I was invited in 2014, right after Maggie passed away but there was no way I could handle it then. I was invited last year and never really considered attending. This may sound strange coming from me, who writes a blog and puts parts of my life online for anyone to read, but I do not like public or group sharing of grief. It's too personal. It's too much.
This year the invite came and the service was scheduled for 5:30 on Thursday afternoon. I facilitate a group for parents whose kids are in the hospital on Thursday afternoons from 4-5. It was extremely convenient. I was already going to be there anyway and I greatly admire many of the people involved in the planning of the service, so I RSVP'd that I would attend. When the reminder about the service arrived I felt like bolting; but I went anyway, and I'm glad I did.
We were encouraged to bring a picture to display on the table outside the event along with photos of many of the other children. I specifically chose the one with Tyre at their pre-prom party. Tyre passed away about a year after Maggie did and then his mom passed away too. I figured there was no one there to remember him, so I did.
I knew too many parents in there because of the various hats I wear at UCSF. There was Kristi from the Family Advisory council with her family to honor her son Adam who passed away just a year ago. There were two families I came to know in the parent group and Michele, another Family Advisory Counsel member, who spoke at the event about the amazing effect her daughter Cora had in her 8 short months on the planet.
There were readings and stories and songs and it was lovely. There was a slide show of the children being honored. Probably 75% of the children were babies who didn't make it either at birth or shortly after. This ceremony was particularly important for those families. I had so much support when Maggie died at age 19, but society really does not give enough recognition to the amount of grief a family feels for the loss of a newborn or young baby. I am glad they have this ceremony.
I hugged Kristi as Adam's picture appeared. The man to the left of me started to sob when his son's face appeared. It was gut wrenching. More and more children's faces appeared, many of them so very small. I honestly couldn't remember if I ever actually emailed Maggie's picture for the slide show and worried she would be left out. But that resolved itself when this appeared on the screen. I'm glad she looked so vibrant and happy.
The final part of the ceremony allowed parents to pick a river stone from a basket and place it in a vase filled with water. I did that and loved seeing all the stones together. The parents were invited to say the name of the child they were honoring. I placed my stone in the vase and moved to the microphone. I saw all the people in the room and felt all of the pain and honor and pride and grief at the moment. I choked up and could barely get her name out. I simply said "Maggie McDonald" and then walked off the stage to receive the rose they were giving out. My friend and co-worker Lisa, who is also a bereaved mother, gave me a big hug.
The depth of feeling I experienced was exhausting. Generally this is a rather lonely path. No one really knows what this feels like. Not that day. All those families in that room know exactly what it feels like. And we were all there for each other. I supported them and felt their support of me and realized how much I needed it.
Of course I don't need a service like that to know Maggie is remembered. She is such a part of me that she is always on my mind. Every minute of every day. I miss her and I am proud to honor her. Still, it felt good and powerful to take part in the ceremony.
And, though I wish it weren't so, I am likewise proud of be among the families walking this path and honor every one of those children from babies to young adults. We were lucky to have them all no matter how short their lives were. They left indelible marks on all of us.