Ryan and Jess Miskovich lost their daughter, McKinley, when she was just 16 months old on July, 21, 2017. Ryan and Jess described McKinley as a happy and healthy little girl. Tragically, McKinley went to sleep and didn’t wake up. McKinley’s death was determined to be Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC) after an autopsy and additional heart testing. The couple shared more about their loss and the support networks that have surrounded them during their grief.
While the Miskovichs felt that they had a strong support network of friends and family after their daughter passed away, they did not have information or resources connected to grief support.
“I mean there is no manual you are given when your child dies, this isn’t how life is supposed to be and the death of a child is a very difficult topic,” Ryan said.
After receiving McKinley’s death certificate, Ryan and Jess began researching SUDC. They found that SUDC is the fifth leading category of death in children ages one to four. Every year, at least 100 children die unexpectedly. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent SUDC and it is unknown what causes it.
“Through researching this online, Jess and I learned about The SUDC Foundation - we reached out to them and registered as a family with the foundation,” Ryan commented. “They have been such a lifeline for us during this journey. The foundation provides services at no cost to any of the families they serve. We are so grateful for the support we have received through the foundation.”
Ryan and Jess have also participated in a bereaved parent retreat at Faith’s Lodge in Danbury, Wis. The couple has gone to the retreat twice in November 2017 and July 2018.
“It is such a wonderful place to honor your child and spend time with other parents who are on this similar journey and cherish the wonderful connections we have made with other parents,” explained Ryan.
Ryan and Jess met Kathleen and Rick Blake at the Grand Rapids Angel of Hope Vigil in 2017. The Blakes have lost two children. After attending the vigil again in 2018, they were invited to attend the service of remembrance for parents and family members during the holidays. Kathleen reached out to Ryan and Jess in 2019 about starting a parent’s grief group in the local area.
“We attended the first meeting in June of this year,” Ryan remarked. ”We are grateful to have this group available us here locally as we believe it is much needed.”
An ecumenical holiday service, Remembering Our Children, will be held in honor of children of any age who have died on Sunday, Dec. 15 at the Community Presbyterian Church in Grand Rapids at 7 p.m. Arlin Talley will officiate the service and a time for fellowship will follow. This is open to all faiths and cultures, and is open to all friends and family members.
Kathleen, an organizer of the remembrance service, described the service as a way for her to celebrate with her children who have passed. She assured that families who have lost their children do not want to take away the joy of the holidays. The service simply provides a space to be open and remember those who have passed during the holidays.
“What my wife and I have learned is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve—some people grieve outwardly; some keep to themselves. Jess and I grieve completely different and we have come to realize that this is OK,” Ryan said. “We both love our daughter more than words could even begin to describe and would do anything to have her here with us—and that is what matters. We will continue to honor her every day, to say her name every chance we get. That is all that matters.”
Ryan and Jess want other bereaved parents to know that a grief support group is available to them when they are ready or available. The group meets in Grand Rapids on every first Wednesday of each month from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Community Presbyterian Church. The meeting is not focused on any specific religion and is for parents who have lost children, no matter the age of the child. Attendees are not asked to share their story unless they choose to.
“No pressure, no expectations, no judgement. Just love and support,” Ryan remarked.