Lives Cut Short
Faribault Daily News
By Pauline Schreiber
November 16, 2007

Susan and Scott Peterson count Diana Sundwall as part of their blessings in life.

Sundwall, founder 20 years ago of the Faribault-based non-profit group Infants Remembered in Silence, came as soon as she received a call from an Owatonna hospital nurse telling her the couple needed her help.

The day was June 26, 1998. The Petersons needed help to deal with the stillborn death of their second son, Jacob.

"We knew nothing about IRIS," Scott said. "But Diana Sundwall and her organization came highly recommended by the nurses. Both of us realized we needed someone support to help us with our loss. Jacob's birth came at 38 weeks with nothing to indicate during the pregnancy anything was wrong."

Today, their older son, Andrew, is 11 and their daughter, Erin, is 8. Jacob would be 9. Hardly a day goes by, both say, that they don't think of the son they lost and what he might be like today had he lived.

On that sad day 9 years ago, Sundwall began her assistance to the couple by helping them talk through their emotions. Both said hello and goodbye to their son.

"She had brought an outfit for Jacob," Susan said. "We dressed him in it and both of us held him a number of times."

Sundwall had materials along so castings of Jacob's feet and hands could be made. She also had a camera and took pictures of them holding Jacob.

"Those pictures and the castings of Jacob's feet and hands are extremely precious to us," Susan said. "Diana helped us with ways to remember our son we would not have thought of ourselves. Both of us were so overcome with grief. We're so extremely glad she was there for us."

20 year mark

Sundwall founded IRIS two decades ago after she and husband, Mark, suffered the stillborn death of their son, Derek. She took pictures of her son, which at the time people thought strange. While grief support groups existed, none dealt specifically with grieving parents of children lost in pregnancy and early infancy.

"My original goal was to start a group for parents to offer the assistance and comforting I wish had been there for Mark and me with Derek," Sundwall said. "At most, I thought maybe we'd deal with one or two parents a year. Well, last year we gave out 500 grief packages."

Volunteers now number 300, she said.

The Petersons are among the volunteers who help with fundraisers for the organization. So are Dan and Angie Neubauer of LeCenter.

'Pain you never get over'

Ask Dan Neubauer how many children he has and he answers "four." He always hopes, however, that they don't then ask, "What are their ages?" Then, it gets complicated.

Josh, the couple's oldest child, would be nearly 7 years old now.

He died at the age of 8 weeks from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome on Dec. 8, 2000. Their daughters are Alexis, 5, Emma, 4, and Jacob, who was born Nov. 8.

"What is so great in attending IRIS events and being with other parents who have lost an infant is that the understanding is there," Dan said. "It's a pain you never get over."

Neubauer explained it as losing part of your future.

"Your parents die, it's your past that you lose," he said. "A baby dies, it's part of your future gone. There were things I had planned to do with my son. You think of what would have been."

He credits IRIS for helping him and his wife deal with the devastating loss of their firstborn child.

"That is why we want to do whatever we can to help IRIS," Dan said. "It's an organization who services no one wants to have to use. But I'm so thankful IRIS does exist."