GREENVILLE, S.C. – A physical therapy assistant at Greenville Memorial Hospital is on a mission to bring comfort to children grieving the tragic loss of their infant siblings after watching her own young son grieve the loss of his stillborn brother one year ago.
When Codie Sheppard experienced the stillbirth of son Elias Lewis on Dec. 19, 2017, her then 6-year-old son, Jude, was heartbroken because he had wanted a baby brother. Leaving the hospital with empty arms, Sheppard, her husband and Jude decided they wanted to give back to families walking in their shoes. When asked what would have helped him the most, Jude said “a blanket from Elias.” That’s how “A Hug from Heaven” was born.
“Our biggest goal is ensuring these siblings know they are not alone in their hurt. My husband and I were not the only one grieving the loss of our precious Elias Lewis, so it was important to us as parents to Jude that he have a way to honor his brother’s memory and find a way to help others heal, too,” said Sheppard. “We get these special blankets through the generous donations of others and have them specially embroidered with the message, ‘Wrapped up in love from my baby brother (or baby sister).’” The baby’s name can also be included.
When former stroke patient and current West End Co-op volunteer Ken Hines learned of the Sheppard’s idea, he jumped in to help. He lost an infant daughter of his own in 1988 named Mallory. His three-year-old son, Michael, couldn’t comprehend why his sister was not coming home.
“My wife asked me before she was discharged, ’What do we do now?’ I told her we would thank God for Mallory, and we will do everything we can to make much of her short 30 minute life,” said Hines. “The blankets project fills this mission for me, as it is a way for me to extend warmth to a family who felt as we did.”
Hines spends his Mondays volunteering at Roger C Peace (RCP) Rehabilitation Hospital’s West End Co-op – and, since November, embroidering the special messages of hope and love on to each blanket for Jude and Codie to give to the families.
The co-op, which Hines first experienced while he recovered from a stroke last year, is a “real-world” workshop embedded in a traditional rehab facility (RCP). The co-op provides opportunities for people with acquired brain injuries to maximize their residual skills and social, work and leisure activities in an authentic setting. These occupation-based activities bridge the gap between the therapy office and real-life settings by supporting transference of skills learned in therapy sessions. The community-based rehab program works with more than 200 patients a year.
Since the outreach was started nearly one year ago, the Sheppard family, friends and now volunteers with the co-op have made and distributed nearly 100 blankets.
“We originally had no idea how the blankets would get done,” said Mrs. Sheppard. “I made a post on Facebook, and two wonderful friends stepped right up and offered to help. This project would have never gotten off the ground if not for them. I will never be able to thank them each enough. And now we have the additional help from GHS. It’s all such a blessing.”
Miscarriage affects one in four women in the U.S., while stillbirths occur in one out of every 115 births, said the Rev. Amber Blackwell, a chaplain at Greenville Memorial who helped revamp GHS’ infant-loss bereavement care program.
The bereavement care team places strong emphasis on helping families face the loss of their child through special keepsakes and memories. Mothers and fathers receive a memory box filled with hand prints, foot prints, pictures and keepsakes such as hand and foot molds. Mothers also receive a bereavement bear, not to replace her baby, but to hold as she leaves the hospital so she doesn’t go home with empty arms.
“Adults often forget that children grieve, too, and we’ve always wanted to do so much more for them,” said Blackwell. “Fortunately, we have expanded our bereavement support, and, now, we have dedicated support for those siblings.”
“The wonderful Hug from Heaven outreach ensures the total family is wrapped in care – most especially siblings,” she said.