McCrabb: Founder of program that assists parents who suffer a loss has ‘a heart for the broken’

Sheree Young started the HEAL group at Middletown hospital after losing a son.

For 25 years, Sheree Young has walked miles through emotional landmines.

Unlike those destructive military devices, these parental nightmares don’t leave physical disabilities, but hidden scars that may never fully heal.

Young’s son, Mark Edward Young Jr., was stillborn 35 years ago, and 10 years after, she founded Help Endure A Loss (HEAL), a Premier Health program that offers comfort, reassurance, and practical help to those who have suffered the loss of a child.

HEAL team members help families deal with the many issues that accompany a miscarriage, stillbirth, or neonatal or childhood death, she said.

Last week, during the annual HEAL Memory Tree Lighting, held at Berachah Church in Middletown for the first time, Young was honored with a recognition plaque for her 25 years of service by Dr. Greg Siewny, a retired OBGYN.

Early next year, Young, 69, will receive the 2024 Certified in Perinatal Loss Care of the Year Award presented by the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center. It is the organization’s most prestigious honor.

Young, like so many who quietly perform invaluable services behind-the-scenes, isn’t consumed with winning awards or recognition.

For her, it’s all about the people, those going through “one of life’s greatest tragedies,” the loss of a child, she said.

She has guided parents through this journey for 25 years.

“That seems almost impossible,” she said when asked about the length of her career. “At times it feels like it was yesterday and other times my entire lifetime. This has been such my passion and literally my life’s work.”

That work creates some sleepless nights. She often wonders if there was more she could have done or said.

“I try to do everything in my power to help in any way,” said Young, a former neonatal nurse. “That’s a huge order for me. Things can’t be just OK for the families. It has to be 100 percent for them. It has to be everything.”

Kevin L. Aldridge and his wife, Crystal, were connected with HEAL after their daughter, Kelis, chocked on her umbilical cord and died 17 years ago.

Aldridge, 44, co-pastor of Church on the Rock in Middletown, said he was reluctant to receive HEAL services initially.

“I was in this weird space of emotions,” he said.

Losing a child at any age, he said, makes you “part of a club you don’t ask to be a part of.”

The Aldridges have two other daughters: Ava, 15, a freshman at Middletown High School, and Zoe, 9, a third grader at Central Academy. They refer to Kelis as their “first born.”

He said HEAL provided them with numerous mementos, Kelis’ footprints, and photographs. Her picture is the screen saver on his cell phone.

“She’s a part of us,” he said.

When Young founded HEAL, and she met with grieving parents, she wrote down some talking points as a guide. Now it’s more about being a listener than a lecturer.

“We want to find out what they need at that minute and go from there,” she said.

It would be easy for Young to refer to her personal experience. But if she used that approach, the sessions would be more about her instead of the families.

“We are walking with them and their child,” she said. “Each and everybody needs something different. Life stories are all different.”

Berachah Pastor Lamar Ferrell said he’s most impressed by how Young turned her “tragedy into a trail of tears to help others. She has been a pioneer in this area and she’s able to walk into the lives of parents at a most difficult time. She has been a heart for the broken.”

Young retired from HEAL for five years, then was drawn back to “steer the ship,” she said. What she missed most wasn’t the place, but the people, she said. She has kept in contact with parents she counseled 25 years ago.

Young and her husband, Jeff Jarrett, have a blended family that includes three daughters, Cara Wagner, Alenna Buurma and Kaley Zech and nine grandchildren, Noah, Ava, Emma, Lucas, Sydney, Claire, Amelia, Malin and Wolfgang.

She also hasn’t forgotten her son. She never will.

While she can’t play the “what if game,” she often wonders what her infant would be like today.

“A wonderful and incredible addition to the world,” she said.

About the Author