sarah found this meaningful connection in 2003 simply by researching online using words like stillbirth, stillborn and infant death; this brought her to the MISS Foundation website. Today, a spotlight on the home page says A Child Died: What do I Do that leads parents into several options, including online trained mentors, information, and a variety of group forums that provide a “safe and sacred” space for grieving families.
Founded by Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, a professor at Arizona State University and director for the Center of Loss and Trauma, the MISS Foundation is dedicated to helping other parents who lose a child. Like Sarah, her passion that parents not be alone during such devastation emerged after she lost a newborn daughter, Cheyenne, in 1994. An international volunteer-based organization, MISS provides CARE (Counseling, Advocacy, Research and Education) for families online, through conferences, local grief groups, and the promotion of relevant legislation. They also include excellent online resources and academic articles for professionals who come alongside bereaved families, such as research on cultural differences on grieving in our multi-cultural society. Their website is www.missfoundation.org and Dr. Cacciatore includes an insightful blog within the site.
But Sarah didn’t know of such a resource at first and instead lived alone with traumatic memories. Three days before her delivery date during a healthy pregnancy, Sarah sensed her baby stopped moving. Distraught, she called her midwife and entered the hospital in the middle of the night for an ultrasound. Her doctor was unavailable and Sarah learned from a maternity ward technician and a geriatric doctor on duty, “There’s no heartbeat.”
“My husband dissolved into tears, my body became numb and cold, and the world swirled around me in slow motion…I couldn’t process anything. I couldn’t even cry yet.” Living with the unfathomable reality her baby was dead, she endured twenty-four hours of hard labor while immersed in grief. Sarah gave birth at noon on June 1 two days after entering the hospital. Their family named their daughter Grace. Soon after, hospital personnel announced that the funeral home closed at 4 p.m., so they needed to give the baby into the care of the funeral home. “In such heartbreak, we felt terribly rushed and disempowered. To imagine that your baby dies on May 29th, but is born on June 1st just breaks you apart.” In the cold clinical setting of the hospital, she remembers with gratitude one act of kindness. Her midwife asked if she would like to meet another mother who gave birth to a stillborn baby years earlier. Sarah agreed and this mother came to visit, brought a journal she’d kept, and a disposal camera to take a few pictures of Grace. “Her visit was such a gift because otherwise we’d never have had any photographs.” Even more, Sarah received a glimpse of the power of one bereaved mother coming alongside another.
SIGNIFICANT HOSPITAL CHANGES
“The way we care for people has to change,” decided Sarah after connecting with the resources at the MISS Foundation. A woman of strong convictions and creative determination, Sarah met with local medical leaders in Spokane, Washington who heard her concerns, and began asking other bereaved parents, “What would be helpful?” After months of medical meetings, this eventually led to the innovative Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center’s “Forget Me Not” program, a state-of-the-art resource for parents of stillborn babies or babies who will live just briefly.
“It’s a remarkable transformation that has occurred now,” believes Sarah, grateful for the compassionate support parents now receive. “What for many families will be one of their worst life experiences, attentive efforts are made to create a more peaceful and life-affirming experience.” Specially trained nurses assist mothers and families who may stay with their baby as long as emotionally needed. Babies are lovingly bathed and dressed, volunteer professional photographers offer to take pictures, resources for grieving families are provided, and families receive follow-up for a year, in addition to access to the facilitators for the MISS Foundation.
In the past ten years, other medical centers around the nation are also initiating similar compassionate changes.
Empowered by baby Grace’s life, this mother of four now volunteers and facilitates a monthly MISS Foundation grief group for parents, plus is often invited to the hospital to meet with families enduring loss. Her blog http://geographyofgrief.blogspot.com/ offers another resource and a candid glimpse of Sarah’s long and creative pilgrimage through grief.
Have you found any online grief resources useful in your own grief journey? Does your local hospital have a compassionate program for grieving families?