After seeing that little blue line on the pregnancy test, parents’ lives change forever. In the months that follow, expectant parents spend countless hours preparing and planning as well as daydreaming about the future with their child. While nobody can predict exactly what that looks like, most parents do not expect a tragedy that results in the loss of their loved one.
In October 2019, Kelli Stewart and her husband Dillon were pregnant with their second child when the unexpected happened. Kelli, a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse, had a healthy first pregnancy and had no reason to think anything would be different the second time. In her position as a NICU nurse, she has witnessed other families who experienced difficulty in pregnancy and early infancy. Suddenly, at 21 weeks pregnant, Kelli developed symptoms that caused concern and she went to the hospital for evaluation. The doctors told her there was nothing that could be done to change the outcome. Kelli delivered her son, Graham, and Kelli and Dillon were able to spend a few precious hours with him before he passed. In the weeks that followed Graham’s loss, Kelli received
a care package from a non-profit agency with items to lift her spirits, along with a note from another mother who had also lost a child. This package touched Kelli and the impact lingered with her for months.
By the Spring of 2020, with the encouragement of friends and colleagues, Kelli started exploring the idea of creating her own care packages and began testing products for potential inclusion. As the ideas evolved, Kelli set a goal to officially open by October 2020 at the one year anniversary of losing Graham. While brainstorming ideas for a business name, Kelli wanted to include words that brought light to a dark point in parents’ lives. She also wanted to continue to honor Graham and his memory. Thus, the name “Finding Fireflies: Gifts from Graham” became the title for the new business.
Finding Fireflies: Gifts from Graham is a non-profit organization that creates care packages for grieving families who have recently lost a child. Boxes contain items such as devotionals, books about infant loss, journals, mugs, tea and honey sticks, Forget Me Not flower seeds, candles, bath bombs, lotion, chapsticks, ornaments and remembrance jewelry. The company relies solely on donations to fund the boxes. Kelli and her team make stock boxes for the UF Health Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and Labor and Delivery (L&D) units. The nurses and staff on these units offer the boxes at no charge to families who have experienced loss as part of bereavement support. Finding Fireflies also makes personalized boxes that can be shipped throughout the United States. When creating a personalized box, they may also include items specific for fathers or siblings to provide support and comfort for the entire family.
In the first seven months of operation, Finding Fireflies shipped 57 boxes to 22 states and created 56 boxes for the hospital. The response from parents has been overwhelmingly positive. The care packages bring comfort to those in the acute phase of grief and provide a sense of community with other parents who have experienced similar loss. Kelli has received feedback from recipients such as, “Sometimes I don’t feel like a mother because of how short my child’s life was.” These gifts provide validation and a tender embrace.
Thus far, Finding Fireflies is operating solely on private donations but they are looking to connect with companies for additional sponsorships. They
are also making connections with other hospitals to offer the packages to grieving families in other locations. Word of mouth has helped share the importance of these boxes with others. The value of each box ranges from approximately $60-$100. The packages are not available for purchase in the standard sense. For a family to receive a box, friends or family can nominate a grieving parent on the website to receive a package at no cost. If the person nominating wishes to do so, they may provide a donation on the website to help with the cost of the package. Any individual or business may also donate to help provide comfort to grieving families.
Kelli Stewart is a hometown hero. Besides caring for babies in the NICU, she found the strength within to turn her loss into a positive experience for others going through tough times. She honors her son daily and finds purpose in his life as together they help bring light and joy to others.