CHEEKTOWAGA – More than 1,000 relatives and friends joined together at the annual “Walk to Remember” on Sunday to share tears, hugs and memories of babies who died in infancy or through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or stillbirth.
The event, held at Cheektowaga Town Park, was hosted by the Western New York Perinatal Bereavement Network. The first local walk was held 21 years ago but it has grown dramatically in recent years.
Sunday’s event brought out dozens of families, along with their supporting relatives and friends, to walk the one-mile “Angel Memory Walk” in the park. The walk ended with a picnic for participants.
The event is held in October as part of Pregnancy Loss and Awareness Month.
Many participants walked as teams, wearing matching shirts remembering a lost baby or, in some cases, simply T-shirts that said “Mommy” or “Daddy.” They also released balloons, inscribed personalized paper butterflies for a Garden of Hope and wrote notes for lost children on “seed paper” planted with a pear tree in the park.
Board member Lisa Jerebko of Lancaster said the Bereavement Network – which covers the eight counties of Western New York – has planted a memorial tree in the park for each of the last 10 years.
Jerebko’s son, John Paul, was stillborn in 1999.
“I always say, “I love you, and I miss you, and I wish you were here. You are my sunshine,’ ” Jerebko said of the message she left on the tree. She said the message, like the event itself, is a way of healing. “We all have a common bond because, unfortunately, we all lost a baby.”
“The annual memorial walk provides a supportive environment for all who have been touched by the death of a baby and gives participants an opportunity to remember and celebrate their loved ones with understanding and without judgement,” said Christine Scott, the Bereavement Network’s executive director. Scott lost her son Jacob Wesley, who was stillborn, on May 27, 2000.
It never gets easier, said Candace Frankowski of Hamburg, who lost her daughter Madison shortly after Madison was born Aug. 7, 2010.
“It makes it easier knowing there are so many other people that have gone through the same thing,” Frankowski said.
Anthony “Tony” Ramsey and girlfriend Renee Moran of the Town of Tonawanda have two toddlers, Lyliana Heavyn and Wyler Anthony. But, Ramsey said, it was “a long trip to get there” after they lost a daughter in May 2003; another baby in January 2009; and twins in January 2010. Moran also suffered two miscarriages.
The couple have been coming to the walk for the past 10 years.
“It’s very hard to smile. I’d say it took us quite a few years,” Moran said.
Ramsey said they like to participate each year, knowing that some of the money raised helps parents who have lost a child, especially those who need funds to prepare for a funeral and burial, rather than for bringing home a newborn baby.
The Rev. Richard “Duke” Zajac, chaplain at Sisters Hospital, said events like Sunday’s are an important part of bringing families together to share their grief, “so no child is forgotten.”
More information for those who have lost an infant is available on the group’s website, www.WNYPBN.org.