When Angela Ewers gave birth to her first daughter, it was supposed to be a joyous moment. It wasn’t.
Emily was stillborn at 24 weeks. The average pregnancy is 40 weeks.
Ewers went through all of the emotions of losing a child. The question “why?” kept popping up, leading her to even more questions.
“I had a crisis of faith, and I didn’t know what I believed,” Ewers said.
Compounding her grief was the lack of support for those who lost a child in stillbirth or miscarriage.
“There was no internet,” Ewers said of that time years ago. “There was no online chat. There was no Facebook.”
Years later after two miscarriages and the births of her daughter, Lainie, and her son, George-Henry, Ewers found a way to express her feelings.
“I wrote a song called Rock Goodbye Angel,” she said, adding she performed it at church on Mother’s Day. “My pastor said ‘That’s a ministry; that’s not a song.’”
Women of the church agreed.
Birth of a nonprofit
Five months later, Ewers held the first candlelight vigil for herself and other parents who lost children from miscarriages, stillbirths and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. During the October ceremony, Ewers found her purpose.
“It was an ‘Aha’ moment,” she said. “I thought ‘I’ve said my heavenly children’s names out loud and … I’m OK to do this. I’m talking like they existed.’ It was very surreal. My pain and my purpose collided, and I’ve never looked back.”
Two months later, in December 2010, Ewers founded Rock Goodbye Angel. The nonprofit agency offers a support network, grief education and pastoral counseling to parents grieving pregnancy and early infant loss. In January 2011, RGA held its first support groups.
RGA offers support groups in Hall and Gwinnett counties. The Gainesville one meets at 6 p.m. the first and third Sundays of the month at RGA’s headquarters in the North Georgia Community Foundation Center off Oak Street. The other meets at 6 p.m. the second and fourth Sundays of the month at McKendree United Methodist Church off Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road in Lawrenceville.
Between six and 12 people attend the support groups weekly.
Along with the support groups, RGA provides several services including:
- A hospital companion to help parents deal with the loss. All companions have experienced a similar loss and are trained by Ewers, who has a master’s degree in pastoral counseling. The companion must be invited by the family; the hospital cannot contact RGA because of HIPPA rules.
- Arrange photography session for parents and their child or children
- Provide memory boxes filled with footprint molds, blankets, Bibles, journals, keychains, pins and stuffed lambs
- Events on Mother’s and Father’s days specifically for bereaved parents
- An annual candlelight memorial service Oct. 15, which is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
- The Pink and Blue Dash 5K run and walk, which is nonprofit’s only fundraiser.
“All of our services are offered free of charge,” Ewers said, explaining the money raised helps the organization to operate.
Creating more support communities
The nonprofit’s newest resource is a self-produced video designed to help bereaved parents start support groups in their own communities.
“We’ve had calls from all over the country and military bases and even prisons” asking about services and support groups,” Ewers said. “Now we can supply them the tool to do it.”
Set for release in late October, the seven-week video series starts with the explanation of one phase of grief followed by a testimonial. Then questions are posed to spark discussion.
“If we know what those emotions are … we can come to terms with it and cope with it,” Ewers said.
The Gainesville mother said it took her a long time to come to terms with her own grief, especially when her child Lainie was born.
“She was the tangible reminder of what I lost,” she said, admitting to experiencing some postpartum issues. “And I grieved so long alone.”
Ewers said she didn’t want others to suffer as she did.
“I don’t want them to be lost as long as I was,” she said. “There is not need to feel so dark and lonely.”
Rock Goodbye Angel
Where: 615 Oak St., Suite G, Gainesville
Annual Candlelight Remembrance
When: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 15
Where: Longwood Park, 20 Pearl Nix Parkway, Gainesville
How much: Free
RGA Pink and Blue Dash
When: 8 a.m. Nov. 3
Where: Riverside Military Academy, 2001 Riverside Drive, Gainesville
How much: $30 for 5K run or walk; $15 for fun run; $30 for phantom runner
More info: email@example.com
Ministry’s mission in progress
In February 2016, TJ and Tiffany Pethel of Commerce lost their twin boys, Logan and Landon. The couple reached out to Ewers about a month later for individual counseling after Tiffany suggested they go.
“If not for Tiffany, I would not have gone on my own,” TJ said, admitting the trip was worth it. “For me, the most helpful part was when Tiffany was sharing with Angela. It was relief because I didn’t have to bear the burden of being strong for both of us. I could deal with my own grief.”
TJ also described the help as a marriage-saver.
“Even though two people are going through the same thing, they grieve separately,” he said. “I would encourage people to go to learn about the grief from someone who has been through it.”
Tiffany agreed the couples counseling helped, but knew she needed a little more.
“I had not experienced a death in my family,” she said. “I didn’t know what grief was or how to process anything I felt.”
So, Tiffany attended the support group religiously and found others to whom she could relate.
“It was the one place I felt normal,” Tiffany said, adding the friendships she made there helped her cope with the bad days. “You wake up in the morning and (the loss) just takes your breath away. And I could call those people and say this is how I feel today. How did you deal with it?”
It is those same people who helped the Pethels handle their feelings of both happiness and anxiety when they learned earlier this year they were expecting a daughter.
“I don’t think I would have felt comfortable about trying again. That’s unimaginable with the pain and grief,” TJ said.
But the bonds he and his wife formed with other RGA parents made the transition easier. Now the couple is looking forward to welcoming their “rainbow baby,” Emersyn Raye, to the world in November.
However, they already have the title of parents because of their twins.
Ewers and all of her board members share that common bond.