Three years ago, I attended my first Walk to Remember. It had only been two months since I had said goodbye to my infant son, Ethan, and my grief felt so deep, so raw, and so fresh. The previous months leading up to that day had been incredibly painful and isolating in ways I couldn’t quite put into words. When a friend told me about the Walk to Remember, I felt nervous yet excited all at once–I had no idea what to expect, but something inside of me longed to connect with people who understood. I longed to celebrate my little boy and to simply say his name to someone…anyone who would listen.
I am so grateful I put my fears aside that day. From the moment I checked in, I felt seen and understood. My walls crumbled down with each person I spoke to. As each baby’s name was spoken and each rose was passed out, I felt less and less alone. While it didn’t take away the grief of losing my son, stepping into this community of like-minded people softened the jagged edges of grief in ways I never expected. I received an indescribable gift on that day—the gift of hearing Ethan’s name, the gift of honoring him, the gift of being surrounded by people who didn’t try to brush him aside or just tell me to “think positive”. I received the gift of meeting other parents and hearing about their babies–the simple gift of “me too”.
This event and the community that I’ve found in it have been a comfort to me over the years, as my husband and I said goodbye to four more babies–four more tiny babies added to the baby memorial banner. Each year, my aching heart has found comfort in knowing that I’d be surrounded by my tribe of some of the most beautiful, brave, and broken people, who shine so bright in spite of all they’ve been through. This year, I’m looking forward to including my newborn son in celebrating the five babies we lost before him.
When I look back on each year, I cannot help but see how much I’ve changed—I see the ways grief has brought out the worst in me, but far more I see the ways being a mother to five babies in heaven has made me better. And for that I cannot help but be grateful for the joy I have been given in the midst of something so painful and for the opportunity to meet and connect with so many beautiful hearts along the way–the mothers, the fathers, the siblings, grandparents, medical professionals, and friends whose hearts have been touched by a special baby in a very big way.
Each year, I’ve looked out at the crowd of attendees and have felt surrounded by support and understanding. Though the details of our stories may be different, these people know. They understand. Whether they’ve walked through loss themselves or have held the hand of someone who has, they have stood exactly where I stand. They know the pain of a due date that never comes—of “what ifs” and unfulfilled plans. They know the devastation of the words “not compatible with life” or “I’m sorry, there’s just no heartbeat”. They know the pain of laboring and delivering a child who never opened their eyes, or one who did but couldn’t stay long. They know the long days in the NICU, they know the devastation of planning a memorial service for an infant.
They also know the joy of knowing someone so small, but so special. They know the joy of knowing a love that is stronger than death. They know what it’s like not to take one sunrise for granted. They know the pride of being part of such a beautiful legacy, sparked by someone so small.
Of all people, we were chosen to be our baby’s parents. We are the best mother or father they could have asked for. We, of all the mothers and fathers in the world, were hand picked to experience a love stronger than death and to carry their legacy.
I’m looking forward to taking another another step toward this goal—together.
Forever Footprints’ Walk to Remember is an annual walk that takes place to honor babies that have died due to pregnancy loss and infant death. Parents, and their loved ones and friends, are invited to come walk the steps our babies will never take.We’d love for you to join us this year at the OC Walk to Remember or the IE Walk to Remember.
Kristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and the newest addition to their family–a baby boy they welcomed home in April. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family. Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.
“My friend just lost a baby and I’m at a loss of what to do or say. How can I be a support during this time?
I’m often asked this question by caring friends and family members who know someone who has recently lost their precious baby. If you’re asking yourself this same question today I want to start by saying thank you. Just the fact that you’d ask shows that you truly care.
The loss of a child is one of the deepest griefs to face and one of the most complicated to respond to. In those first few months after losing my newborn son I could hardly imagine what I needed, let alone articulate it to someone else. I’m so grateful for people like you who met us where we were at when we needed it the most. While there is no “one size fits all” approach, there were several things that my husband and I found especially helpful as we processed the loss of our newborn son.
Don’t be afraid to talk about the baby. I love it when people ask me about Ethan, or when they say his name out loud. Simply start by saying, “I’d love to hear more about [baby’s name] sometime” and be prepared to hear as much or as little as they feel comfortable sharing. Your loved one hasn’t forgotten their child, not even for a moment, and hearing or speaking their name is one of the greatest gifts a bereaved parent can receive. Consider remembering their baby’s legacy alongside them by joining them at Forever Footprints’ Walk to Remember or by sponsoring a memory box or sibling backpack in their baby’s honor. Don’t worry about “reminding” them about something upsetting–They haven’t forgotten, no matter how much time has passed.
Remember important dates and milestones. Add their baby’s birth date, due date, or other significant milestones to your calendar and check in with your friend on those days. Brief texts of “Remembering [baby’s name] with you today” can mean so much as each month and milestone passes. Even those closest to us tend to move on with their lives after those first few weeks and, while we often understand, it means so much when people remember.
Offer to help. Even better, offer specific ways you can help. While a “let me know if I can do anything” certainly shows that you care (and definitely isn’t a bad thing to say), your friend may not have the energy to identify their needs or ask for help. Feel free to offer specifics based on your unique abilities. “Can I bring you a meal on Tuesday night?” or “How about I watch the kids on Saturday?” can mean so much. Connection with other loss parents can also be helpful–offer to connect them with someone you know who has also lost a baby or refer them to a Forever Footprints Support Group.
Continue to include them. There were days when when we needed to be alone, yet others when we craved normalcy and a day with friends or family was just what we needed. While it was difficult for me to navigate crowded social gatherings or to be near young children in those first few months, it meant a lot to to be invited and to have the opportunity to accept or decline. While everything had changed, I needed to still feel like myself sometimes.
Don’t worry about finding the perfect thing to say. Accept the fact that nothing you can say will “fix” your grieving loved one’s pain–and that is okay. We know you would do anything to find those perfect words if you could. Well-meaning phrases such as “it was for the best” or “they’re in a better place” can feel hurtful or confusing, especially in those first few months. Your friend or loved one doesn’t expect you to have all of the answers. One of the most helpful things someone said to me after Ethan died was, “I’m so sorry. I wish I knew what to say.” To them it probably felt as if their words fell flat, but to me it was refreshing. Simply acknowledge their pain and sit with them for a moment. Give yourself the freedom to not do or say the “perfect” thing. Your presence and your caring heart mean more than you know.
Kristin Hernandez lives in Southern California with her husband Chris and their Queensland Heeler mix, Dakota. After struggling with unexplained infertility for several years, Kristin was thrilled when she became pregnant with Ethan. The celebration quickly turned to concern when doctors discovered Ethan had a serious heart defect and was missing a piece of his brain–likely indicative of a chromosome abnormality. Ethan was born on August 16, 2015 and spent his 93-minute life in his parents’ arms. Kristin is now a mother to five babies in heaven, including four of Ethan’s younger siblings who she has never met. Despite these struggles, Kristin has resolved to embrace the life she has been given and to leave a legacy for her family. Kristin works in communications by day, but can also be found running, camping, writing or having a conversation over a cup of coffee. She writes at www.sunlightindecember.com and is the cohost of the Through the Lens Podcast.
*Top photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash
Registration is open for the 11th annual OC Walk to Remember, a Forever Footprints event, sponsored by ViaSat Inc., on October 10, and the IE Walk to Remember, on October 24.
We encourage parents to invite their loved ones and friends to join them as they walk in remembrance of their child or children. The walk is preceded by a Memorial Ceremony, where each baby’s name is read in remembrance and celebration of each life. After the Walk, we have a Celebration of Angels where there is food, vendors, fellowship, and helpful information.
OC Walk to Remember Registration: Click Here
IE Walk to Remember Registration: Click Here