Episode 7 - Improving Hospital Experiences for Grieving Families with Lori Beth Blaney
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Join us for a conversation with Lori Beth Blaney, founder of Rachel's Gift about improving hospital experiences for grieving families. Lori Beth shares her story of losing her daughter, Rachel, in a tragic car accident, and choosing to forgive the teenager who caused the crash.
Lori Beth discusses with Ashley why she started a nonprofit to support grieving families and train hospital staff on bereavement care. She is an advocate for families to have options and guidance while making decisions in the hospital. In this episode, we discussed:
Why it's important to talk about your baby and tell your story
Overcoming anger and bitterness with the power of forgiveness
Not knowing what or how to pray when in deep grief
Regrets of choices made at the hospital while in trauma/shock
The need for nurses to be trained on bereavement care
Why "time, space, and privacy" is not what grieving parents need
The importance of consistent patient care
Rachel's Gift services for hospitals and families
Bridget's Cradles and complementing vs. competing with other resources
How God will equip you if He calls you to ministry
The partnership between Rachel's Gift and Bridget's Cradles
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Discussion / Application Questions (leave your answers below in the comments!)
Lori Beth shares the story of losing her daughter in a tragic car accident and choosing to forgive the teenager who caused the crash. Though your story of loss is probably different, you may have experienced pain from something someone else did (or didn't do) in your grief journey. This may have left you with feelings of anger and bitterness instead of peace. Who do you need to forgive? Write out a prayer asking God to help you forgive them.
In this episode, we talk a lot about hospital experiences during loss. Did you have a positive or negative experience at the hospital? Did you leave with any regrets? On a longer piece of paper (or in a journal), write out your experience and invite God in to help you process any trauma or negative feelings.
Lori Beth spoke about a time when she couldn't find the words to pray, but that she could feel the prayers of others. Do you ever feel this way? When we are overcome with emotion, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. He knows our hearts and minds and can intercede in prayer for us. Write out a few words or phrases of prayer requests and know that God hears you.
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CONNECT WITH OUR GUEST
Lori Beth Blaney is the founder of Rachel's Gift, a nonprofit that supports grieving families and provides bereavement training to hospitals.
She and her husband, Sam, have two sons on earth and a daughter in Heaven. In December of 2006, their only daughter, Rachel, passed away in a tragic car accident.
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MEET OUR HOST
Ashley Opliger is the Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas that donates cradles to over 1,090 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year.
Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), and two sons. She is a follower of Christ who desires to share the hope of Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby.
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Episode 7: Improving Hospital Experiences for Grieving Families with Lori Beth Blaney
Ashley Opliger: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast where we believe that the hope of Heaven, through faith in Jesus Christ, has the power to heal our hearts after the loss of a baby. It’s a pain no mother should have to endure and we want this podcast to be a safe place for your broken heart to land. Here, we are going to trust God’s promise to restore our joy, use our grief for good, and allow us to spend eternity with our babies in Heaven.
I’m your host, Ashley Opliger. I’m a wife, mom, and follower of Christ clinging to the hope of Heaven. My daughter, Bridget, was stillborn at 24 weeks in my first pregnancy in 2014. In her memory, my husband and I started a nonprofit ministry called Bridget’s Cradles, and God has given us purpose in our pain and we’ve seen beauty come from ashes.
Although we wish you didn’t have a need to be listening to this podcast, we believe God has a reason for you to be here today. We pray this time would be a source of healing for you as we remember that Jesus cradles us in hope while He cradles our babies in Heaven. Though we may grieve, we do not grieve without hope. Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.
Ashley Opliger: [00:01:26] Today on the podcast, we have Lori Beth Blaney, Founder of Rachel's Gift, a 501c3 non-profit based in Georgia. I had the privilege of meeting Lori Beth in 2019. My team and I were in Atlanta for a nurse's conference called AWHONN, and we drove south an hour to visit Rachel's Gift headquarters.
After that meeting, we became ministry partners, and now Rachel's Gift is fully stocked with Bridget's Cradles to provide to the hospitals and families they partner with. It has been a beautiful partnership and we are so grateful for all they do for hospitals and families.
I am honored to introduce Lori Beth to our listeners today. She and her husband, Sam, have two sons and a daughter in Heaven. In December of 2006, their only daughter, Rachel, was seven weeks away from her entry into this world when her family was in a tragic car wreck. Rachel and her mother were flown to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. However, a couple of hours later, Rachel lost her life and was later stillborn.
From the lonely depths of grief, Rachel's Gift was born. I can't wait for you to hear Lori Beth's story and more about her wonderful ministry. Welcome, Lori Beth.
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:02:40] Thanks for having me.
Ashley Opliger: [00:02:43] First, I would love for you to introduce yourself and share Rachel's story with us and your story of being a grieving mom.
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:02:51] Okay. Sure. Back in 2006, we had moved to Georgia a couple years before that, so we hadn't been here very long. And I had two boys at the time who were five and three, and I was eight months pregnant with my daughter, Rachel.
And this was in December of 2006, I was taking my oldest to preschool at our church that morning. And we, unfortunately, were hit head-on by a teenager that was driving at a high rate of speed and lost control of her vehicle. And she was driving over 70 miles an hour, so it was a very violent collision. Of course, at the time of trauma like that, everything's going fast and really slow all at the same time.
But I was trapped in the car for a little more than an hour. My boys were in the back seat and it was a very stressful time because I couldn't get to them. I was pinned in the car, and so I couldn't tell how they were. And of course, I was worried about my daughter, who I was still pregnant with.
But anyway, they got us out of the car and they life-flighted us to Grady, which is our trauma unit in Atlanta. And when we first got there, we did have a heartbeat, which I was so anxious for that. And I remember even on the flight up there asking them to put the monitor on, but of course, they didn't have that on the flight. I was wanting to hear that there was a heartbeat.
And so when we first heard that heartbeat, I was so incredibly relieved. And so I was in the trauma unit and they were assessing my injuries and trying to figure out how to treat me without harming her, because we did still have a heartbeat and they weren't sure what was going on with her.
So they were trying to make all those decisions and we had the monitor on, so it was going the whole time as they were doing all this. And then you heard the heartbeat start to slow on the monitor, and then she passed away. So at that point, the medical team gave me a lot of medication because then they really needed to start working on my injuries.
I had a lot of broken bones, so they were setting some bones and assessing my head and neck injuries, sending me for scans. And then trying to decide what to do about her, about inducing or C-section, or they were talking about different things, just trying to work around my injuries and how to best do that.
And so all of that is hazy, because I was heavily medicated, so I don't remember a lot of that. But then the next day, they had decided to induce labor, and they got me stabilized to the point they felt they could do that, and they induced labor.
And so I had her the next night, about 9:30 at night. And by then, even through medication, when you're going through something like that, there's things you do remember very clearly and distinctly. And so I remember a lot about her birth. I remember them bringing her in the room after she was cleaned up and everything.
And I had an amazing night nurse at Grady. His nickname was Chief and all night he brought her to me and held her up so I could see her. He would put her on my chest. I couldn't hold her because I had to be flat because of all the head and neck injuries and things that they still weren't sure about.
So I couldn't sit up, I couldn't hold her, and so luckily he knew what I needed when I didn't know. And so he would bring her up to me, and she was perfect and beautiful and looked just like my younger son, had all his facial features. And so we went through that night with her in the room with us all night.
And then a few days after that, I was sent home, and to follow up with a lot of follow-up surgeries and physical therapy and all of that. So it was a really difficult time trying to navigate the loss, but also navigate all the other things that were going on with my physical, and then of course still having two boys that were five and three that don't slow down when mom is hurt or laid up. And so it was a really difficult time.
Ashley Opliger: [00:06:55] I am so sorry, Lori Beth. I cannot even imagine the trauma of going through that and having the physical side of being in a car accident and having all of these broken bones and the very grueling process of recovering and healing, at the same time of losing your precious daughter and having the grief and the emotional side of that as well.
I truly cannot imagine how traumatic that would have been in the moment and in the years to come. What was that like for you, grieving and starting the healing process of walking through this incredibly traumatic experience?
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:07:35] Well, every situation is different and it's one of those things where one is not harder than another or easier than another. We all have different things that complicate our grieving process.
But a lot of what I was struggling with was all of the focus from my family was on my physical recovery. They wanted me better, and I needed to get better. I had two boys to take care of. And having all that focus on my physical, and I was getting stronger physically - I did have several surgeries and daily physical therapy for a really long time - I think I focused all of that energy where I was silently suffering from the loss of my daughter, I focused all of that into madly trying to heal myself.
They had told me I would never use my right hand again. They told me I would always have a limp. I had these surgeries that they were repairing enough to make me get by, but they were not giving me a great prognosis on those things.
And so I focused all that energy, “Well, I'm going to find someone that's going to give me a better prognosis and I'm going to do whatever I have to do.” So I actually had several surgeries that were kind of experimental. They weren't sure if they were going to help or not. And I worked really hard at physical therapy.
So I think I stuffed the grief while I was just really focusing on that, which is kind of good, in a way, because I came back a lot better physically than they ever thought that I would. So that part is good.
At the same time, the legal part was going on because the state prosecuted the girl that hit us. And we didn't have anything to do with that; the state did it. But of course, we were involved. I was subpoenaed to come to court. I had to testify, and we went through where the person pled not guilty, so it elongated things and we had to go back. And then they appealed. And so there was just a lot that felt like it was never going to end.
At that point as well. I had several people towards the beginning, the team that was on the scene of the crash plus people at the hospital, more telling my husband at that time than me, that myself being so pregnant at the time - I have really large babies; all my babies were big - and so I was very pregnant.
And they said that she saved my life, because if I hadn't been as pregnant as I was with her, that I would have received the majority of the impact instead of her, which as a mother, you do not want to hear because you would trade your life with them in an instant.
Also at that time, and this is a few years ago, in 2006, infant death, stillbirth, things like that were still not talked about near as much as it is now. It was not as comfortable to talk about. You would bring things up and other people would get uncomfortable and try to leave the conversation. So then you just didn't bring it up.
And that still goes on some, of course, today with certain people, but I've seen it over the years slowly get better. And I've so advocated for that, talking about your baby, telling your story, because when you're silenced like that and you're grieving and you're basically made to feel like you can't talk about it, it's just a very lonely, isolating place.
And so even though I was getting better physically and that's where I was focusing my fight, my spirit and the emotional side of me was withering. I could feel myself going to a dark place. I had suicidal thoughts often, and I knew that I was to a point I needed to reach out for some real help, mentally.
Ashley Opliger: [00:11:24] I think grief is a feeling that we don't necessarily want to feel because it's painful and there's that deep sadness. And it can take us to a dark place where we are questioning: Do we want to be on this earth? Can we survive this pain? And so we do anything that we can to try to avoid those feelings sometimes.
How did your faith influence you in that really dark place of having suicidal thoughts, and grieving the loss of your daughter, and the trauma of the car accident, and the legal battles, and everything that you were walking through? How did God walk you through that? And how did you rely on your faith as you were grieving?
Lori Beth Blaney: [00:12:03] I got to that point that was a very dark place and knew that I needed help. And honestly, I didn't waver in my faith. I mean, I was plenty mad at God at times and would say that. I would tell Him that.
And I think He wants us to tell Him when we're not happy with Him, because He wants that relationship with us. And so not every relationship is roses and rainbows all the time. And even when we're at a place with Him where we're not happy with the way that He's running things, I think He wants us to tell Him, and I did.
I also found it very hard to pray. I couldn't find words. I didn't know what I needed, and so I couldn't pray. And that was one thing that was very healing for me is He allowed me to physically, and I will never be able to explain it, but physically feel the prayers of people. I knew people were praying for me.
It would be conscious thoughts, like, “Someone's praying for me.” I knew it. I don't know how. And I would get cards in the mail all the time that said, “We're praying for you,” even from strangers that had heard about what happened through a friend of theirs or whatever, which was wonderful.
So it was God giving me all these nudges that, “You feel alone, but you are not alone. You are being prayed for. You are being lifted up. I have My hand on this whole situation.” And so even when I couldn't find the words and I couldn't pray, He allowed me to feel that and feel those prayers of others.
So I did start reaching out, and I asked for help. I went to some counseling. At the time I was still on a lot of pain medication because I was constantly having surgeries. So you're just constantly on the pain medication, which they say as far as counseling is concerned, it's kind of hard to counsel through the pain medication because it numbs not only the body, but the mind.
And so it was a little hard to navigate that. I went to my pastor at the time. My church had been very supportive. And just a unique note in here: The girl that hit me, their family also went to our church. So that provided another little difficult thing to navigate, starting back to church again when I was physically able, knowing that we were going to see them.
And I did pray in the hospital, actually, and I don't even know how I knew to say this prayer, because this was before I even knew what all my journey was going to be. I had no idea. So it was definitely the Holy Spirit prompting me to pray to keep the anger and bitterness out of my heart because it had no place. And this journey was going to be tough enough without having anger and bitterness.
And so I can say that was one thing; He was faithful to me. Even though I was grieving and I was sad and I had all of those emotions, He honored that prayer and I really never had the anger and the bitterness. And I was able to see the person that hit me and say hello to her in the hallway, when you’d pass in church.