Culture July 31st, 2017

A Lifetime Of Loss: How My Son’s Death Is Healing Others

Two vertical lines on July 13, 2012, changed my life forever.

“Well, it looks like we’re having another baby!” I hollered excitedly to my wife, “And this time, I hope it’s a boy!” Five months earlier we’d just had a baby girl, and the news of this pregnancy was a huge relief for me.

Around the same time, I had to choose between two new job offers. With my options weighed, I picked the one that paid less money but reduced my travel. After all, I had a 10-year-old stepdaughter, a newborn and a baby on the way.

It was hard not to dwell on the extra money after I made a choice. But being with my family more often and the news of this pregnancy reassured me that I made the right decision. I felt like this pregnancy was fate.

On September 29, three years to the date from when I proposed to my wife, we got the news: We were having a boy; Jalen Gabriel Foster.

I was going to have my little man! And there was an added bonus, too — he was due on my birthday. I did the math and had realized I’d turn 50 the day he turned 21. In my mind, I began planning the party of all parties to celebrate our milestone birthdays.

All of a sudden, it felt like everything was coming together: I had a baby girl earlier in the year, recently started a fantastic new job, completed my master’s degree, and now I was about to have a son who’ll share my birthday. This was shaping up to be the best year of my life.

Then around 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 27, I made a panicked phone call to my brother-in-law, Arnold. “Arnold, we need you to come over now and watch Janelle and Celine, Gaby is bleeding, and her back hurts, and we don’t know what’s going on.”

I’d never said so much in a one-sentence phone call like I did that night.

It was cold, windy and eerily quiet on the drive to the hospital. Had it been any other day, it would’ve been very calming. As we sped down the highway, I had one eye on the road and another on my wife. Our hands remained interlocked.

Her face remained blank as she leaned against the passenger seat window. Unwiped tears leaked from her eyes and dripped down her cheek.

“We’ve lost him, we’ve lost him,” she murmured to herself, holding her stomach. “My baby is gone.”

“No he is OK, you’ll see. We just have to get there, and then we will be alright.” I am ever the optimist. This was my little man were are talking about.

Never did I imagine that I’d walk my wife into the hospital pregnant and come out empty handed.

Sadly, Jalen had lost his life due to common bacteria, known as Group B strep. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly one in four pregnant women carry GBS, which is the leading cause of sepsis and meningitis in newborns.

But not all babies exposed to GBS become infected, however. For those who do, the results can be devastating. Such was the case with our son, Jalen.

As my wife and I sat alone in the hospital room, still reeling from the chaos that had happened hours before, we felt hopeless, alone and lost. The first time we saw our son was also our last. How could we possibly move on from here?

Through this experience, we’d realized there was a lack of resources available to families that suffer a pregnancy or infant loss. There were no support groups, the funeral homes were costly, the hospital had outdated information on any contacts for pregnancy loss support, and there was very little provided for memorial items.

As grieving parents, the added stress of trying to arrange memorial services and find any grief support made this experience even more painful. To say we felt alone is an understatement.

The thought of another family feeling completely alone motivated us to create Jalen’s Gift Foundation.

I asked my wife what she would have wanted after we lost Jalen. She said she wanted to have some comfort in our grief but also hope for the future that we’ll be able to have another baby someday.

With that, we had our slogan and the primary mission of our foundation. All of our services that we offer are FREE to any family that’s suffered a loss. We do not believe that any parent should have to pay to be reminded they lost a baby.

Our non-profit organization allows us to work with all Las Vegas hospitals, doctors' offices and hospice care facilities. We offer families everything they need to help them get through this painful process.

Today, when a family has a loss, the hospitals only have to call one number to receive the following:

One of our care packages
All of these care packages are assembled by families and friends of someone who has suffered a loss, whether it’s from a miscarriage, stillbirth or up to the first year of life. It’s a way to let the family immediately know that they're not alone and there is a community out there that will be with them through their grief journey.

Remembrance photography
Our photographers will come out to the hospital and provide professional pictures of the family's last moments with their baby.

A free urn
Or we'll make a donation towards a burial and service.

Private online community support
As a way to receive emotional support, we'll connect grieving families to over 900 other families worldwide who've also lost a. child.

In-person support
We meet once a month and have in-person fellowship nights. We have support groups for children, Spanish-speaking families, men and more.

Multiple community events
We have hosted pregnancy fairs, memorial walks, remembrance vigils, care package parties (where families come together and we build care packages for the hospitals), and other family-friendly events throughout the year.

To date, we’ve offered our services to more than 900 families from 18 countries. We are available 24/7 to families that are suffering more than just a loss of life. The loss of a future filled with endless possibilities, and hopes and dreams.

The foundation has made a difference in the Las Vegas community and has become my wife’s and my life’s passion.

Our organization has received multiple awards, including “The Frist Humanitarian Award”; KLAS-TV’s “Acts of Kindness Award”; KSNV-TV’s “Local Heroes Award”; and the Clark County Medical Society’s “Winged Hart Award.” The Winged Heart award is given to a non-profit that is raising the bar of service in the medical community in Clark County. And in 2016, the City of Henderson signed a proclamation that declared October “Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month” in honor of Jalen’s Gift Foundation.

Not a day goes by that we don’t miss Jalen. He’ll always be a missing part of our lives. Often I think my family had to go through the grieving process to find a way to heal. This has been the most humbling experience of our lives. Together, we’ve mourned, found a new normal and we've learned to live again and smile.

Jalen has taught us the true meaning of compassion and giving unconditionally. And that’s what we hope to achieve through Jalen’s Gift Foundation.