IN THE SPIRIT: Baby Mine offers faith, love dreams to grieving

Naomi Dunavan, Grand Forks Herald · Published 03/21/2009

“Loved with a love beyond telling, missed with a grief beyond all tears.”

When I Google these words, I see that the author is unknown. But in those words, I hear the voice of a deeply saddened heart and a wounded soul — perhaps over the death of a child.

How many times have we heard, “Children should not die before their parents?”

We all know that happens, however, and only God knows why.

Kathy Barker, Grand Forks, learned two years ago of several seriously ill youngsters in the community. Kathy recalls “a rash of sick children and a rash of deaths.”

Kathy, a mother who has not lost a child, profoundly feels for those who have. After learning of the deaths of several children in fall 2007, Kathy’s feelings birthed actions.

“Oh goodness,” she said. “I got the calling (from God) that there was a need. It was very spiritual. I felt the wind at my back.”

What Kathy did was put together a one-day “Baby Mine” retreat for bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings at her church, Calvary Lutheran. She had no trouble getting volunteers to help.

“It’s an idea that came to me, and we pursued it,” Kathy said. “It was wonderful because the people who got involved seemed called to be a part of it.”

Five families attended the first retreat in February 2008. Another one is set for March 28, also at Calvary, 1405 S. Ninth St. Some who attended last year’s retreat will serve as hosts.

The mission of Baby Mine, Kathy said, is to preserve the wonderful memories captured in the moments of the deceased child’s life, “whether it was a few or many.”

“In capturing those moments, a book of blessings is created to celebrate the life of the loved one lost,” she said. “We have to help in the grieving process, but more importantly, we have to help celebrate the life that was created by God and offer the opportunity for people to talk about that child’s life rather than just the tragic ending. It can be healing to talk about it.”

Funds supplied by the Calvary Foundation allow the retreat to be offered free to participants. “We just ask for people to preregister so we can plan,” Kathy said. You can e-mail her at kathy- kbarker@yahoo.com or call (701) 739-5101.

Here’s the day’s schedule: 8:30 a.m., check-in; 9 a.m., devotional in Holy Grounds Coffee House; 9:15 a.m., workshop in the Fellowship Hall; noon, lunch; 1:30 p.m., daddy time; and 4 p.m., closing and prayer.

Kathy’s passion for the retreat stems from her experience with scrapbooking, which she does to preserve memories for her family. She feels it’s a wonderful way for families to honor the beloved child they can no longer hold on their laps.

“A parent losing a child is the most devastating thought,” Kathy said. “When you put things into perspective, spiritually, as far as God giving His only Son, what kind of a sacrifice is that? Our children are a gift.”

When a woman has a child, she said, it’s not only hers and the father’s, but the child of each family member. “And ultimately,” she added, “it’s God’s child.”

Retreat registrants will be asked to bring a dozen photos of each child and to use the gifts of faith, love, dreams, courage, unity, joy and thankfulness to stir memories that can be put in the Blessings to Cherish scrapbook.

Kim and Kathleen Pedersen, Grand Forks, attended last year’s retreat. Their daughter, Nora, died May 15, 2006, of SIDS, just 10 days before her first birthday.

“Nora was the light of our lives and continues to be,” Kathleen said. “She is with us everywhere. The retreat was an incredibly healing experience for us. We were able to sit as a couple as well as with our oldest daughter and reminisce about the memories we have of Nora. The result was a beautiful keepsake in the form of a scrapbook that we will always hold near and dear to our hearts.”

Nancy and Joe Greenwood, Grand Forks, lost a daughter to leukemia. Josie was 3 when she died the day after Easter two years ago. Her passing was 13 days after her diagnosis.

“She’s our angel,” said Nancy, who attended the retreat with her mother, Bonnie Vasichek, Michigan, N.D., and Jordyn, Josie’s big sister.

At first, Nancy wasn’t sure about the retreat. “Part of me didn’t want to go,” she said, “but I was so thankful I went. It was very helpful. It made us deal with it. We looked at pictures, which is a happy thing. Other people understood. No one was there to pity us. We were all there for the same reason — to show off our little angels. It was a day of completely honoring Josie.”

Joe hasn’t done some of the more outward healing things that Nancy has done. “I prefer to do more visual, artistic work, songwriting, photography, creative writing,” he said.

Josie’s death shook her father’s faith. “It’s still changing me,” he added. “It made me doubt, it made me angry, but also it strengthened my faith. Ultimately, it’s made me look deeper. I have this visual in my mind. Previously, my faith was like thin ice. Now, it feels like the lake is frozen 30 feet down.”

That the strength Joe needs every time he sits down with his family at the dinner table and realizes, “There’s still somebody missing.”

Dunavan is a Herald columnist. Reach her at (218) 773-9521 or naomiinthespirit@aol.com.