Debbie Gibbons helps families grieve, honor babies lost to miscarriage
It takes a special kind of compassion to do what Debbie Gibbons does on a daily basis. As bereavement coordinator for Saint Joseph East, she sometimes delivers the worst news to soon-to-be parents – that their baby has failed to survive. Counseling women and families through that loss can be a difficult task.
“I tell people that their lives are forever changed; that this is not going to go away in a year or two years, this is reality now. But I know they can get to a place where they can be happy again. They don’t think they can do that, but I can help them. That’s what I want to give them,” she said.
View more of Debbie’s story in her own words here.
Debbie came to Saint Joseph East more than 16 years ago, and was immediately interested in establishing a bereavement program for miscarriages. She said she wanted to help women by acknowledging their loss, one that is mostly overlooked since the subject of miscarriage is often taboo. But with one in four pregnancies ending in miscarriage, the need to recognize that grief is great.
With assistance from Chaplain Kathy Mattone, Debbie’s bereavement program has grown over the years to one of the most comprehensive in the region, offering services to women across the spectrum of loss, from conception to delivery. In February of 2015, Debbie and Kathy began offering a bi-monthly burial and memorial service at a local cemetery for women in the Lexington area and beyond. Infants lost from other KentuckyOne facilities in Mount Sterling, Berea, Martin and Bardstown are also remembered.
The service not only gives patients the chance to heal and honor their lost child, but to connect to other parents experiencing the same kind of loss. “They come into the hospital pregnant, have a medical procedure done, and walk out the door not pregnant,” Debbie said. “But no one is saying anything along the way for them, so that’s what we’re trying to change. That for one, it’s acknowledged as a loss, and two, we give them the opportunity to have some connection and some closure with our prayer service.”
When Debbie’s staff worries about saying the wrong thing to grieving parents, Debbie said she tells them not to worry. “I tell them it’s such a difficult time in their life they won’t remember what you said. What they will remember is that you cared, that you loved them; that you sat with them in their grief.”
How does Debbie continue to do such a heartbreaking job day after day?
“My answer is because of the strength and grace of God, and because it makes such a difference in families’ lives. I can’t walk the journey of grief for them; I can only set them on the right path for healing.”
And the job has its joys as well, said Debbie. “What is most gratifying to me is when patients come back again and have a healthy baby. This is their promised child they have now. There’s nothing sweeter.”
Fulfilling the KentuckyOne Health Promise
Respecting every life, no matter how small, Debbie is demonstrating the ultimate Reverence and Compassion for her patients and their families, a true manifestation of Values-Led principles.
Debbie illustrates the tenet of Meaningful Work as she ministers to families bringing wellness, healing and hope to patients in great need.