The burden in my heart for other parents who had lost children continued to grow. I remained diligent in my reminders to God about all those with broken and bleeding hearts, and how there needed to be a place for them to find healing and hope. I reminded Him of these parent's need to know that someone remembered their lost child and would acknowledge the pain they were experiencing, even if it was months or years after the fact. I told Him how lonely it could feel in the midst of a crowd of people who could not see that life no longer resembled what it had before.
One day as I was having my deliberations with God, I began to jot down notes regarding an idea which had come to me earlier about forming a support group of my own. As I wrote, my pen began to fly as words poured through me to the paper. The purpose of the group, the title of it and it's meaning, and even the diagram which would symbolize the ministry, all came together in a matter of minutes. It was fast, and it was easy. God had given the words; I had simply dictated them. His ministry, Heartstrings Ministry, was born that day.
Heartstrings was named for the way children tug on our heartstrings; they endear themselves to us, becoming wrapped around our hearts. It doesn't take a lifetime for this love relationship to develop. We fall in love with our children while they are still in the womb, and many fall in love with them before they are even conceived because they are so wanted and longed for. So the name was fitting and appropriate for anyone who had lost a child, whether they were older, or lost to an early miscarriage. The diagram given was that of a musical staff, with 3 notes placed on it. The two outer notes printed in black, symbolized the parents, while the center note was a red heart, signifying the life of the lost child . The notes represented the music a person's life brings to the world. The entire staff was then encircled with an oval ring of small embossed hearts which represented all of the lives touched by this one small child's life, and subsequent death. The purpose of Heartstrings Ministry- to share the sorrow and burden of others going through similar trauma, to offer hope through the faith we had in Jesus Christ, and to simply be a truly understanding friend.
With the work of creating it done, the next step was implementing it. There was only one person I knew of who could help move this group forward, and that was my Senior Pastor. Very shortly after God had given me the plan for Heartstrings, Pastor just happened to stop by one day, so I gave him a copy of all that had been written, along with the artwork. Things moved quickly after that. I was invited to a church board meeting to share the vision for the group. Following a brief discussion, and with no amendments made to the words I had penned as God had given them to me, Heartstrings was approved as a new ministry of our church. Utilizing church resources, we were able to print brochures to be handed out, and also small note cards which were used to send notes to parents; a reminder that someone remembered and cared.
Some may wonder if we were being a bit presumptuous in sending notes to other hurting parents, assuming they would want to be reminded of their lost child, or to have someone other than their own family and friends console them. Generally, we found that most people don't know how to deal with the pain and grief of a family member, especially in the long term. They themselves may be hurting, and as such, would rather push it aside and not talk about the loss at all, or they would be fearful that talking about it would cause the bereaved even more pain than they already had. Meanwhile, parents were heartbroken that no one seemed to remember their child for longer than the time it took to bury them and move on with life. Their lost child was their future, and every day the child was not there, was a constant reminder of the things they would never get to enjoy. The first laugh, the first step taken, the first word babbled; going to school for the first time, learning to drive a car, graduating from high school, choosing a career, walking a daughter down the aisle on her wedding day---all gone. Parents don't forget these things- ever.
A few short weeks after Matthew had died, the 8x10 photo of him, which had been in my in-laws' living room, disappeared. When I noticed it, I was surprised by how crushed I felt. I felt like they didn't want to remember him anymore; if felt like he was being wiped out of our lives even more. I know their intent was not to harm, and I believe it was possibly put away out of their own hurt for their lost grandson, but it bothered me a lot. There began a progression of "taking aways" related to Matthew. The picture being removed, his babysitter moving away; all felt like another layer of loss was being added to my existing grief. More of him, and my memories of him, were being "taken away". I imagined it was a part of the normal grieving process, yet I was taken back by how seemingly little, insignificant things impacted me so greatly. I know others have felt the same way in their losses.
Heartstrings was there to walk beside parents in loss and grief. I made sure I sent them a note monthly for the first year, then yearly for a couple of years, and on any special days such as birthdays, due dates, and anniversary dates. It was, of course, balanced on the needs and desires of the family. Some parents had wonderful support systems; my notes just an additional reminder that someone cared, and they were not needed for long. For others, I have no doubt I was the only voice who shared in their silent pain and remembrances, and hopefully I was able to lightened their burden, if even for a day.
We also had group meetings. Once a month we would join together with anyone wanting to attend who had lost a child. We had the added benefit of having one of our Pastors with us, plus another couple joined us our second year into the program, which provided support for us in our role as facilitators, and as fellow bereaved parents. The group remained small, which was fine with me. Smaller numbers meant more intimacy and safety to reveal true feelings. Some attended regularly, others came once and didn't return. It wasn't there to meet the needs of everyone; our group was there to be a safe place to find true hope and healing for those who wanted it.
We continued to lead Heartstrings for over 3 years. We met many wonderful people, and were honored that they included us in their lives during a time of great pain. In fact, we are still good friends with several of the couples we met during those years. The bond of friendship and caring has continued to grow, and we are the blessed recipients of it. Then one evening, as we sat in the middle of a group meeting, I felt God moving us out. I knew without a doubt, we had just attended our last Heartstrings Ministry meeting. This chapter of our lives was closing.