Seeing Empty Arms grow and thrive nourishes my soul every day. When my baby Charlotte died in May of 2003, I was bereft and so alone. I sat in my home, surrounded by the walls that should have been celebrating the birth of a new life, and cried. Even when people came, I felt alone. Never would I have dreamed that 7 years after her birth, I would be happily parenting four living children and energetically working to build Empty Arms. I could never have imagined that at the same time, Charlotte was still an important and integral part of our lives.
At that time, I craved the presence of someone — it could have been anyone– who would either simply listen to me, and not feel compelled to try to make me feel better, or someone who actually understood the depth of my grief. It felt to me as if nobody on earth could possibly understand how truly unbearable this loss was for me. There I was, with possibly the strongest support system a woman could ask for – an intact, supportive, loving family of origin, a husband I could lean on, amazing friends who did cry with me – but still I felt lonely.
I needed a community to feel part of where mothering Charlotte wouldn’t make me different, or where having had her wasn’t a problem to fix. I knew I needed a place where she could be part of my life, where I could cry and feel sad about her, and also laugh at the ridiculous things people said to try to make me feel better. I wanted to dare to hope for happiness in the future without fearing that people would think I’d forgotten Charlotte.
It’s my hope and tentative belief that Empty Arms provides exactly these things. When I see a room full of people laughing together at a meeting (and we always laugh, don’t we?) it fills me with the deepest gratitude that our community has come together over what for most of us was our most difficult experience. In our meetings and social gatherings, there is no sense of having to abandon our past or separate ourselves from our grief in order to pursue happiness. We all walk forward together, one step at a time, knowing that there will be hard days, but hoping that there will also be joy. Joy never negates pain. But it sure does make it easier to manage the pain when there are moments of sunshine in between. Having a roomful of people, or even just one friend, who can listen to you and understand from their own perspective is immeasurably important.
Witnessing the joys that have followed losses are among my proudest moments. To know that people who have met one another in Empty Arms meetings and have formed true, lasting friendships is a gift to me. To be able to witness family after family brave a subsequent pregnancy and bring home a living baby is breathtaking. Over and over again, in different ways, families can and do rebuild. What confidence in the human spirit I am able to gain watching so many families and individuals reassemble their lives piece by piece. Now, after eight years, I am able to even watch some of the people who came to me in their darkest moments rise up and turn to help others.
I am honored and proud to be part of this organization. In the beginning, it felt like “my” organization, but now it feels like ours– the board, the community, the families. We are interconnected and all give in our own ways to make this community a lifeline for those who desperately need it, and for those who continue to rely on it years down the road.