Some people only dream of angels, we held one in our arms.
On January 22, 1998, our family welcomed a beautiful baby girl, Alexandria Nicole Daly, into the world. As with all births, this changed our lives irrevocably. Unlike most other births, we had to say good-bye as our daughter’s earthly life was only beginning.
She died in my arms just shy of a week after her birth. This, too, profoundly changed our lives. Returning home from the hospital with empty arms and heavy hearts, our new normal began. I was not prepared for the intense grief I would face in the following months. I longed for our daughter. I was also unprepared for the isolation I would experience.
I attended support groups where I shared my story in the presence of moms like me. This was very healing. As time passed, the intense feelings were replaced by a quiet longing. It was time to help other parents. I was invited to join a family-centered care program called Family as Faculty at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis. As a pioneer member of this program, I shared my story about Alexandria with hospital staff, medical residents, and nursing students to help them look at the experience through the lens of the parent.
I was unprepared for the gift this provided me: continued healing through sharing my story. My family has practiced rituals that have given me comfort through the years: releasing pink balloons with notes attached to Alexandria on her birthday and decorating a small Christmas tree in her memory.
This experience led me to return to school. I earned my masters degree in social work in 2006 from Indiana University School of Social Work. I currently work as a medical social worker at St. Vincent Carmel Hospital in Carmel, Indiana, and as a bereavement counselor at St. Vincent Hospice in Indianapolis.
I received a sympathy card in the days following Alexandria’s death. It sums up my feelings regarding the healing and grace that have transpired. The card simply says, Eventually Peace.
My experience in making meaning of the death of my daughter mirrors the goal of bereavement intervention, as outlined in research. As Capitulo (2007) notes, professionals can facilitate healing with bereaved families by validating grief, facilitating rituals, providing mementos, and letting the bereaved tell their stories.
Particularly helpful for parents is the use of ritual. Rituals provide the opportunity to create meaning. Intervention is best done by gently guiding parents to allow the experience to be meaningful for them (Kobler, Limbo, & Kavanaugh, 2007). In a society that largely ignores perinatal and neonatal death and the families’ subsequent grief, it is a gift for caregivers to help parents to acknowledge their loss and fully express their emotions.
A person’s a person, no matter how small. ~Dr. Seuss
Amy Daly 2010