Stephanie Maciasz and Beth Lowe are part of a club no one wants to join. But there is no shortage of eligible members.
Each has buried at least one child. There is nothing in life to prepare a mother for that.
“It’s an extremely hard grief to bear,” Maciasz said. “I’ve lost my mother, lost friends. There’s nothing like this, and it’s something that will always be with me.
“But there is a difference in whether you get stuck in your grief or whether you go on and do things with it. That’s what I’ve chosen to do, start something to help other mothers.”
What she started in 2006 has become Hankies2Hope, a ministry aimed at mothers who have lost children. It will hold a conference, “Journey of the Heart,” on June 25 at the Embassy Suites in Baton Rouge. Mary Aguillard, of Reserve, will speak about having lost an adult daughter to suicide in 2008. The conference will include workshops, small group meetings and lunch.
“We have learned as parents and as a family to celebrate her life,” Aguillard said about her daughter, Tina, who was 44 when she took her life after having suffered for 22 years with bipolar disorder. “There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t miss her, but we have learned … not to stay in the grief and the sorrow, which I’ve seen so many people do.”
In 2002, Maciasz’s daughter, Tina, was 17 when a van in which she was returning from cheerleading camp overturned after a tire blowout. She died the next day.
Four years later, Maciasz (pronounced Macy) began hosting Christmas teas for other mothers who’d experienced such loss. It turned into an annual event, and Lowe was invited to one four years ago. Lowe’s sons, Matthew and Ben, died in a 2009 car accident.
“We immediately kind of connected, and she found somebody who had the same heart to help grieving mothers,” Lowe said. “I said, ‘Look, what can I do to help you?’ She had not really had somebody who came alongside her and helped out before that. She was excited about that, and we were excited about what God could do.”
In 2014, they attended the national conference of Umbrella Ministries, which has the same focus, and learned they could start a local chapter. They named it Hankies2Hope to reflect the journey from grief to the hope that is in Jesus Christ.
“It’s kind of taken off,” Lowe said.
The teas draw 40 to 50 women, Maciasz said, and this will be the chapter’s first conference. The closest such Umbrella Ministries conferences are in Houston, Maciasz said.
“The conference will give them more to help them and encourage them to live and not be stuck in this grief and know that other mothers are like them and have their pain,” Maciasz said. “I know it’s helped me so share my story with those who really understand and don’t feel like they have to apologize for speaking about a son or daughter that maybe they lost 20 years ago.
“I have mothers who come who may have lost their child a month ago, and mothers who lost their child 25 years ago. When we have these events, it’s to honor our children, not to make a shrine. It’s not to wallow in self-pity or anything like that.”
Aguillard’s story may reach mothers who have not come to previous events, Maciasz said.
“I’ve seen that mothers who have lost children to suicide are very reluctant to go to things, even though a few have come to my teas,” she said. “There is a false sense of guilt, or they carry a shame that they shouldn’t, but they do.”
Mothers who have lost children need to hear from others who have walked in their shoes, Lowe said.
“Obviously, I think the hardest thing anybody could go through is to lose a child,” Lowe said. “If another mother comes along and says you can survive this, it kind of has a little more credence. I didn’t have that when I lost my boys. I didn’t have anyone I knew. It’s very difficult. I want to be that mom, and I know that’s Stephanie’s heart as well. We want to be those mothers who can tell other mother that they will survive this.”