Linda Schafran still copes with the tragic loss of her daughter more than 20 years ago.
She remembers the deafening silence that filled the hospital delivery room on March 10, 1986. At nine pounds seven ounces, Stephanie Anne lay motionless. Time passed slowly as the doctor explained her full-term baby was dead as a result of brain shrinkage caused by a narrow umbilical cord.
For Schafran, there was no crying, squirming baby for her to hold.
“Initially, I felt anger,” she recalled, sitting at the kitchen table in her Abbotsford home. “There’s that denial part of grief, not accepting it initially. I felt out of control.”
The following days were filled with an array of emotions and questions. Schafran says one of the hardest moments was returning home to a nursery with empty arms. She ended up leaving Stephanie’s baby clothes and furniture in place for months, some of which are still packed away in storage.
Schafran blamed herself in many ways for Stephanie’s death. She felt guilty for not informing her doctor of several falls throughout the pregnancy, including one where she landed flat on her belly. However, she came to realize the loss was out of her control.
“You can’t blame yourself. It’s something that does happen and when it does, it’s about how you’re going to deal with it,” said Schafran, who teaches kindergarten at Dasmesh Punjabi School in Abbotsford. “Are we going to be devastated by it, are we going to let it defeat us, or are we going to see this as an opportunity to grow?”
Schafran now believes she had some emotional preparation for Stephanie’s death. Six months earlier, she learned first-hand about the stages of grief when her brother committed suicide. First there was shock and denial, followed by anger, sadness and depression, and finally acceptance. Schafran credits her faith with getting her through those dark times.
“You can’t really be prepared for a baby dying,” she said. “But I felt like I was stronger because my hope was in God, not in me pulling myself out of this. It was totally throwing myself spiritually into His arms.”
The mother of three details her emotional journey in her new book To Have But Not To Hold. The story includes vignettes of other women who experienced similar loss, a selection of poems and biblical passages.
Schafran thought she was over her grief, but found the writing process caused the painful memories to flood back.
“You never forget the loss. It’s a memory that will always be with you,” she said, noting that the family still acknowledges Stephanie’s birthday every year. “She was my daughter and I missed her, I loved her and I still do. We’re going to see our baby again someday in heaven.”
The experience has led Schafran to launch a support group at Northview Community Church to help others dealing with the same heartache. She hopes to provide encouragement for women by sharing strategies she used to gain comfort through difficult times.
“Grief is a timeless anguish that we face,” she said. “It’s not something to back away from, to be afraid of or to be shy about sharing with others. The more you’re open about it and talk about it, the less it becomes inward and almost stifling and hard for you to grow from it.”
Anyone interested in participating in the support group can contact Bev Peters at 604-853-2931.