Faith’s Lodge Gives Grieving Families a Soft Spot to Land

by | Feb 2018

Faith’s Lodge

Faith’s Lodge is located in Northwestern Wisconsin near the town of Webster. Photo: Faith’s Lodge

Anyone who has endured the loss of a son or daughter can attest that it’s a journey of grief that lasts a lifetime. Though the initial shock may fade, the longing and missing remain, and learning how to navigate life in the wake of a child’s death is completely uncharted territory.

Faith’s Lodge is dedicated to supporting families through such troubled times. The Plymouth-based nonprofit brings together families facing the death or medically complex condition of a child. Those families get to be with others who understand their pain so that they can feel supported and renewed.

The organization was founded by Mark and Susan Lacek, whose daughter Faith died of an umbilical cord accident two weeks before her due date in June of 2000. Susan says that while they were grateful for the support of family and friends, they yearned to be among others who knew what this unique type of grief felt like.

“It was most meaningful for us to go to support groups and talk about it with families that had been through it, but those support groups might meet once a month or once every couple of months in a hospital basement. It just left us thinking that there had to be a better way to support people through this really terrible time,” she says.

Shortly after Faith’s death, Mark and Susan spent several days at a resort in the Wisconsin woods, thankful for the opportunity to get away. “We found it so healing in nature, but the only thing we thought was lacking in that experience was that people were there for very different reasons than us, like anniversaries or birthdays, and we felt like we couldn’t talk to them about what we were going through. So, we thought, what if we could take this sort of experience of being in nature and connect all of these people because they’re here for the same reasons?”

From there, Faith’s Lodge was born. “We created what we want to see in the world, what we wish had been available to us at the time,” says Susan. The organization, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last summer, has served over 8,000 people to date and remains the only facility of its kind within the country. “I think it’s been so helpful to people to go to a safe place where they know that they can be purposeful about their grieving and be there with other families who truly understand what they’re experiencing,” Susan says.

Jenna and Scott Rogers of Plymouth are one such family. In 2010, their son Noah died at just 11 months old, simply never waking up from his nap at daycare, which doctors later deemed the result of Sudden Unexpected Infant Death (SUID). Jenna and Scott were devastated and unsure how to get through life without their son. When a friend told them about Faith’s Lodge, it felt like a godsend.

“We made plans to go to Faith’s Lodge just three weeks after Noah died, and it just so happened that there was a group of other SUID-affected parents that were all going to be there at the same time, and they had a room open for us,” Jenna says. Whether fate or coincidence, it proved to be life-changing all the same.

The warm, welcoming feel of Faith’s Lodge made the Rogers feel at ease throughout their weekend-long stay. “It was all of the sudden like we weren’t alone anymore,” Jenna says. “After losing a child, it’s sort of scary to go anywhere in public because you fear that people will ask you questions like ‘how many children do you have?’ or they’ll see you and run away or they’ll want to talk to you, and you’ll have to have an awkward conversation. Everything is just very awkward for a very long time.” But there were no feelings of awkwardness at Faith’s Lodge, and the Rogers found it profoundly meaningful to connect with others who knew what their pain felt like.

“At that time, we were still in shock, not really knowing who to talk to,” Scott says. “Two weeks after Noah died and everything settled down with the funeral, we didn’t know what else to do or who to talk to. … At Faith’s Lodge, we were able to be with other parents who had gone through the same situation, and at that time, that was exactly what we needed.”

A stay at Faith’s Lodge isn’t meant to help its visitors get over their child’s death, but rather give them a place to reflect and refresh. “The death obviously doesn’t ever go away, but it does change how you are able to cope in your day-to-day life,” says Jenna. “There isn’t really anything like it. If you haven’t lost a child, you obviously can’t really relate. Overall, it was such a tremendous experience for us to be able to connect with other parents who have gone through the same thing.”

Since their initial visit, Jenna and Scott have stayed involved with Faith’s Lodge. Jenna now works as the organization’s director of advancement, and Scott, a graphic designer, donates his services pro-bono when needed. Jenna assists with the annual fundraiser, Hope Rocks, and each summer, the couple hosts their own benefit for Faith’s Lodge and Noah’s Memorial SIDS Foundation, which they started in honor of their son.

They also have a suite named after Noah at the lodge itself, which they’ve returned to several times. “We’ve come back as guests a few times, and we’ve always felt so comfortable there,” says Jenna. “We felt like there was a part of Noah there with us, like it was such a special place for us to honor him and remember him.”

Kari and Dave Elias are another Plymouth couple whose lives have been transformed by Faith’s Lodge. When their son Brandon was born in 2006, Kari says he faced health issues that made everything unnerving. “We didn’t know what was happening; we didn’t know what was going on.”

Brandon was immediately placed in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and later moved to the University of Minnesota, where doctors discovered he had a terminal condition called Zellweger syndrome. “It’s extremely rare—only about one in 60,000 babies a year are born with it, so it’s not something that they test for when you’re pregnant, and it’s also really hard to identify,” says Kari. She and Dave brought Brandon home for palliative care, but he passed away at 2-and-a-half months old, which left them heartbroken.

Faith’s Lodge was still under construction at that time, but Kari and Dave were immediately intrigued. “We thought, ‘wow, this is really needed,’ because with us and our unique situation with our baby, we really felt alone, like no one else knew what we were dealing with,” Kari says.

They immediately started fundraising for Faith’s Lodge, even before its doors were officially open, and that involvement, Kari says, has enriched their lives. “We have a room named after [Brandon], and through our volunteer efforts, we started meeting other parents that had similar stories.” Though Brandon’s death once left them feeling isolated and misunderstood, Faith’s Lodge gave them a lifelong support network full of people who could truly empathize as they support them through their grief.

Like the Rogers, Kari and Dave remain active supporters of Faith’s Lodge. They have raised over $40,000 through various fundraisers and are committed to spreading about Faith’s Lodge to families who need it. On March 16, the couple will host a casino night fundraiser at Lucky 13 in Plymouth where all proceeds will go to Faith’s Lodge.

“My husband and I were in a fortunate scenario in that we didn’t have a lot of expenses when our son died, so we could easily get away, but then we thought about the families that can’t afford it or might not have the opportunity to go,” Kari says. “Unfortunately for us, the lodge wasn’t there when we first lost our child, but it’s been there ever since. We feel so strongly about the organization and having it be available to parents that are having to face the unthinkable.”


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