Mothers will tell you, losing a child is the most painful grief a human being can experience.
Miscarriage, stillbirth, sudden infant death syndrome, fatal illness, the reason doesn’t matter, because the hurt is still the same.
“It’s the loss of dreams an what could have been,” said Catha Ashepak, founder of the Walking Through Infant Loss support group. “Once you get that positive pregnancy test, you start dreaming for your child, and to have that taken away is really hard.”
“It’s a hole in your heart that you can mend, but you can never fill,” Catha said.
Catha lost her son Austin 26 weeks into the pregnancy.
“It’s not something you ever get over,” Catha said. “Mine was 23 years ago, almost 24, and I still mourn the loss of my baby many, many years later.”
Catha recounted her pastor’s words at Austin’s funeral all those years ago.
“Things happen to us so that we can help others in the future with the things that we went through,” Catha said.
Over the last two decades, she has always been open about her tragedy, in order to comfort women in her church family who experienced something similar.
Walking Through Infant Loss is an expansion of that same desire, to ensure that Austin’s life and untimely death had meaning.
“It is a safe place for people to come together with others who have experienced the same things in life, to know they can be vulnerable and open up,” Catha said. “It’s okay to come and cry, or laugh, and let the story of your loss be known.”
Last Tuesday night, group member Jessie Munana brought Christmas ornament crafts that the group could make to focus their hands and minds while talking.
Each craft was a coloring page of a swaddled infant, some with halos and wings, some held in the arms of Jesus, and all with space to for a name, birthday or message of hope.
As the women colored, they shared their stories.
Jessie lost her son Isaac four years ago, for the same rare medical reason Catha’s son passed away.
“Your child is always your child. That loss is always with you. It’s a part of who you are forever,” Jessie said.
It’s not all sad.
Catha and Jessie also share stories about their lives now, and all the mischief their living children get up to.
There is no agenda, discussion questions or mandatory prayers.
“Everybody is on their own walk, and each month the group will be whatever the people who come need it to be,” Catha said.
“Everybody grieves in a different way,” Jessie said. “Some people find healing in being more vocal. Some people keep it held in and keep their thoughts to themselves. Some people find other ways to heal. But for me, talking about it has been monumental.”
For women still uneasy about stepping in the door, Jessie said, “finding that community can be very important for your healing. Grief doesn’t have to be processed alone.”
While faith may play a personal role in the stories of many of the women in the group, it is not a requirement to come and feel loved.
“If this group can help other women who have experienced loss, just to know you’re not alone, to me, that connection is everything,” Jessie said. “It’s a weird club to be in, but we’re in it.”
“Society has put a time limit on grief, especially for miscarriage or still birth, and there is just not a time limit you can put on something like that,” Catha said. “They did exist. They were part of our lives and our stories, and they deserve to be known too.”
Walking Through Infant Loss meets at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of every month at Compassion Women’s Center in Claremore, 104 S Missouri Ave., Suite 102.