October 15, 2008
Many families commemorate the birth of a child with a baby memory book full of photos, footprints and measurements that preserve an infant’s first days on earth. Meredith and Derek Byers were left with a memory box filled with sympathy cards, a small piece of jewelry and information about a grieving program. They had lost the son Meredith had carried to nearly full-term.
“That’s the most isolating feeling I’ve ever felt,” Derek says. “It’s almost like membership to a club that you don’t want to join.”
Meredith, a general diagnostic radiologist, and her husband, Derek, a Barnes-Jewish Hospital fellow in pulmonary critical care medicine, are both Washington University physicians. They had chosen the name Samuel for their second son because it translates to “called by God” in Hebrew.
Samuel was to join an older brother, Wyatt, their two-year-old “little warrior,” but he stopped kicking a week before his delivery date last April. Meredith went to see her doctor at Barnes-Jewish Hospital on April 10 and found out her son had died. She delivered a stillborn child at the hospital the next day, and her world changed forever, she says.
As deeply as the Byers family ached from their loss, they remain grateful for the hospital staff members who helped them work through their pain. Barnes-Jewish has a perinatal loss program designed to comfort parents who have lost a child; the program provides memory boxes, like the one the Byers received, and coordinates grieving events, such as memorial-type perinatal loss services, designed for parents who lose a baby only a few months before the expected birth.
“Barnes-Jewish serves a large cultural and religious population, and no two people have the same backgrounds, needs or beliefs,” Meredith says. “The program comforts people with sensitivity to their situation. What I could say is that this is something that helped us survive this experience.”
The Byers have now made it their mission to give back to the program that helped them cope. The couple sent letters to family, friends and co-workers asking them to make a donation to the perinatal loss program in Samuel’s name. To their overjoyed surprise, the family collected more than $10,000 from donors across the country. Results were especially plentiful from Texas, Meredith’s home state, but gifts piled in from as far away as Maryland and California.
Meredith and Derek now sit on an advisory board for the perinatal loss program and help distribute money from a fund named after Samuel–The Perinatal Outreach and Bereavement Fund in Memory of Samuel Garrison Byers
“The outpouring of support was overwhelming, and immediately we felt embraced by all of these people and how much they cared,” Derek says. “Even people we had met once or twice.”
Meredith explains how working for a cause in honor of Samuel has created a legacy for him.
“Especially when you’re dealing with memorializing a person,” she says, “You have this need to remember them and make their life important, be it an older person or a young child. You want people to remember them. You want people to know their name.”
In any difficult situation, she adds, philanthropy can provide an incentive to persevere. “I always heard that this helped people grieve,” she says. “It gives you a positive cause to focus on. In the midst of all your grief and sadness, it gives you something to get up for in the morning.” Meredith says that she and Derek will increase their financial donations as their careers progress, and the couple always commemorates Samuel’s birthday as well as major holidays with special monetary gifts.
Derek explains that linking thoughts of Samuel to a physical object, the memory box, helped to ease his mind.
“At the time that you go through the delivery, holding onto any memory or memento that you can is helpful,” he says. “I never got to experience Samuel’s life on earth outside of his mom, so any memory you can cherish is helpful. It feels weird and unusual, but it really is worth it.”
Meredith and Derek are pleased with the success of their fund so far, and they want to see it grow each year.
In 2008, the Byers family welcomed a healthy baby girl, Shiloh. The joy of a sister for Wyatt has eased the pain and strengthened Samuel’s memory. To learn more about the Perinatal Outreach and Bereavement Fund in Memory of Samuel Garrison Byers, contact the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation.
From the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation's Giving Magazine, Fall 2008