5:50 PM EST, February 13, 2012
Most families have a lifetime of memories when a loved one dies, but what if the lifetime is just a few days, or even a few minutes. A national program with volunteers in western virginia is helping families facing the loss of a young child.
Jacinda and Chris Hays are grieving, a month after the death of their first child, Leslie Colleen.
"We manage, through every day," said Jacinda Hays. "Some days are good and some days are bad."
"From the moment that we found out something was wrong, until even now," Chris Hays said in an interview, "it just feels like we're kind of floating along, as if this really isn't happening."
But they want to talk about the impact her brief life has already had on theirs, and share the photos they already treasure. "Some of my favorite pictures we have are just like me holding her hand and Chris holding her feet and those are really precious to us right now," said Jacinda Hays.
The pictures were taken by Bruce Muncy, a professional photographer with more than 35 years experience. He's also a volunteer and Area Coordinator for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a national non profit organization that pairs photographers with parents facing the loss of a baby.
"It's a ministry," Muncy said. "God has called me, he gave me this talent, but he's called me to do this. I used to question him about it. I don't any more."
In the last three years, he has gathered his equipment more than 20 times, climbed onto the Valley Metro trolley that runs between his downtown Roanoke studio and Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. "So typically what I do is pray on the way over for God's grace and patience and all those things that you need to deal with grief," Muncy told News7, "and then when I get to the hospital I'm ready to go."
There, at the parents' invitation and free of charge, he photographs children in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Some, like Leslie Hays, in the final hours of life - others in the moments after they have passed away.
"When I zoom in on fingertips and toes and little ears, there's finger prints, they are actually beautifully and wholly formed," he said. "So that's to me the incredible thing, how much of a miracle each one of those lives are, and for me to be able to record that, and to give the parents something to remember that little life by, I think that's all I need to do."
Wendi Jobe has 15 years experience as a nurse in Carilion's NICU, the last three as a Unit Director. "I think regardless of whether you have a child for five days or five minutes, they are still a part of your life," Jobe said in an interview. "They are still your family. It's still your child. Being able to provide these types of memories, pictures, tangible memories for the families to acknowledge there was a child that's no longer with us and Bruce is able to do that and it's quite a gift."
Jacinda and Chris Hays are sending out announcements that acknowledge their child's birth on January 12th and her death two days later. "Promoted to Heaven," it reads, and "Too Beautiful for Earth." They are glad they have the photographs to preserve her memory.
"And at the time I was kind of confused about do I really want a bunch of pictures," Jacinda Hays told us, "and now I'm so glad that we did that, because now I have pictures, I have them all over my house and all over the place, and it's just a way that we can remember and incorporate her into our lives now."
"She is a huge source of joy for me," Chris Hays said, "and by having these to remember that time it will remind me of where I was at that point, and that has changed the course of my life so I don't ever want to forget it."
Their experience has also sparked another effort to help families in similar circumstances.
Chris Hays' mother and her friends in Mississippi have started their own ministry, Leslie's Closet, to provide clothing for premature babies who pass away.
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep now has 16- thousand photographers in 26 countries, including volunteers in Roanoke, Lynchburg, Danville and the New River Valley.
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