On a September evening, dozens of butterflies adorned the sky in front of the UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital. One by one, family members of children who passed away at the hospital released the creatures in memory of their loved ones. While some of the butterflies fluttered over the pond, others clung tightly to clothing and fingers for minutes before flying away, causing tears to well up in many eyes.
Since 2009, our pediatric nurses have hosted the Life Journey Remembrance Service to help families celebrate young patients. Each year, they collect the names of children who have passed away, to create what’s known as the Butterfly List, and send personal invitations to their families to attend the service. In addition to the butterfly release, this year’s ceremony included poems recited by our nurses, a slide show, a remembrance table filled with photo collages provided by attendees, a unity sand ritual and music provided by UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine and No Southern Accent, a UF a capella group.
“As they celebrate the lives of these children, the families and staff find a sense of peace and joy,” said Missy Reynolds, M.S.N., R.N., NE-BC, CCRN-K, UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital Pediatric ICU nurse manager and Life Journey Bereavement Program co-chair. “It means a lot for families to talk to others who have suffered the same loss.”
Genie Morales, whose daughter Katie passed away in 2010 from cancer, has attended every Life Journey Remembrance Service since. She participated in this year’s program by sharing a poem to provide comfort to other families in attendance. Morales and her husband now fund and organize a toy drive for pre-teen and teen patients at our children’s hospital in honor of their daughter.
“This is the one time of year that I can talk about and cry over Katie,” Morales said. “It’s a safe place where others understand my joy and pain.”
To learn more about our pediatric Life Journey Bereavement Program, visit the Nursing Bridge site and search “Pediatric Bereavement Team.”