BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - I have never lost a child, nor have I been close to anyone who has. I'd like to think I am sensitive to loss of that kind; empathetic, sympathetic. It's said a person cannot possibly know how another feels about a particular situation, especially a tragic one, unless she or he has experienced that same thing. So with regard to losing a child, I find myself asking, "Am I really compassionate enough?"
What I learned from this particular Hand It On has heightened my awareness about child loss, and loss in general for that matter, to the point it changed me some. The old standbys like, "sorry for your loss" will not be spoken by me again. While I cannot possibly know the magnitude of pain and hurt following the loss of a child, this week's assignment has made me more keenly aware, more sensitive to others.
Caroline Isemann nominated Monica Alley for Hand It On this week for Monica and her husband Todd's outreach program, called Anna's Grace Foundation. This is a non-profit the two of them formed following the loss of their daughter, Anna, in 2013. The organization plays a significant role in the healing journey of many families in our area who have suffered the loss of their babies through miscarriages, stillbirths, or infant death.
"Our eyes were open to a great need in our community we discovered following the loss of Anna," Monica explains. "What most people don't realize is that a lot of people, after they lose a baby, have to deliver the baby, and then if it was born after 20 weeks, the parents must bury the baby. And there is much cost involved. Through Anna's Grace, we assist families with those costs. We help families with burial and things like grave markers so they can say goodbye to their babies with dignity and so they can recognize their baby by name."
My eyes were opening now. A fetus that dies in utero is a baby. Losing an 8-week-old child before it's born is as much an emotional loss as losing a child that's 8-years-old. Anna's Grace and the many lives they've touched (having given financial assistance to over 120 families to date) knows this all too well.
"One of the things I remember most when we lost Anna was the silence," Monica recalls. "It was the silence that surrounded everything that had to do with loss. It was the silence in the ultrasound room when they told us that Anna didn't have a heartbeat. We were expecting to hear that sound echoing throughout the room, and there was just silence. And then when we went in to deliver Anna the next day, you expect to hear your baby, you know, cry for the first time, and when she was delivered, there was just silence. And then when you get home, there's silence from family and friends because they just don't know what to say to you. They want to comfort you, but they're just not sure what to say. They don't want to upset you, and so they remain silent. And there's a silence I think from other families as well because they don't want to make anyone uncomfortable by talking about their baby. It's a hard topic, and it's hard for people to think about, and so we tend to remain silent. Yeah, silence is what surprised me the most."
So Monica and her husband, Todd, were determined to turn that silence into a voice. And that they did, with the creation of Anna's Grace Foundation.
Their annual Walk to Remember pulls together families and friends who have experienced loss for one afternoon in October.
October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. The Walk to Remember is a very healing experience for families because they are surrounded by people who truly understand and care, and they're able to acknowledge their babies and celebrate those babies. This event culminates with candles being lit in honor of those precious lives too short lived. It's part of the international movement called the Wave of Light, where across the globe, families join together, and in each time zone at 7 o'clock on October 15, candles are lit in memory of sweet babies who have been gone too soon.
Caroline Isemann presented Monica with WAFB's Hand It On award of $300 cash just before the Wave of Light.
"I want to make a quick announcement," Caroline began as she politely took the microphone from Monica. "I'm sure I can speak for a lot of us out here when I say Monica has made a huge difference in our lives and allowed us to all come together to celebrate our babies in a very special way, so thank you Monica. And I have a little surprise for Monica. WAFB is out here tonight because I nominated her and she was chosen for Hand It On. So I have $300 here for Monica for Anna's Grace."
Through tears, Monica accepted the gift and then admitted to the crowd, "I have to say a special thank you because at home right now on my desk is a family with a need for assistance and this is going to help them, so thank you very much. Thank you all. Thank you very much!"
Anna's Grace's signature fundraiser is a quarter marathon held each year, usually in the spring. It's to represent the one in four pregnancies that end in loss. Registrations are now being accepted for next year's run, which will be held in downtown Baton Rouge on Sunday, March 25, 2018. Register online at www.annasgrace.org. There's also a donation button on the website.
Visit the Anna's Grace Facebook page for more information.