Do you feel as if you have a purpose? Most people find meaning in the many layers of life; raising children is a lifelong dedication, jobs fill our days with tasks and challenges, charity work makes us feel good about giving, but do you feel as if you are truly touching the lives of others? Are you helping make the world a better place?
I have contemplated this question for most of my adult life, and while parts of my world give me fulfillment, I don’t know if it is enough to call it “purpose”. As I move through life, I often meet other women that inspire me to reach for more and to continue my search for deeper meaning. I had the privilege of meeting with a woman that has dedicated her life to supporting families during one of the most difficult times parents can face. Jestine Garcia works in a birthing center where she provides support to parents that have lost a child.
She wakes to each day with the heavy realization that she is the guiding hand for parents that have had their world ripped apart. She is the saving grace to families that are facing a harsh reality, she is the strength when a grieving mother must rest, and she is the memory keeper patiently waiting, sometimes years, for parents to be ready to accept the few keepsakes of a child they did not get to bring home.
Jestine was kind enough to answer some questions about her position in the birthing center, and how her work has affected her path in life. Her humble grace is evident in her carefully chosen words, but it is the note of conviction and unmovable strength in her voice that hints at the profound fulfillment she receives from her work. This is what I imagine it must feel like to know you have found purpose. I think it is important to share the stories of women such as Jestine to celebrate her work as well as inspire other women to keep searching for that job that speaks to your soul.
How did you get started in this position?
A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. But…there is no word for a parent who loses a child, that’s how awful the loss is. One day I thought to myself as I watched a family grieving over the loss of their child, What more could I do to help these families? I went to Resolve Through Sharing training (Prenatal Infant Loss Bereavement) at the Gundersen Hospital in Wisconsin. At that time I knew this is where my ability to talk to anyone no matter what the situation was meant to be used. I started at Otsego Memorial Hospital In 2008, and moved to the Birthing Center in January 2013.
Describe the services you offer for parents that have experienced a loss.
I meet the families and explain to them what I will do to help them in their difficult time. Many parents have no idea what to think, how to think, or where to turn. Is how I’m feeling wrong? Should I hold me baby? They have so many questions, and that’s where I step in and help them make those tough choices. I contact funeral homes for them and arrange transportation. I work alongside some amazing funeral homes that are more than willing to help me in anyway possible. Even if it’s 3 a.m. when I am calling them, they always pick up the phone. I have some awesome friends, family and people that also donate things for the families. I couldn’t do it without their help for sure. Regardless of the baby’s gestation, you will walk out of my services knowing your baby was important. In addition, I also give the family:
- Hand and foot molds
- Foot and hand prints
- Bracelets/ key chains
- Blankets/ clothing for the child
- Memorial hearts
- Locks of hair
- Keepsakes for siblings
- Items for Grandparents
- Angel bears
- A variety of handouts for family to understand the different ways people grieve
- Coping tools to go back to work
- Help with handling the holidays
- Memorial services
Did you ever think you would have a career like this?
I never thought I would have been able to do this job. After I worked with the first family, I knew deep in my heart I had to do this for the families going through one of the most difficult times in their life. My job is so rewarding in so many ways and more than anything, it makes me a humble person. I treat the families as I would want to be treated in a time like this. Each family teaches me something new that I am able to carry forth and better myself within this position. I am blessed to have my families trust me during such a heart wrenching time. I always want my families to leave here knowing their baby and family will forever be in my heart. Moreover, those who seek to comfort grieving parents need to recognize and understand the complexities of the parents’ emotions and should avoid relying on preconceived ideas about the way a couple is supposed to grieve if their child dies. Reactions of grieving parents may seem overly intense, self-absorbed, contradictory, or even puzzling. For bereaved parents, the death of a child is such an overwhelming event that their responses may often be baffling not only to others but to themselves as well. But in 10 years they will forget my name and face. However, one thing I know is they will never forget the time they lost their baby, and I was there to help them through it.
Why do you suppose it is difficult for parents to discuss their loss? Do you think it is grief and heartache or a combination of emotions and stigmas?
It is said that the grief of bereaved parents is the most intense grief known. When a child dies, parents feel that a part of them has died, that a vital and core part of them has been ripped away. The grief caused by their child’s death is not only painful but profoundly disorienting because children are not supposed to die. These parents are forced to confront an extremely painful and stressful thing. They are faced with a situation in which they must deal both with the grief caused by their child’s death and with their need to continue to live their own lives as fully as possible. Thus, bereaved parents must deal with the contradictory burden of wanting to be free of this overwhelming pain yet, needing it as a reminder of the child who died.
I tell my families the death of a child is probably the most traumatic and devastating experience a couple can face. Although both mothers and fathers grieve deeply when such a tragedy occurs, they grieve differently, and it is most important that each partner give the other permission to grieve as he/she needs. This may be the greatest gift they can give each other.
Do you think it is important for parents to share their experience when they are ready? If so, why?
Absolutely share their experiences. Parental grief is overwhelming. There is nothing that can prepare a parent for its devastation. Parental grief never ends but only changes in intensity and manner of expression. Parental grief affects the head, the heart, and the spirit. For parents, the death of a child means coming to terms with untold emptiness and deep emotional hurt. Immediately after the death, some parents may even find it impossible to express grief at all as many experience a period of shock and numbness. Grieving parents need to know how important it is to express their pain to someone who will understand and acknowledge what they are feeling and saying. They should be honest with themselves and others about how they feel. These parents should allow themselves to cry, be angry, and complain. They need to admit they are overwhelmed, distracted, and unable to focus or concentrate. They may even need to admit to themselves and others that they might show physical and/or emotional symptoms that they don’t want or can’t even understand. Grieving mothers and fathers are bonded by a common sadness. A common experience that you have to share to truly understand.
Have your experiences provided you with more insight about the strength of the human spirit or the bond between mother and child?
Only a parent understands the powerful bond you have with your child; that absolute undying love you have and that monumental desire that roars like an open fire inside you to protect that child at all costs. It is often said that a parent will lay down their life for their child, but it is not until you have your own that you truly understand these fierce emotions. Parenting is wearing your heart on the outside of your body. Whatever you imagine it might be like to have your child die, multiply that by about a trillion and you’re probably not even close.
Has this job changed your outlook on life or how you live day to day?
Yes, in some ways it has. I always seem to hug my daughter way more then she needs to. Her name is Addie she is seven years old. She will say mom I know you love me and tells others, “My mom always hugs me.” Time is precious, and you are never guaranteed a minute.
Has it changed how you parent?
No, I don’t think I have changed as a mother. Addie knows what my job is and isn’t afraid to tell others about how I help families who have lost their baby. Addie has been to many funerals and doesn’t really say much about them. I talk to her about death and that babies go to heaven. I am not afraid to talk to Addie about real life things and what really happens in life.
Was there ever a time or a moment when you thought the job may be too much for you, emotionally?
I have NEVER thought that. Not once. I love my job and God blessed me with this amazing gift to be able to talk to families and help them during the worst time in their life. For that, I am so thankful.
What gives you strength to face such a difficult job?
The sincere thankfulness that these families have when they walk out of the birthing center with the small things I have done for them. Months later in the grocery store or out at an event and they come right over to me and give me a big hug. That is what gives me strength.
Is there anything in the medical community you would like to see change in order to provide better support to parents facing the loss of an infant?
I am trying to get a ER kit that would be able to go home with mothers and help them through this moment in their life when nothing makes sense and they don’t know what to do.
Have you learned anything surprising in your role?
Never judge how someone may grieve: crying, angry, silent, or laughing. Mostly judgement, I have learned a great deal about. Just treat others as you would want to be treated.
What is the most important thing you want parents experiencing loss to know?
Take time with your baby. Take as much time as you need to hold them, kiss them. Make memories with them. Read them their first book or give them their first bath. Ask questions about everything and anything. Always know someone will always be out there to help you through it. It’s a silent community, but it’s a huge community. Talk about it with friends and family.
What is the best advice you can give to people trying to offer comfort and support to loved ones that have experienced a loss?
- Do let them express their grief in their own way and listen. Of course there are always times when people would rather be alone.
- Do realize that their life has changed irrevocably.
- Distance isn’t good. If you can be with someone in those darkest of moments, be there. Your presence is a gift of love that sustains the aching heart, mind and soul.
- Do make a call. Even if your friend hasn’t the strength then and there to come to the phone and talk, the message comes back that you care and feel the pain and loss, too.
- Do send a note, an email or a card. What do you say? The truth is, there is nothing that can be said. Don’t be hard on yourself for not having words that don’t exist. But you can always say, “I’m so sorry.” You mean it, and that’s what matters.
Jestine’s job is one that many people probably couldn’t devote their lives to doing day after day. However, it is her role that offers hope in the most desperate time for parents, and it is a reminder that some of the hardest jobs are also the most rewarding. Human beings are not meant to be solitary. We need the comfort and support of one another especially when we find ourselves in the depths of despair.
I wanted to share Jestine’s story for those who may be looking for a ray of light in their darkest hour as well as for those wondering if they could give more. As you go through life and experience your own versions of loss and tragedy, remember that you are never alone. There is always someone willing to help and a community of support you may not even realize existed. When you find yourself healing from your grief, return the favor. Maybe it is sharing in our humanity that is the key to finding purpose. We crave the connection of others, of family and friends. It is what makes us feel alive and needed. When we give to others in a meaningful way, it replenishes our soul and provides a sense of peace like nothing else. Thank you to Jestine and all of the amazing people that spend their lives helping those in need.
If you would like to contact Jestine with questions or help you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jestine would also like to thank the MOPS group, RSVP in Gaylord, OMH birthing center Nurses and Doctors, and the families that have allowed her to work with them and the wisdom they have shared so she can better serve other families.