The club no one wants to join

By on October 19, 2016

Hundreds pay tribute to their Sweet Peas during touching ceremony in Lititz Springs Park

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As the sun set in pink and orange at Lititz Springs Park, tiny candles of light flickered in the stream.

As a guitar gently wept, the names were spoken softly.

Baby P, Westley, Kayla, Felix, Sephora, Violet, Grayson, Emma Grace, Sebastian, Willow, Rain, Sky, Claire, Lennon, Cohen, Triston, Mary … and many little Peanuts. There were 195 babies remembered in the Sweet Pea Project ceremony held in the park on Saturday at sundown.

There were more than 550 brokenhearted mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters of babies who died before birth, at birth or shortly after birth. The loved ones of the babies who never had a chance to grow up held daises in honor of their little ones.

“We chose daisies because they are the flowers of innocence. I think of daisies as the flowers of our sweet Madeline,” said Stephanie Paige Cole, one of the founding members of the Sweet Peas non-profit organization that supports families who have lost an infant at birth or shortly after.

Tears welled up in Cole’s eyes as she tells of how Madeline was the family’s first born in 2007. Her death at birth had no known cause. Cole and her husband Rich now have three energetic little boys, ages 8, 7 and 5. They are expecting their fifth child, a little girl.

But they will never forget Madeline. Her brothers clutched daisies and sat along the stream, remembering the sister they never knew.

So did many of the other children at the park, who had lost siblings that were older or younger than them.

Annabelle Gauthier, 8, was born after her brother Mark was stillborn in 2007, from a cord accident.

“It makes me feel good to remember my brother,” said his sister. She has an older sister who is 11.

As her mother Beth Gauthier relates, she met several other mothers and fathers in a support group through Share after the loss of her baby boy. That led to the founding of Sweet Pea Project.

Sweet Pea Project has four officers, with Stephanie Cole as president, Rich Cole as vice president, Gauthier as treasurer, and Nicole Jackson as secretary. They have been holding the memorial service for their lost loved ones every year for the past seven years, with the past two at Lititz Springs Park.

“When we had the memorial in the beginning, there were about 80 people there. Now there are more than 550,” said Jackson. “It’s bittersweet. You see all these people joining together, and you realize that they are here because they lost a baby.”

Jackson knows how that feels. In December of 2009, their son Max was stillborn at 39 weeks, with the cord wrapped around his neck. The family had two older children, Bella and Ava, who grieved the loss of their baby brother. Max has three more sisters, Sophia and twins Mia and Lily.

“Max was our only son, and we miss him every day,” says Jackson. “Especially today.”

For the parents who lost babies, perhaps in miscarriages, in still birth or within the first year, having other children never negates the loss of that precious child. Jackie Mast of Reading lost her son Sebastian in 2010 after doctors could not detect a heartbeat at 29 weeks due to a cord accident. Six months later, Mast was pregnant with her twin daughters, Sophia and Nora.

“They were our rainbows after the storm of losing Sebastian,” said Mast.

Elizabeth Bialas had also come from Reading to remember her son Alexander, who was stillborn three years ago. His two sisters stood along the stream, holding tiny bouquets of daisies.

Families who were touched by their loss joined together. Some wore T-shirts with their loved ones’ names on them. The family members of Emma Grace wore bright pink shirts in memory of the little girl who died on 7-22-14.

Betty and Mark Witmer each tucked a daisy behind one ear, remembering their grandchild who died early in pregnancy from a miscarriage. The baby was named Willow, because it was too early to know if the baby was a boy or a girl.

“One minute I was to be a grandmother, and then suddenly I didn’t have a grandchild,” Betty recalled.

Even sadder were the babies’ names from the same families, some who had suffered as many as five losses.

“This is a club that no one wants to belong to,” said Bobbi Carmitchell, who played the guitar as the babies’ names were read by Jackson. Carmitchell had written a song Madeline’s Lullaby for Cole’s baby.

To find out more about Sweet Pea Project, check the website at sweetpeaproject.org or the Sweet Pea Project page on Facebook.

Laura Knowles is a freelance feature writer and regular contributor to the Record Express. She can be reached at lknowles21@gmail.com.

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