With a sweep of her arm and a ragged sigh, Nichcole De Kok sadly comments that her living room is tidy, no longer strewn with her 9-month-old daughter Sophia’s toys. De Kok then offers a quick look at her little red-headed girl’s vacant room, decorated in delicate shades of pink, yellow and green with a lingering scent of baby powder in the air. The childless mother points to a fabric print of Disney’s famous fawn Bambie nestled at his mother’s side, saying it once hung in her nursery when she was an infant.
De Kok, 35, and her husband, Sgt. Dar De Kok, 37, are bereaved parents. The couple’s only child died of accidental asphyxiation July 7. Baby Sophia was found limp by her parents at 1 a.m. that morning, wedged between the crib mattress and a side of her crib.
“Her face was blue,” Nichcole De Kok said. De Kok’s husband immediately began CPR while she frantically called 911.
De Kok said Liberty County EMS responded quickly, and transported their baby to Winn Army Community Hospital.
“My husband had checked on her at 11 p.m. and she was fine,” De Kok said. “Then I woke a couple of hours later and checked on her.” De Kok said her daughter had had post nasal drip, so she thought Sophia might be coming down with a cold. But because her daughter’s 9-month well baby checkup was scheduled for the following Monday, she didn’t want to worry too much, she said.
Sophia was the De Koks’ “miracle baby,” De Kok said, because it took five years for them to conceive.
Even with her own grief so fresh, De Kok already is reaching out to help other military families. She has formed the support group Remember Me for those grieving the death of a child, no matter what the cause.
“People need to talk it out; that’s my perspective,” De Kok said.
The support group will meet for the first time from 6-7 p.m. Thursday in room 2074A in building 253, where the Fort Stewart Soldier Service Center is housed. The group then will regularly meet the first and third Thursday of the month.
“I always said my daughter had a purpose,” De Kok said. “Whether it was to grow up to be a senator and change the world or something like this.”
De Kok said she and her husband are trying to cope with the emotional roller coaster ride of mourning, doing their best to adjust to “a new normal.”
“At first I was numb for a week or so and then it hit,” she said. The grieving mother said she chose to seek counseling so she could move forward in her recovery and learn to live with her loss. De Kok said she did not want to remain shut away from the world forever, wrapped up in her daughter’s blanket in a corner of her home.
After she sought counseling she searched for other parents who could empathize with the pain she and her husband were going through, she said. De Kok did find a support group for bereaved parents in Savannah — The Zoe Foundation — but learned there wasn’t such a group for families to turn to on Fort Stewart and Hunter.
“I believe people need support,” she said.
“I’m not sure how she even found out about us,” said Kayla Johnson, founder and director of The Zoe Foundation. “When she saw our group I think she just thought this was something Fort Stewart could really use. We have had one other military family from Hunter reach out for our support group.”
Johnson formed her foundation in 2009. Her daughter, Zoe, died shortly after birth July 1, 2004. The nonprofit provides financial assistance to help grieving parents cover burial costs in addition to offering emotional support. Johnson said sessions are facilitated by a social worker trained in grief counseling.
“The Zoe Foundation teamed up with Hospice Savannah,” Johnson said. “And they provide everything we need for our support groups. We meet from 6-7 p.m. every Tuesday at Hospice Full Circle; it’s the Hospice Savannah bereavement arm.”
The foundation focuses on bereaved parents who have lost a child between birth and age 2. Remember Me will be open to military families who have lost a child of any age.
For more information on the support group call DeKok at 808-393-9830, on the foundation visit www.zoe-foundation.org.