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Inspiring Conversations with Julie Card of Share Parents of Utah

Today we’d like to introduce you to Julie Card.

Hi Julie, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
Nineteen years ago this month my life changed. Anxiously waiting for the arrival of our second child, life pulled the rug out from my husband at the time and myself and instead we found ourselves making the decision to remove life support from our son, Isaac.

When I was discharged from the hospital, I received a little purple box with a few mementos in it along with some bereavement materials. I guess if you can’t leave the hospital with your child, a little purple box is the best you get. I devoured the bereavement resources which lead me to a support meeting facilitated by Share Parents of Utah. At that time, pre social media, the only interaction I had with other loss families was once a month around a conference room table at a local hospital. Those meetings were life savers for me. I basically functioned as a hot mess during most of the month and a crying hot mess at a support group.

I think it’s human nature to find purpose in our struggles- regardless of the origin and I was no different. For years I would make copies of the handouts I received from support meetings and bring them to neighbors after I was informed of a pregnancy loss. I guess I was a self-ordained grief missionary. Five years ago, I found myself in the right time and season to formally serve with Share Parents of Utah.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Everyone wants to volunteer for the book fair. It is a much tougher sell to ask someone who has lost a child to go back into a setting- whether that’s a hospital, support meeting or one-on-one visit- and serve another family who has just gone through a loss. I can tell you unequivocally that every one of our volunteers has found healing by serving. Our by-laws state that someone has to be 18 months out from their loss to start Hospital Companioning (which is where we go to a hospital, mortuary, home, or birthing center right after baby has passed) but something we’ve found so beneficial is giving a loss parent a variety of opportunities regardless of how long ago their loss was. I really believe it’s important to carve out space for any parent who wants to honor by serving because I know how it has changed me. I didn’t even realize I needed healing until I started volunteering.

There are 43 volunteers in our chapter and it isn’t enough. It is emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing and yet we need more loss Moms and Dads who are willing to sit in the trenches, so to speak, and just be with someone in their hurt and loss. We know we can’t make it all better but you’d be surprised how healing it is just to feel validated. I really have come to believe that one of the biggest intangible gifts loss parents can give one another is the feeling of normalcy in their grief.

The majority of our volunteers work outside the home in addition to raising families and then taking time away to serve and help run a non-profit.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
We have been operating as a chapter in Utah for 39 years and provide support services to families after the loss of a child: either through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth, neonatal death or in the first months of life.

We provide support services directly after loss with our Hospital Companioning program. We meet directly with families in the hospital setting and first and foremost provide a listening ear. Because all of our volunteers are loss parents themselves, we have a unique opportunity to share with families what helped us through our loss, what we wish we would have done differently and just sit in the space that no one ever thought they would find themself in. When appropriate, we are able to offer hand and foot molds as well as photography, mementos, burial gowns, sibling mementos and Grandparent gifts. All of this is at no charge to families.

We also offer support meetings throughout the month either in person or via Zoom. We run two specialty meetings: Pregnancy After Loss and Grandparent Grief as well as several other general grief support groups.

During the year we host workshops for siblings as well as couples. In October we hold our annual Walk Of Remembrance and Hope where hundreds of families can gather and honor their little ones gone too soon.

The crisis has affected us all in different ways. How has it affected you and any important lessons or epiphanies you can share with us?
I’ve learned that I need to figure out how to not emotionally eat, does that count? I recognize the complexity of where policy and the human experience interact but there’s got to be a better way and that is unfortunately above my mental pay grade. I have had the honor of being in a hospital room with a husband and wife on what is, for most of them, the worst day of their life, and their parents are relegated to the parking lot. I’ve been in a hospital room where the only way a sibling could see their new baby brother who had passed away was through a window. We recognize the honor of being in a sacred space with a new grieving family but we also recognize we don’t take the place of the support system that is usually found within the family and close friends. The idea of going back to a situation where,on a family’s darkest day, their support structure is stuck in a waiting room is a tragedy. Families that I know who suffered loss during the pandemic struggle with grief as well as PTSD.

I think the human spirit is just tired and because of that we have seen a sharp decline in participation on a volunteer level, a donation level, and in specialty groups we try to serve. Perhaps there is a general human malaise that has wiggled itself into our psyche and we’re having a hard time throwing it back to the universe with a label “return to sender.” I’ve also learned that human connection and contact provide emotional benefits we didn’t even know we needed.

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