Lifting Hearts: Raising hope through support for grieving parents

Lifting Hearts: Raising hope through support for grieving parents

Image Credit: Submitted

Parents who are expecting to give birth or have just given birth to a beautiful infant are expecting to enjoy all the love and challenges that accompany such a highly anticipated experience, but what happens when that joy turns to tragedy at the unexpected passing of an infant?

The grief of loss is overwhelming, and it takes time to move past those feelings of dread and despair.

Lifting Hearts, the bereavement program and support group for Pomerene Hospital, was created to walk with parents as they work toward overcoming the pain that accompanies such a devastating loss.

Lifting Hearts addresses the needs of family members who have experienced early pregnancy loss, stillbirth or newborn death, walking with families as they grieve.

According to Toni Mishler, director of Lifting Hearts, families who experience loss like this don’t have to walk alone. Mishler said providing caring, supportive companionship and direction can help couples and families learn to move past the initial shock and agony of the crisis and re-establish their lives without their babies.

Pomerene wanted to create a way to minister to those families, and they felt Mishler, who is also an OB nurse at Pomerene, would be the ideal candidate to lead the program.

About one year prior to the bereavement program’s start, Mishler had invested time in trying to find ways to improve families suffering from the loss of an infant on her own.

“It’s something I have always been passionate about, and I was excited to be able to take some big steps toward really committing to making the program special,” said Mishler, who went to Charlotte, North Carolina to receive training in prenatal loss and how to take parents through the steps of recovery.

Lifting Hearts provides a trained bereavement counselor who works closely with each family throughout the important moments following the loss of a child, offering positive choices and helping families feel like they can regain control of their lives that seem to be swinging wildly out of control.

Mishler said each counselor serves as an emotional support for the family. Modeled after the Resolve Through Sharing bereavement program, Lifting Hearts remains in contact with the family up to one year following the loss or for as long as the family needs their support.

When choosing to name the program, Mishler and several other nurses landed on Lifting Hearts because their goal was to lift the spirits of parents through the devastation.

Mishler’s compassion comes from her heart, and she understands what parents are going through because years earlier she and her husband lost a prenatal child at 17 weeks. She said one day it was fine, and the next there was no heartbeat.

“It was crushing,” Mishler said. “Back then they kind of encouraged couples to brush it under the rug and act like it was nothing, but it was everything to us. I did that and was devastated for a long time, wondering why I was still in so much pain. We weren’t allowed to grieve and share my feelings.”

Now through programs like Lifting Hearts, parents and their children are encouraged to share whatever feeling they might be experiencing.

“That was the loss of a baby, a child,” Mishler said. “It was the loss of a future life, and it is devastating, and the parents are going through very unique needs. We are here to validate the life of their child and to help them deal with their feelings while giving them comfort and understanding through counseling. We respect them as parents, even if they don’t have any living children.”

Living Hearts care begins in the hospital immediately after the loss, and Mishler said they understand every parent, couple and child deals with the loss in different ways. She said counseling and meetings are filled with grief and sadness but also joy and laughter as families learn to cope and heal.

“It’s important for families to realize that they aren’t alone in their loss and they aren’t crazy for feeling the pain of loss,” Mishler said. “It’s really about offering hope.”

A photographer on the side, Mishler has invested heavily in providing families with an opportunity to have themselves photographed with their child. She said while some people might find that strange or morbid, to the parents it is special.

“This is going to be one of the only lasting physical memories a couple has with their child,” Mishler said. “People who haven’t been through the process of losing a newborn may not understand it, but once they see the photos and how beautiful and powerful they are, they tend to get the meaning.”

In addition, Pomerene offers a support group setting for families who have lost an infant or unborn child. The support group meets the third Tuesday of every month from 7-9 p.m. at the Amish House south of Pomerene Hospital. It is free and available to anyone going through the grieving process of losing an infant. It also has created a memory garden and a highly attended walk and butterfly release to help the healing process and to raise both funds and awareness.

Anyone wishing to donate to Lifting Hearts may do so by calling or emailing Mishler at 330-231-8530 or tonim@pomerenehospital.org. Checks may be made to Pomerene Health Foundation, Attn: Lifting Hearts, 981 Wooster Road, Millersburg, OH 44654.