MINOOKA – Under the fall leaves in Lions Park, more than 80 moms and dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins remembered their infant loved ones who left the world too soon.
While these babies did not have a chance to live a full life, they made their mark, as their death brought their loved ones to a group called The TEARS Foundation.
On Sept. 24, those who have grieved this type of loss came together to walk and remember their baby or babies at the annual The TEARS Foundation Rock and Walk Illinois 2017 at Lions Park.
Children colored and created wooden crafts, or ran through the cold water in the splash pad, while others visited their sibling’s butterfly memorial and hugged a parent tight as tears flowed down their face.
The foundation is a nonprofit organization that seeks to compassionately assist families after experiencing a pregnancy or infant loss. The TEARS Foundation’s mission is to lift the financial burden from families who have lost a baby by providing funds to assist with the cost of the burial or cremation services, according to the foundation mission statement.
The Rock and Walk event was dual purpose, to memorialize the babies who have passed and allow the families a place to grieve and be with other parents who have lost, and to raise funds for the foundation to help future families.
At 10:30 a.m., Dianna Umphress, The TEARS Foundation Illinois Chapter leader, stood in front of the group and explained why the foundation was created and its goals. Later, each name of a child sponsored was read and parents and families were asked to stand. A moment of silence was held, and afterward, the group made its way to the start line of the walk.
The top two fundraising teams led the pack and held the banner that said “HOPE.” The top two teams which raised the most funds were Team June which was the Morel family with a $1,030 donation in honor of their
daughter, June, and Team Renee which was the Umphress family who raised $1,000 in honor of their daughter, Renee.
The group walked down a path lined with paper butterflies in a rainbow of colors, some with inspirational sayings and some with the names of babies who were taken too soon written on the wings.
After the first lap, families gathered around their butterfly to take family photos as remembrance of the day.
Cathy Westhoff lost her baby, Robert, on March 1, 2012, after he was born at 35 weeks on Feb. 20, 2012, after Westhoff experienced placental abruption, a condition in which the placenta detaches from the uterine wall too early. On the day of his birth, Westhoff was rushed to the hospital for an emergency cesarean section and she and Robert lost half of their blood. Robert was revived and taken to Loyola University Medical Center for 10 days until his parents had to make the decision to take him off of life support because of no brain activity.
“It’s an indescribable realization that you have to make the choice to turn the machines off,” Westhoff said.
Although she did not know about The TEARS Foundation’s ability to help with funeral costs at the time of her son’s death, she said it would have helped to ease her pain because the last 24 hours of his life, after it was decided to shut off the machines, she said she spent that time trying to make arrangements and find a way to pay for the unexpected funeral costs.
“I was making phone calls to make arrangements and I felt as if I was not able to grieve because my attention was misplaced,” Westhoff said. “I would have rather spent his last 24 hours with him instead of at the funeral home and trying to figure out how to pay for it all.”
In order to help other parents like her, she began to volunteer and attend fundraisers for The TEARS Foundation.
Umphress said, so far in 2017, The TEARS Foundation of Illinois has helped eight families with funeral expenses. The organization helps families who have lost a child from 20 weeks gestation up to one year of age and the number it can help depends on successful fundraising.
It not only helps with burial or funeral costs, it offers peer-to-peer counseling where a grieving parent can call the national office and be matched with another family in the area to be each other’s support. The organization also hosts several events each year which allows families to create bonds.
“I’m a bereaved mother and I want to let people know that they are not alone,” Umphress said. “You go to the hospital and find out that you are not bringing your baby home, you are not prepared for that or to go buy a casket and pay for a funeral, you were just out buying a crib and clothes. The TEARS Foundation gives these parents one less thing to worry about.”
Umphress said that the Rock and Walk Illinois event brought in a little more than $5,000.
For information, email Umphress at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The TEARS Foundation 2017 events
Oct. 15 - Remembrance Day
Nov. 11- Holiday Craft and Vendor Show, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Minooka Community Building
Dec. 3 - Holiday gathering