In April 2013, my husband and I lost our first child and only daughter to stillbirth. After seven months of a perfectly normal pregnancy, her loss was completely unexpected and left us both devastated.
Just two months later, I received a LinkedIn message from a company in my area, asking if I’d entertain an unsolicited job offer. Always up for a new challenge, I asked for more information.
It’d be a director of marketing position.
I thought, Great! – that’s a step up the corporate ladder from my current position.
It was with a tech company in my area.
Perfect – I’ve spent years working with startups and I love the energy of a growing, innovating business.
It was in the funeral industry.
Whoa… hold the phone!
In August, I accepted the position.
In the space of four months, I went from newly bereaved parent to the newest hire at a software company that provided funeral homes with websites and memorial stationery programs.
To say the transition was jarring is something of an understatement.
To be clear, I wasn’t working as a funeral director. I wasn’t being asked to work directly with broken-hearted families, grieving in the same way I still was.
But even in a supportive capacity, reminders of my loss were everywhere.
Opening up the industry’s trade publications meant coming face-to-face with ads promoting the exact same urn I’d chosen for our daughter. Developing new memorial products for our partner funeral homes meant, by necessity, creating remembrance books and stationery packages themed for the loss of baby boys and girls.
Checking over new partner websites before they went live meant regularly viewing live obituaries for dearly-missed children.
And in a twist of “you can’t be serious” fate, it meant attending the industry’s annual trade show, only to find out that our company’s booth – the location of which was chosen nearly a year before I signed on – was right across the aisle from a business selling children’s caskets.
Over time, the impact of these constant reminders of my daughter’s loss softened.
Rather than tearing the cracks of my broken heart open further, as they had at first, I began to see them as opportunities to remember and connect with my daughter.
I began to write for those same trade publications, sharing first-person perspectives when I could on what funeral professionals needed to know in order to better support pregnancy loss parents. My experiences developing child-specific memorial products and reviewing children’s obituaries became reminders to get out my small box of mementos and send some love to my daughter.
One of the clearest messages I’ve had from my daughter happened at that same funeral convention that so shocked me with its brutal reminder that enough children die each year to necessitate entire companies dedicated to their care.
Completely worn out from working our company’s booth, from staring down a display of child caskets for three days straight, and from the physical and mental challenges of being 10-weeks pregnant with the rainbow baby who came a year after our daughter’s loss, I ran out of the convention hall on a quick errand and came face-to-face with a street musician playing one of the three songs I’d listened to on repeat in the rawest moments of my post-stillbirth grief.
I may have needed a few minutes in the hall’s restroom to calm down and compose myself before returning to the floor, but the comfort that experience brought me was immeasurable. I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Today, I’m involved in care and support for bereaved parents in even more direct ways.
As the owner of a jewelry and gift company supporting the community – and a passionate advocate for reform in the way funeral homes handle pregnancy loss – I’m getting ready to return to the funeral directors’ convention this fall. This time, instead of exhibiting, I’ll be sharing data my company has helped gather in partnership with other bereavement organizations on how funeral professionals can best care for parents who have experienced miscarriage or stillbirth.
I’m writing about my story and my experiences – opening up about them in ways that don’t come easily to a naturally reserved person like me. I’m connecting with other bereaved parents; crying with them as their stories both break my heart and inspire me to continue bringing much needed change to the funeral industry.
There are times I have to step away; times I have to draw on the folder of funny YouTube clips I keep on my computer to distract me from the pain so many families are facing.
But honestly? There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
I carry my daughter in my heart and my memories. She lives on in me, and in that way, everything I do becomes her legacy as well. I want to make her proud, and it’s a gift to me that I’m able to try and achieve that goal everyday with the work I’m doing to improve funeral care for bereaved parents.
Guest post by Sarah Rickerd