‘Tears are free’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 17, 2005

Forbes magazine produces a list each year of the 400 wealthiest Americans. It’s generally peppered with names like Gates, Walton, Rockefeller, etc.

Even through it seems I’ve rarely got enough cash in my pocket to pay for lunch, something happened earlier this week that made me feel like I belonged on that list of the richest Americans.

You see, I have two reasonably healthy children. And that makes me rich and blessed by any measure.

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On Thursday, Debbie Stitzer-Brame, executive director of the EDMARC Hospice for Children, gave the program at the Suffolk Rotary Club meeting. It was a moving presentation on how her staff of 10 gives support comfort to families on both sides of the water who have a child with a terminal illness.

EDMARC, of course, tends to the medical needs of children so they don’t have to spend their precious remaining time in a cold,

barren hospital bed, but at home surrounded by their loved ones and their stuff. But a big part of their work is in helping parents and young siblings get through the illness and bereavement processes. That’s a job that lasts long after the child has died and in many cases never ends.

A little history in case you didn’t know. While it’s now located in Suffolk, EDMARC is a child of Suffolk. In 1978, Dr. and Mrs. Allen Hogge searched for supportive services for their terminally ill son, Marcus. There to help them was the Rev. Edward Page, himself terminally ill with cancer. These two families found ways to provide hospice services to children in Suffolk. Page died shortly after start-up funding from the Presbyterian Church was acquired. Later that year, Marcus Hogge died peacefully as his home. EDMARC is named in memory of Edward Page and Marcus Hogge.

Stitzer-Brame said a big part of what EDMARC tries to accomplish is to make the young patients feel as if they are not freaks. She showed a worn, ragged doll named Madison which she uses to work the kids. Madison has various holes and tubes in her arms, throat and chest. She’s also bald, an affliction many of EDMARC’s clients suffer because of chemotherapy for cancer-related illnesses.

&uot;I show them that there are many other children just like them,&uot; she said.

As part of that process, EDMARC conducts a summer camp in Franklin at Camp Dawson so that the kids can enjoy a week of activities, just like &uot;normal&uot; kids. EDMARC always needs volunteers and has an immediate need for adults to help out with the camp. If you have the love in your heart, as well as the strength to put on a smiling face, please call EDMARC at 967-9251, or visit the Web site at www.EDMARC.org.

If you feel you can’t handle being around sick children, some of whom may be terminal, there are still ways you can help. Following are among the needs listed in EDMARC’s quarterly newsletter: Grocery store and gas gift cards; bottled water, juice sip cups; tickets to Tides, Admirals and other games, picnic items, 10-ride HRT bus passes, small gifts for parents, relaxation tapes for kids; AAA batteries; paper products; colored copy paper, colored card stock paper; 30-gallon clear storage containers; large and medium birthday giftbags and tissue paper; baby footprint kits with picture frames; kid friendly temporary tattoos; disinfectant wipes; hand sanitizer; Kodak photo paper; children’s bug spray; breakfast cereals; a lawnmower; rescue and doll house plastic figurines.

Even if you’re not that strong, you can still help and you won’t be alone.

&uot;We do a lot of crying,&uot; Stitzer-Brame said. &uot;But that’s OK, tears are free.&uot;

Andy Prutsok is publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611 or at andy.prutsok@suffolknewsherald.com.