One by one, the balloons joined an airborne procession above Clement Park as they floated toward the horizon. As each name was read aloud, a person in the crowd of about 1,000 released another balloon that rose and joined the rest.
More than 450 names were read Saturday at A Walk to Remember. Each balloon carried the name of an infant who died, either as a stillborn baby, from SIDS or from a life-shortening illness.
Some of the names consisted only of the last name of the parents preceded by “Baby,” the couple not having had the chance to pick a name before the infant died. Yet by attending A Walk to Remember, a memorial event in honor of children who die in infancy, these parents keep alive memories of the children they never had a chance to see grow up.
Walk to Remember has been sponsoring the annual event at Clement Park since 2008.
“When a child dies in infancy, you don’t just grieve the loss of that child. You grieve the loss of naivete. You never expect something like that can happen,” said Amy Lugowski, president of the Walk to Remember organization. “This event is a time for families to come together in comfort and support with other people who’ve lost a baby.”
Every one of the organization’s board members is a bereaved parent, Lugowski said, including herself. Her first two children, twin boys Aiden and Benjamin, died in 2007.
“I cannot explain what that loss is until you’ve experienced it yourself,” Lugowski said.
There is no getting back to normal for a parent when a child dies. It’s almost unimaginable for a parent to consider that she might outlive her child, Lugowski said.
The group provides bereavement packages to more than 30 hospitals in Colorado and Wyoming, and those can include everything from a teddy bear to mother-and-child matching jewelry. The goal is to help parents when the bond that has been developing for nine months is suddenly severed, Lugowski said. It allows parents to share something with a child they once expected to share everything with.
A ripple effect
The loss of an infant child has a ripple effect that alters every aspect of a parent’s life moving forward. Like many of the parents in the crowd Saturday, Lugowski said the friends she has now aren’t the ones she had when her son died.
The idea of moving on is often mentioned to grieving parents, said Chris Campbell, who came to A Walk to Remember from Thornton with his wife, Holli, to honor their first child, Luke, who died almost four years ago.
Parents are often given that advice, or told to have another child. But that comes from a lack of understanding, Campbell said.
“Looking at myself before this happened, I would have probably been one of the people telling a parent they needed to move on. But then it happens to you, and it’s not something you can just forget,” Campbell said. “It’s a lot easier to talk with people who’ve experienced it as well.”
Joy Guffey, who lost her daughter in 2000, said she internalized her pain. She dreaded going out in public for fear someone would ask how her baby was doing.
“It get’s easier. It’s the same, but it’s easier,” said Guffey, who drove with her daughter Sara from Glenwood Springs to honor the family member they lost. “Your heart doesn’t feel so broken.”
Holli Campbell said knowing that so many others are dealing with the same loss makes the pain more bearable. It’s a club you’d never want anyone to be part of, but you’re glad to have others to share the pain with, she said.
“It’s important we all know there is a community of support,” Holli Campbell said. “You move through the pain, but you never get over it.”
Contact Ramsey Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.