2016 Western Washington Rock & Walk - The TEARS Foundation
June 11, 2016, hundreds of families honored babies who left this world too soon in a moving ceremony and event. This event, the Rock & Walk, is an annual fundraiser for The TEARS Foundation, which provides assistance to bereaved parents. I've been fortunate to work alongside the dedicated people at TEARS and was honored to donate my time as a photographer to document this event.
Butterflies are central to the Rock & Walk and each butterfly is lovingly made to honor individual children.
Hundreds of these butterflies is a staggering sight.
I arrived early to photograph details and I won't lie - I wiped away plenty of tears while I worked. I stood in the stands alone thinking that I needed to get my stuff together and finish my shots before the event started and the stadium filled with people. Then I reminded myself that I needed to allow myself the time to feel this. I needed to be heavy with empathy to connect with these families and tell their stories.
In other words, at the end of the event my right shirt sleeve bore evidence of the tears and resulting runny nose I wiped repeatedly. No pictures of that, please and thank you.
It is an emotional day and most of the people I talked to about their experiences shared that they felt exhausted after the event. They planned nothing else for the day and allowed themselves the time and space to sit with their grief. Naps came up as the most popular post-event activity. Grieving is hard work.
The ceremony included music, stories, and the names of each child honored during the event. As each baby's name echoed through the stadium, families raised their hands to show they were there in support.
The walk began with siblings walking with Rhubarb, the mascot for the Tacoma Rainiers (Cheney Stadium, the home of the Rainiers, hosts this event).
The HOPE banner, carried by the leading fundraisers, followed.
Families walked along the path of butterflies, stopping to take pictures, hug, cry, and grieve the days and milestones they were not able to celebrate.
Rocking chairs are the other prominent feature of the Rock & Walk. Many of these parents never had the opportunity to snuggle in nursery rocking chairs in the middle of the night. Most parents think of the sleepless nights of infant parenting as a nuisance or inconvenience. These parents would give anything to have that opportunity again.
There was fun, too! Home Depot supported the event with a building activity for kids, and the play area at the stadium was hoppin'.
The event concluded with a balloon release, more tears, more hugs, and more hand holding.
Many messages traveled to heaven.
Grief is forever. It changes over time, but it stays. These families are in my thoughts.
To learn more about The TEARS Foundation or to make a donation, please visit www.thetearsfoundation.org.
Keywords: 2016, Cheney Stadium, Rock & Walk, Tacoma, The TEARS Foundation, Washington, babies, baby, bereaved, butterflies, butterfly, ceremony, event, families, fundraiser, grief, infant, loss, memorial, parents, rocking chair
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