Life can take its toll. Many of us are bombarded at work with deadlines, achievements and goals to supersede. Sometimes we make it. Sometimes we don't. Maybe a lot of times we don't. On top of that, we've got a house to pay for and maintain, maybe mouths to feed (human and/or the furry kind), and we're supposed to eat healthy, exercise, and have a social life and spiritual life. How does one manage it all? Then like a huge unsuspecting tidal wave, you are hit with devastating news. The loss of a dear loved one, or met with a serious illness. Loss of a job, a house. When life doesn't happen they way we planned. Disappointment, frustration or anger are just a few of the many emotions one can face and are forced to sweep under the rug at times in order to keep up with the rest of our lives. This was us for the last 5 years.
This year, we were met early with a miscarriage and later the loss of Geoff's dad. We felt like we were just trying to keep our heads above water. Trying to move forward in life, but kept getting pulled down. But every day we keep putting one foot in front of the other because the bills still need to be paid and we have mouths to feed. But, someone noticed. Someone could sense that we needed something that we didn't even really realize that we needed it. The gift of rest.
A few weeks later, we find ourselves on our way to the Red Bench Retreat Center in Weimar, CA. Just Geoff and I. We exited off the freeway and found ourselves surrounded in a canopy of fall colors, and were met with the melody of nature's quiet song. A beautiful home welcomed us in and it was there we found rest. Literally, rest. Both nights there we were in bed and asleep between 8:30 and 9pm and slept until after 7:30am the next morning. We woke up and fell back asleep to only wake up closer to 9am. All cozy under our down comforter and with no James around to wake us early from our slumber or schedules to follow it was easy to fall back asleep. Neither Geoff nor I could remember when the last time we were able to sleep in past 8am. This was truly a gift.
We spent the morning enjoying not only a delicious breakfast but also heart warming company of the owners, JB and Kendra Branderhorst. We instantly experienced the love they have for people and connected on our mutual desire and calling to serve, provide comfort and share God's love with others. They wanted to hear our story and shared with us parts of theirs. I'm sure we could have sat around the dining table all day and would have enjoyed sharing and listening to each others life experiences. True to their calling, they were off to serve dinner to another group. Always serving others.
Geoff and I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring. We took a mini hike on the trails, came back and enjoyed some fun competition on the putting green. I'd just like to add that I, Toni, was the only one that got a hole in one. Unfortunately, I don't have any video or photos to prove it. We didn't want to over exert ourselves and had we more time, would have definitely enjoyed all the amenities including a sand volleyball court, tennis and basketball courts, a pool and hot tub. We decided to instead, REST. Relaxing by the fire and purposefully choosing not to watch tv, movies or Netflix. We RESTED. We breathed. We laughed. And it was so nice to allow ourselves this gift. Honestly, I don't think we would have taken the time to do so on our own had this opportunity not been given to us. But, we've learned that rest is absolutely needed. Taking a break and stepping away from our daily lives is healthy for us. It refreshes us, rejuvenates us and can reset us. Yes, those same stressors still wait for us back at home and at work but after a little time away, we breathe a little easier and facing those stressors doesn't seem as daunting as they once were.
We are so thankful for how God is using JB and Kendra to use their home to bless others. Its a perfect getaway for individuals and couples. Great for day retreats for church groups or staff meetings. Red Bench Retreat offers a lot for resting, relaxation, creativity, and brainstorming. The surrounding nature itself reflects the awe of God. I'm not sure what else I would have needed to remind me that there is a God much bigger than I can imagine who cares so deeply about us and every detail of our lives.
If you are in need of some quiet space to find your breath again, to be in awe of God's beauty and feel his love through JB and Kendra, Red Bench Retreat is worth looking into. We highly recommend it. We will definitely be back. Sooner than later.
I learned that our experience with loss is unique to each of us and our families, but that we can all teach each other something no matter if our loss was recent or not.
I was asked again to be the MC for the Annual Sharing Parents October Memorial Event. It was really special for me to be able to do this as it is Olivia's 5th Birthday this year. The event was beautiful as always and an amazing way to be able to celebrate her as a family.
Just a month prior to the memorial I was observing a 4 week series through Sharing Parents called Navigating Grief. I was doing this so that I could become a facilitator. What I realized through this series process was that I really have a heart for wanting to see parents through a small all-be-it important part of their grief journey. I learned that our experience with loss is unique to each of us and our families, but that we can all teach each other something no matter if our loss was recent or not. I was encouraged by what those attending taught me as well as what I may or may not have taught them from my sharing... I met amazing couples in the 4 week span. As an observer I spoke up more than I probably should of, I even had an opportunity one week to co-facilitate as one of the facilitators were out. I listened to my heart and I encouraged where I felt prompted to. I made sure that they each felt important, protected and cared for.
When deciding how I was going to open the Annual Memorial, I knew right away that I wanted to honor the parents of the Navigating Grief Group that I had just met. What I observed was beautiful, each couple was supportive for each other and their grief. Their intentions and actions towards one another were positive and encouraging. They came as healthy couples but they left with an even better understanding as to how their partners are grieving currently and what it is that they need to feel supported. I want this for all other families and so I choose to continue to share my grief journey with others...
Opening Comments Audio (Click on the link below to listen) (3min, 33sec)
Last week, we made a trip to downtown Sacramento to Sutter Medical Center where we delivered the comfort kits we made at Olivia's birthday event. We delivered 16 comfort kits to High Risk Maternity along with 12 copies of the book "We Were Gonna Have a Baby but Got an Angel Instead" by Pat Schweibert. We have 12 copies of "Invisible String" by Patrice Karst pre-ordered as a paperback version will be released on October 30th and we will deliver those once they arrive.
It was a pleasure and honor to deliver these comfort kits. Thank you to Lisa Norrgard, NICU Childlife Specialist, for connecting us with High Risk Maternity. Also to Larissa Nohel, RNC from High Risk Maternity for helping us coordinate the items needed and the donation to HRM. We look forward to work with both of them to see how we can continue supporting families. We learned that HRM had approximately 70 losses by August. That's an estimate of roughly 1-2 losses per week just in HRM alone. That doesn't count losses in Labor and Delivery, and in NICU. We feel that there is a definite need for continued support at Sutter Medical Center.
Thank you to our family and friends for help in putting together the comfort kits.
Every year on October 15th, it is International Wave of Light. An event where participants light a candle at 7pm their local time to create the effect of a wave of light across the world in memory of the babies who have died. This year, we lit our candles in memory of our three babies. One for our daughter Olivia Hope born and died in 2013. A second for our baby lost at 7 weeks gestation in 2014. And a third for our baby lost at 9 weeks gestation earlier this year in March. Ironically as I write this, it came to mind that this would have been my 40th week and would have soon been delivering our baby. Our due date was October 25th. The same day back in 1988, President Ronald Reagan declared October Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. President Ronald Reagan is more familiar with child loss than I first realized. He lost his second daughter, Christine, a day after she was born in 1947. I'm sure he didn't just do this for the many families suffering from loss but also for his own family and himself.
This was meant to provide information and resources for families who experienced pregnancy and infant loss including miscarriages, stillbirths, neonatal death, SIDS and other causes. This was a time to remember those lives lost and participate in community events to honor them and their families who miss them. To bring light to the effects of loss on not just the mother but the family and friends surrounding her. An opportunity for all to gather and bring healing, hope and comfort.
"When a child loses his parent, they are called an orphan. When a spouse loses her or his partner, they are called a widow or widower. When parents lose their child, there isn’t a word to describe them. This month recognizes the loss so many parents experience across the United States and around the world. It is also meant to inform and provide resources for parents who have lost children due to miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, stillbirths, birth defects, SIDS, and other causes.
Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim the month of October as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.”
October 25, 1988. President Ronald Reagan.
It's been a few days since we celebrated Olivia's 5th birthday. We are grateful for the support and love we have received after the event both locally and those far away. We were able to stream live via Facebook to my (Toni's) family at home in Canada and in the Philippines. We are so glad for the technology today to connect us across the world. Thank you to our family both near and far for joining us on Olivia's special day.
For those who were not able to attend or tune in, we started the evening by doing two things. We first honored babies gone too soon by writing there names on small paper hearts embedded with flower seeds. These will be spread in a very special location where the paper hearts will biodegrade and flowers will start to bloom. Together, we have over 1000 babies names remembered. It was great to give our family and friends the opportunity to experience the significance in writing their names. These babies lived. These babies were real. These babies are loved. And they will be remembered. Their lives are not forgotten, and their lives continue to foster love in the hearts of their families that miss them. We look forward to sharing with you in the spring, the release of these hearts.
We then created comfort kits for families experiencing loss. These kits will be donated to High Risk Maternity at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, CA. We are pleased to partner with Sutter Medical Center as most of the staff that were present with us during Olivia's delivery and NICU stay are now at this location. The hospital where Olivia was born has since closed and this new hospital was built. We are excited to give back to Sutter as all of the staff involved with Olivia's care are very dear to us. We know that High Risk Maternity needs more resources to support families who've lost a baby. We are excited to be able to give back to them in this way. We were able to create 16 comfort kits. Each kit contains a book called Navigating the Unknown: An Immediate Guide When Experiencing the Loss of Your Baby by Amie Lands. We've also included a journal and pen, homemade aromatherapy candle, tissues, tea and a personalized card from the families that put them together. We also raised some extra money which will go towards purchasing a couple of more books to help siblings cope with the loss of their sibling. We can't wait to be able to hand deliver these kits and resources. We will update you and post some pics of that day once we finalize a delivery day.
We were then able to share in more detail about Olivia's story and about how God is moving in our lives to make a difference in the loss community. We feel led to help others who are grieving. We believe that God has called us to walk alongside and love those in their deepest valley. To provide a listening ear, to provide a presence of comfort. To love and hold the sacred space that is unique to each griever.
Over the last year we have come upon opportunities for us to become educated and equipped to do just that. Geoff and I have both become certified Grief Recovery Specialists. Geoff completed his training in December of 2017 and I completed my training in March of 2018. Also this year, I completed my training to become a certified birth and bereavement doula through Still Birthday. This was training to provide support to expectant mothers and fathers prior to, during and after delivery. Supporting birth in any trimester and in any circumstance. I took this training because it had a heavy emphasis on how to support families in the event the baby dies or is anticipated to not survive at anytime including in the first trimester through to full term. To support them and provide options during the entire process of birth and after. Our desire is to offer support to families with no charge to them and to share with couples the Grief Recovery Method for little to no cost.
We haven chosen to call our organization, Our Little Sparrows. Sparrows is significant and meaningful to us as when I was pregnant with Olivia, I was reminded again of how God takes care of the sparrows. How much more would he take care of our Olivia. We've since had two more miscarriages and also call them our sparrows. It was even more to our amazement when a few years ago, on Olivia's first birthday, we found out that our last name, "Brabec" is Czech for sparrow. So through Our Little Sparrows, we will offer free doula services and Grief Recovery for families experiencing or anticipating loss.
We were able to share our vision and mission with our family and friends. A big thanks to Uncle Mark Hull for helping guide our story.
We are so thankful for everyone who was able to attend. We received so much encouragement and support. We are so grateful to have received some donations already. We received a total of $1175 towards our organization. $200 of that will go towards supplying Sutter Medical Center with two more books to help support grieving families. The remaining funds will go towards our start up costs- applying for 501(c)3 status, new printer and office supplies. $50 will be used towards the comfort kits and supplies. We also received an additional $200 donation towards the Nievares Family Ministries in the Philippines. On behalf of my family, we are so thankful. This donation will go towards the Olivia Hope scholars at the Sublangon Christian Faith Development Center.
For those who would like to partner with us and donate towards our organization, you may donate online here to our fundraising page at GiveInKind.com.
To see full video and photos of Olivia's birthday event, please go to our website here and you can view it there.
In the next days to come, Geoff and I are continuing to work towards establishing 501(C)3 status as well as working to strengthen our existing relationships and establish new ones to better support families. Our next event is on October 20th with the NICU Family Alliance Symposium in which Geoff and I are guests on the discussion panel. We will be discussing bereavement as NICU parents and also the effects on mental health and PTSD after a traumatic delivery. Please pray for us as we share our story and help bring awareness to the effects and trauma of infant loss.
Geoff and toni Brabec
Here is where you can read up on the latest with the Brabecs- Event Experiences, Our Thoughts, Book Reviews, What Is On Our Hearts & Wherever Our Journey Is Taking Us.