Parents remember their angels

Published 11:39 pm Friday, December 14, 2018

The scene in the lobby was somber. More than 30 parents and staff gathered around a Christmas tree in the Sentara Obici Hospital on Wednesday evening. Others walked past, but this crowd stood still and silent.

It was the first Bereaved Parents Memorial Tree service held at held at Sentara Obici. The Christmas tree shined with light and white ribbons. Bereavement Coordinator Dawn Eure read names aloud, and for each one, an ornament was hung.

They were clear ornaments with purple feet — the color of remembrance — and wings.  Each one represented an “angel baby” that was stillborn or died at birth. There were also angel ornaments representing the children whose parents did not give permission for them to be named and weren’t present for the service.

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In all there are 24 “angels” on the tree, 14 of which died this year, Eure said. Parents held each other and tears ran down their faces. Despite the pain, some found comfort.

“I thought it was a very nice service,” said Jeremy Temple, who attended with his girlfriend, Kasey Kleps. They lost their child, Jase Timothy Temple, on Aug. 6. He said the service was “definitely sad,” but a “good sad.”

This is the first program of its kind at Sentara Obici Hospital. It started at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital last December, according to the press release, and was held again this year at several Sentara hospitals throughout Hampton Roads.

Eure, who became the hospital’s bereavement coordinator in January, said it’s about allowing these families to remember their losses and not bury their grief. There was an old way of thinking that didn’t let mothers and fathers say the names of these babies, but like Eure said, that’s the old way.

“It was something that people pushed under the rug,” she said. “We’re really trying to get (rid of) that way of thinking. These babies need to be remembered. They need to be thought of all the time.”

The day was July 25, 2015, for Wendy and Aaron Basnett. Their daughter Ava was Wendy’s first pregnancy. They had prepared the nursery at their house and were ready to be parents.

Then something went wrong, and their daughter was gone before she ever arrived.

“You come in here expecting to take home a baby, and (now) they’re asking for funeral arrangements,” Aaron said.

How do you describe something like this? The Basnetts said it wasn’t like losing a grandparent or someone else who’s at an age where it’s expected.

“I’ve lost several people in my life, but it was nothing like losing Ava,” Wendy said. “I was 33 years old. I had no idea.”

Lauren Lawless also had a normal pregnancy right up until the unthinkable. She attended the service on Wednesday with her parents and two of her children. Her other child was at home with her husband, she said.

Her youngest son was a twin. When the day came, he was delivered safely, but there were complications with his sister, Lily Madison Lawless. She died on June 16, 2016.

Lawless, who is the clinical manager of the hospital’s emergency department, came home with one child that day. But the feeling remains bittersweet.

“I have a child, but I mourn the one I lost at the same time,” she said. “It’s just really complicated. Watching him grow up, wondering what she would have been like and how their relationship would have been.”

The Basnetts said they eventually found hope after they lost Ava. They had their now 2-year-old daughter, Charlotte. She’s their “rainbow baby,” a term that refers to a child born after a miscarriage, stillbirth or neo-natal death, like a rainbow after a storm.

They also found some comfort when they talked to others that went through similar tragedy.

“Back in the day people didn’t talk about stuff, (but) it’s a different world now. Now we talk about everything. So why not talk about what really matters?” Wendy asked.

It’s especially hard that first Christmas after a child is lost and during what should be a family’s first holiday together.

“Others are celebrating with their children and Santa, but they’re still grieving,” Eure said. “They don’t have that opportunity to do these things.”

Lawless is celebrating the holidays with her family. There will be gifts on Christmas morning, and her children will laugh and play. But Lily is always with her.

“I would say it gets easier, but it doesn’t. You learn to live with it. I think about her every single day, and she’s a part of my life forever,” she said.