University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital’s Grief Services staff works to ease the hearts of families grieving the death of a child.

Each July, the hospital hosts a Service of Remembrance for about 45 families to honor three different types of loss—babies who died before they were born, babies who died before they could leave the hospital, and children who died at any age. About 225 family members attend the service each year.

 “We have readings that are specific to each kinds of loss to try to personalize the event for those families. We have live music, a name reading, and families can light a candle on behalf of their child,” says Sheila Frascht, RN, CHPPN, CPLC, director of Grief Services.

The event ends with a release of biodegradable balloons into the sky.

“It’s kind of an uplifting way to end the ceremony,” Frascht says.

Grief Services was established in 2007 to support pediatric patients and families experiencing grief and loss. This may occur because of a diagnosis or hospitalization, when end of life is imminent, or after a death has occurred. It provides resources to families, including connecting them with grief counselors and offering keepsakes like plaster handprints and footprints the families can keep for memories.

Although the work is hard, Frascht says, it is humbling.

“It’s an honor to walk alongside families during some of their darkest hours,” Frascht says. “It can take a toll if you don’t take care of yourself, so we stress the importance of talking about your feelings and figuring out ways to take care of yourself so you can be part of this important work for the long term.”

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