Heavy hearts in hand. Showing love for bereaved parents

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska The loss of a child can be painful and sometimes hard to talk about but the Foundation Health Partners at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital have adopted a new gift for families to take home when leaving the hospital.

Becky Zaverl has volunteered to coordinate the event and she is also a board member for the Foundation Health Partners at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital.

She spoke about the heart break that families go through when they lose a child. Zaverl said the bereavement program at the hospital is always trying to find ways to better serve the Fairbanks area.
The newest addition to the program being a weighted heart that is given to families that weighs the exact weight of the baby when it is born.

"They can always remember how much their baby weighed, and it's just something that they can just leave this hospital with in their arms," said Zaverl.

She spoke about her past experiences, saying that she has a personal connection to this program. She remembers being in the labor and delivery room, remembers knowing that this is a place where people leave there with babies. She went on to say she knows how it feels walking out with nothing in your arms, the weighted heart is something tangible for families to hold and go home with.

"So this weighted heart, is just a great way that we can give something back to those moms that are feeling those losses, and those dad's and families. And they have something to take home," she said.

Veronica Burnham flew up from Arizona to be a part of this event. She said the idea came from overwhelming desire to help those who have gone through these experiences. She asked herself "what can I do to help?" That's when she took matters in her own hands and came up with the weighted heart design to share with others. She had heard that other organizations had implemented the hearts but have since been discontinued, so she developed a pattern and brought it to Fairbanks.

"If I make a pattern, you know I can continue to make hearts, but I can't reach as many people as I want to, so if I make a pattern and give it to the community so they can make hearts, family members can support grieving loved ones by making hearts and reaching that grief barrier and that awkwardness of not knowing how to help them that was a way that they could connect," said Burnham.

She wanted to make sure that the hospital had enough so that if a loss occurs, the labor and delivery nurses could give those moms a heart to hold in their hands and when they walk out of the hospital they would have their hands full of something.

One heart has already been given to one mother. She said she went to bed with the heart on her chest every night and just the weight of it alone helped soothe and calm her.

"You know, whether it was just in the womb. Or a couple minutes, or hours after birth, or maybe those babies were born healthy like, those babies are a part of their lives, they're a part of their hearts. They're a part of families," said Burnham.

In Fairbanks, the hospital experiences about 20-25 babies that are stillborn or die right at birth per year.

Burnham said a weighted heart will never be a replacement for a baby but this is just another way to give families who need extra support, a gift to go home with. She also said, it is a great way to break the stigma of child death and be open to talk about it, without causing further harm. The weighted heart is a way for loved ones to reach out and show those who have lost that they are loved and supported.