GTPulse: Leelanau Cellars Supports Family During Grief

–  This story deals with a mother and loss that could make some feel sensitive.

Losing a loved one is never easy. In my eyes, God has made this world perfectly imperfect. And the perfect ones go home before becoming too grounded here in this world. Sylvia Schuetz is one of those rare, untouchable beings that returned back to the place from which she came. A small angel that briefly graced this world and her parents with joy and love. And though Syliva feels no pain, her mother has felt the weight of losing her daughter since October 2016. 

“I have severe PTSD that I’ve been working on for four years now,” said her mother Christina Schuetz.

Sylvia had been born with a myriad of complex heart problems that had never been documented before. After two surgeries to attempt to correct her heart, she passed at 10 months old.

Christina had been living at the hospital with Syliva for three months throughout her health trials. She, her husband, and their oldest daughter Lily had moved into a beautiful countryside home earlier that year, only weeks before Sylvia had been hospitalized.

“I came home to my Clarkston home. I still had boxes to unpack. I came home to this place that felt like it should be a dream, you know, we had five acres and I couldn’t believe that we had even gotten this house in the first place. But, I came home without my daughter and it was just hard.”

October had been a favorite month for Christina. She enjoyed vibrant warm colors, cozy chilled air, and Halloween. Sylvia’s passing, however, had altered time and the universe. The Earth shifted under Christina’s feet and somehow everything looked the same but it wasn’t. Her home, her life, and the month of October were changed forever.

“My friends and family that know me well know how much I love Witches Brew. It was my favorite thing about fall. So anytime a friend would drop off a meal or something else, they’d always bring a bottle of that wine.”

Witches Brew is a popular, seasonal wine from Leelanau Cellars. The sweet dessert wine is best served warm and is a fall favorite for its spices and apple flavors. Christina found that the brew was one of the few things that still brought her comfort.

“There’s not a lot of things that have maintained their comfort for me. A lot of things that I used to do are now difficult to do, and for some reason, that wine has stayed a constant. It’s such a silly little thing that a $7 bottle of wine can make me sit down and pause, and take a breath. But when you struggle with PTSD, any little form of comfort you can get is extremely helpful.”

She wrote a letter expressing her enjoyment and appreciation for the wine to Leelanau Cellars and told them a bit about the loss of her daughter. 

“I remember two years ago I had written Leelanau Cellars a note. They were having a sale and I ordered from them. In the note, I just wrote a brief description of Sylvia’s story, and just how thankful I was to have something as simple as a glass of wine to ground me. That not everything is bad or sad, and that there are still things that can spark joy. I had ordered two bottles of wine but when I got the box, it was huge. I opened it and there was a handwritten note from the Jacobson family saying that they were so sorry for my loss and so thankful they could provide me some kind of comfort. There were two campfire mugs and 12 bottles of wine. I just lost it, it was the kindest gesture.”

Christina was shocked when a year later, another box arrived on the date of her daughter’s passing with more gifts, wine, and another handwritten note expressing condolences and care for Christina and her family.

“Someone at Leelanau Cellars put my daughter’s name on a calendar. The intentionality, and the remembering, the fact that this family that I never met before remembered and extended their generosity not once but twice has just meant so much to me. You know, I’m not someone who regularly goes to the vineyard and drops a ton of money. I’m just a person who likes a bottle of wine, and they have just poured so much love into remembering me and my family.”

The care meant a lot to Christina and her family. With a medically fragile child, there is a community of support from others who are parents or family members to a medically fragile child. After Syliva passed, Christina found that she had lost both her daughter and that particular community of people she had been comforted by.

“You lose your child and so many of the groups or organizations don’t apply to you anymore. Make-A-Wish does incredible work, but once your child is gone, on paper you don’t qualify to be supported by them anymore. There’s a lot of support for families with a child who is fighting a medical battle, but not a lot of support for families who have lost their child to a medical battle.”

She has coped with it by keeping Sylia’s memory alive. Each year on her birthday she and her family make 200 to 300 goody bags with Sylvia’s story attached on them and place them throughout metro Detroit on cars and porches.

“This year because of COVID we didn’t do that. But I designed coffee mugs, magnets, and ornaments with quotes that are meaningful to me. All of the profits from those are going to congenital heart disease research lab at Mott Children’s Hospital.”

Christina also hopes to find a way to bring together and collectively support other families who have lost a child. 

“In our society, we don’t like to sit in sad spaces for too long. I’m working on a book about Sylvia’s story and how to support a family that has lost a child. It’s such a unique set of circumstances and pain. We’re not good at supporting people in grief, it makes us uncomfortable. You know, we rely on a lot of cliches like, ‘everything happens for a reason.’ So my dream is to have a foundation in her name that helps support and love on families that have lost children.”

When it’s safe to travel and be around groups again, Christina and her family have been invited to Leelanau Cellars for a stay in a corporate condo to enjoy all that the winery has to offer. She’s grateful and blown away by the kindness.

“Their support has meant everything. They really feel like family to us.”

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Categories: GTPulse