Bereavement Bags and Cassie’s Cuddles: A labor of love

When Dena and Travis Iverson’s daughter, Cassie Jean, was stillborn on April 19, 2019, it sent the young couple into what Dena describes as an out-of-body experience. “Stillbirth is a strange journey because there are no memories with them here in our arms. It’s all dates and times leading up to the hello and goodbye,” Dena said. “I think that’s why I (we) hang onto the days leading up to…[the stillbirth] because it’s the only tangible moments we had.”

The Iverson’s now have three children but Dena’s thoughts are never too far from the missing piece in their family and her ongoing journey of how to share Cassie’s loss with their children. “As your earthly children grow up, they’re going to know about their other sibling, and so it’s important to lay that foundation early on of how to deal with grief, because we all experience it.”

In 2021 Dena joined the board of directors of One Bright Star, a Mankato nonprofit. Its mission is to be a resource to families that have lost a child to death. She not only wanted to share her and Cassie’s story but to also help other families on their grief journey after suffering child loss. She presented the OBS board with the idea of having bereavement bags at the hospital to give to families when the unimaginable happens. In 2023 that idea became a reality.

The main focus of the bereavement bags is to not let anyone go home from the hospital empty-handed. “It is a very lonely and overwhelming feeling to leave the hospital without your child,” executive director of One Bright Star, Erica Fischer said. “We wanted to help parents and siblings create whatever memories they could while in the hospital and the bereavement bags help to begin and facilitate that grief journey.”

The bags contain items such as a blanket, books, a lantern, candle, essential oils, and a stone to be used as a “pocket hug.” Things that will help to remember and honor a lost child and to help comfort the family in their time of profound loss both at the hospital and once they return home.

Because the Iverson’s also have other children, it was important for Dena to include any siblings that may be in a family that suffers the death of a child. That’s why she came up with the idea of, “Cassie’s Cuddles.” These are stuffed animals that parents or siblings can take home from the hospital so they have something to hold onto and hug and to be included in the memory of their sibling who won’t be coming home. The Bereavement Bags were presented to the Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato in October of 2023. Accepting the bags were Amanda Bassett-Swanson, a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker at the hospital.

Photo #1:
BEREAVEMENT BAGS were delivered to the Mayo Clinic Health System hospital in Mankato in the fall of 2023. Presenting the bags were board members of One Bright Star (l-r), Alicia More, Dena Iverson and Erica Fischer. Accepting on behalf of MCHS was Amanda Bassett-Swanson, Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker.

Photo #2:
CASSIE’S CUDDLES were part of the bereavement bag donations made to the Mayo Clinic Health System hospital in Mankato. In memory of Dena and Travis Iverson’s daughter, Cassie, these stuffed animals are sent home to children to hold onto and hug after a family has suffered the death of a child. Pictured are Dena Iverson, left, and Amanda Bassett-Swanson, Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker at MCHS.

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