The loss of a child at any age is one of the hardest griefs to endure.
Joyce Camfield remained strong while she helped care for her adult daughter, who was struggling to heal from a major surgery. But when she died unexpectedly in March 2013, the Mattoon woman’s hopes and dreams for her daughter’s future were turned upside down.
“It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do,” Mrs. Camfield said of remaining calm as she watched her daughter, Carla Jean Mefford, endure many set backs while healing from three major surgeries in the 18 months leading up to her death. Mrs. Camfield and her husband, Russell, were nursing their daughter back to health when she was stricken with a blood infection that eventually claimed her life. With a husband and two daughters of her own, the Camfields also provided nightly meals and a place for the family to congregate during Carla’s recovery.
While the family is still grieving the loss, they look forward to celebrating Carla’s life during the annual Windows to Heaven celebration on Sunday, February 16, at Sarah Bush Lincoln. The event, which celebrates the lives of children of all ages who have died, will be held at 3 pm in the Lumpkin Family Center for Health Education. It is free and open to anyone who has been affected by the loss of a child.
Carla was the youngest of the Camfield’s four children and her life was tragically cut short at the age of 42. “She just wanted to get well so badly so she could go back to work helping others,” Mrs. Camfield said, adding that her daughter took pride in working as certified nurse assistance providing in-home care. The family was touched by the huge outpouring of support by family, friends and community members at Carla’s visitation and funeral service. “She touched a lot of people’s lives,” her parents said.
Mrs. Camfield said she not only grieves the loss of her daughter, she also grieves the loss of a mother for her daughter’s two children. “The kids have many important events coming up and it hurts to know their mother will not be there for all the important times,” she said. “You stop and think – she’ll never see her daughters graduate or get married. She’ll never know her grandchildren.”
“It’s a whole new ballgame when you lose a child,” Mr. Camfield added. “You don’t look to lose your kids before you go.” Trying to remain strong, Mrs. Camfield thought she could handle her grief alone. With a passion for drawing, her Jesus and angel themed artwork provided comfort as she fulfilled requests for drawings from family members and friends. She also kept busy as a volunteer greeter for the Mattoon Police Department. Actually, it wasn’t until she wound up in the Emergency Room with chest pains six months after her daughter’s death that she finally realized she might need help. When doctors couldn’t find anything wrong, her family doctor suggested grief counseling.
Mrs. Camfield began attending Hopeful Horizons, a support group sponsored by Lincolnland Hospice for anyone who is grieving the death of a loved one. “It helps to talk to others who know what you’re going through,” she said. “We are all going through the same thing, but we each experience grief differently. It’s nice to have an outlet where we can share our experiences.” The counseling sessions, facilitated by bereavement counselor Dawn Macke, have helped her cope better and enjoy life. The group meets from 1 to 2:30 pm on the third Thursday of each month in Prairie Pavilion 2, just south of the Health Center.
The couple is also thankful for their strong faith, which has been instrumental in the healing process. “It’s comforting to know that God has her now and she isn’t hurting anymore,” Mr. Camfield said. He purchased a bench, which sits near Carla’s gravesite so he and other family members can visit her and reflect on her life.
Learning about Windows to Heaven just this year, “We’re looking forward to attending to celebrate Carla’s life,” the Camfields said. Windows to Heaven was created after Brian and Sheri Oakley’s twin boys, Luke and Nathan, died shortly after their premature births. With the help of Lincolnland Hospice and Sarah Bush Lincoln, a special place is now designated to memorialize children who have died. The handcrafted windows line the walls of the Health Center’s chapel and hold more than 200 stars honoring children that have died too soon. The silver stars can be purchased for $20 each and are engraved with each child’s name.
In addition to Hopeful Horizons, Lincolnland Hospice offers Pathways through Grief, which is also a support group for those grieving the loss of a loved one. Pathways through Grief meets from 7 to 9 pm on the first Wednesday of each month at Sarah Bush Lincoln.
For more information or to sponsor a child’s star, please contact Lincolnland Hospice at 800-454-4055. The engraved stars must be pre-ordered and will be hung in the Windows to Heaven display in the Health Center’s chapel.