Walk to Remember brings families, service members together
CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — Service members, their families and civilians attended the Walk to Remember tribute at the Camp Lester Chapel Oct. 19 in honor of National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
The event consisted of poetry and memoir readings, candle lightings and a balloon release dedicated to the lost children and their grieving parents.
“Every year on Okinawa, more than 100 families are affected by the loss of a child,” said Lt. Cmdr. Russell A. Hale, the U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa chaplain. “Events like the Walk to Remember serve to reinforce and remind families who have suffered the loss of children that they have people they can rely on, and have gone through the same thing. They have people who they can talk to for comfort and reassurance.”
President Ronald Reagan dedicated October as the National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month in 1988. Over time, Oct. 15 became recognized as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
This is Camp Lester’s fifth year hosting the walk, which is designed to support parents and help them cope with the loss of their children. The event was open to all status of forces agreement personnel.
“You don’t have to go through it alone,” said Naoko Rodriguez, an event participant. “When you lose your child and they’re this young, you really don’t know what to think.”
Throughout the service, bereaved parents and support nurses read poems and shared advice about how to cope with the loss.
“It will test your relationship with your spouse,” said Naoko. “You and your spouse may cope with the loss differently, but you have to lean on and support each other in order to make it through.
“You never think losing your child could happen to you, and at first you think you’re the only one that this has happened to,” Naoko added. “Then you learn about all the support groups and events like this that are out there to help you.”
Support groups, like the Perinatal Loss and Miscarriage Support Group, provide online forums for people who have lost children and to support and talk with each other during the healing process.
“One of the things I found most helpful was sharing stories,” said Naoko. “Time heals all wounds, but the pain stays with you. It may lessen over the years, but it will always be there.”
During the ceremony, the parents lit candles to signify the sparks of life that were extinguished all too quickly.
“Some flames burn for a long time while others barely even burn at all,” said Hale. “As you watch this flame flicker and move with the slightest breath or wind, let us remember your loved ones who are now gone.”
After finishing the service in the chapel, the congregation collected balloons, wrote messages on them and walked to Sunset Beach, where they watched the balloons float into the clouds in honor of their deceased loved ones.
“When a child loses their parents, they are called an orphan,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Andrew Rodriguez, the first sergeant of 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron, 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base. “When a spouse loses his or her partner, they are called a widow or widower, but when a parent loses their child … there isn’t a word to describe it.”