BANGOR, Maine — Glenburn resident Christopher Poulin never got to meet his son, who was stillborn five years ago, but he still plays basketball with him.
His brother-in-law created a digital avatar using pictures from the hospital for the basketball video game Poulin plays at home.
“I still see him. I still play with him,” Poulin said Saturday just before the Empty Arms Remembrance Walk through Mount Hope Cemetery. “He gave him a gold bar as a headband that looks like a halo.”
Not a day goes by when he and his wife, Anette, don’t think about the child they lost.
“It was hard,” Chris Poulin said recalling the heart wrenching trip to the hospital to deliver his stillborn son. “I remember going through weird moods. I remember once I was laughing at everything. I couldn’t stop. It was definitely hard. We still think about him all the time. Everyday.”
“It will be five years in November and it’s still hard,” his wife said with red eyes and tears welled up against her eyelids. “I survived my first year without my son because of this group.”
The Empty Arms support group is filled with people who all understand each other’s pain, said walk organizer Jaime Pangburn of Eddington who lost a daughter, Jenovieve, in 2007. She said the support group at Eastern Maine Medical Center is helpful to both parents.
“Men and women grieve so differently,” Pangburn said. “They just close the box and they’re done with it and woman hash it over again and again. It’s just because they have to be so strong, they go out to their car and break down where no one can see them. It’s good for both sides when they understand [genders mourn differently]. That they’re not alone.”
Toby and Michelle Paradis of Orrington, who lost their daughter Anastasia in March, said the Empty Arms group has given them the support others could not.
“Just talking to people who know — people who have been through the same thing — people who completely understand what you’re going through” is helpful in the grieving process, Michelle Paradis said.
The couple’s daughter died at birth and “we don’t know why she died,” which has been especially hard for the young couple, she said.
“It’s been seven months and it’s still hard,” Michelle Paradis said, holding a remembrance necklace that is engraved with her daughter’s name.
In the National KIDS COUNT tally for infant deaths, based on 2010 data of deaths per 1,000 live births collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistic, Maine ranks near the top. With a rating of 9.7, Mississippi was at the bottom of the list and Alaska, with 3.7 was at the top with the lowest infant mortality rate. Maine ranked 16th from the top with a rating of 5.4.
Pangburn said after losing her daughter she stopped living.
“I stayed in a fog for a long time,” she said, with her other children running around playing behind her. “All of a sudden I started to feel again and I decided we needed to remind ourselves of the positive things.”
That was three years ago when the first Empty Arms Remembrance Walk was held. It has grown larger every year since, she said. More than a hundred people, many dressed in green T-shirts, participated in the one-mile walk through Bangor’s historic cemetery.
“You’ll see people show up who have lost a child 20 years ago and were never able to acknowledge they had a loss,” Pangburn said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that walk organizer Jaime Pangburn of Eddington lost a daughter, Genevieve. It is Jenovieve.