Like many expectant mothers, when Lori Dente learned that she was having a girl, she raced to the store to buy her bundle of joy a dress — an adorable navy blue number with a splash of red hearts.
Eager to share the purchase with her husband, Michael, she greeted him before he stepped through the door of their Copley Township home.
“A sweater dress for a newborn?” he teased.
“It will be her Valentine’s Day dress,” Lori said, grinning.
Sofia Isabella Dente was born Jan 26, 2011, at Akron General Hospital, but something crucial had happened prior to her birth. The baby’s umbilical cord became compressed, cutting off oxygen and leaving her in a vegetative state.
At Akron Children’s Hospital, where she was transferred, Sofia’s parents and doctors closely watched the infant. But as a social worker at Children’s, Lori knew the terms used by the medical staff, and the prognosis was grim.
After nearly three weeks of no improvement, Sofia, in her dress with the pretty red hearts, went home on Valentine’s Day to die.
While their tale is sorrowful, the Dentes consider themselves blessed — having had time to sing, read and hold their daughter close. Sofia died in the wee hours of the next morning. And what followed stunned her parents.
On Facebook, Lori and Michael shared their daughter’s story and asked people to join a movement that they called “Find the love.”
“It is a project that suggests taking some time out of your daily life in honor of this sweet baby girl and … look at the good around you,” Lori explained. “The response has been amazing. People have written to thank us for permission to pause.”
The 21-day project, equaling the number of days that Sofia lived, encourages Facebook users to post pictures that represent love. It ends Saturday.
“For the three weeks that she lived, she taught so many people to stop and focus on love. We are so busy in our daily lives that we lose sight of that,” said Lori, noting that nearly 1,200 people from around the globe have joined in.
The biggest fear for parents who have lost a child, explained Michael Dente, is that they will be forgotten, that over time the deceased child’s name disappear from conversations and their memories will fade.
“Though Sofie isn’t here, physically, she is here in spirit,” said Michael, whom Lori commends for holding her up during their darkest hour. “People are proud of their children because they’re football stars or something else, but then there’s my daughter. She only lived three weeks, but has reached out to the world.”
The Akron area has a notable number of charitable causes in honor of those who have died too young. The reason is threefold — to keep their memories alive, honor their lives by helping others, and make sense out of something that seems senseless.
Summit County judges Tom and Linda Teodosio began the Andrea Rose Teodosio Foundation following the death of their 22-year-old daughter in a skiing accident. The foundation benefits a multitude of causes.
Sara Ruble of Stow lost her 19-year-old son, Scott Jessie, to natural causes, and championed the Christmas Box Angel that stands in Silver Springs Cemetery. The Cassidy’s Hope Foundation salutes the memory of Valley City’s Cassidy Erin Jackson, daughter of Pam and Butch Czech, who died of cancer at 12. And Bob and Cathy Reeves established the counseling service Kelly’s Grief Center in Kent in honor of their 16-month-old daughter who choked to death.
For the Dentes, it’s a more tangible cause.
When Sofia was in the hospital, Lori gathered every blanket that had swaddled her baby and slept with them, taking in the smells of her daughter that still lingered on the fabric. The blankets were so comforting that she and Michael formed a nonprofit organization, Team Sofie Chapter 2, providing blankets to babies in the NICU at Akron Children’s Hospital and others in need around the country.
Today, the Dentes are busy taking care of their 18-month-old son, Alex, and are expecting another baby in August.
“Sofie made me a much better mom,” said Lori, watching her busy son playing. “I see the world differently because of her.”
The couple wishes they weren’t members of the exclusive group of parents who have lost children, but understands that life can throw some harsh punches.
“As much as we [bereaved parents] would trade in a heartbeat to have our kids back,” Lori said, “you almost feel chosen — because you see life through a different set of lenses.”
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or email@example.com.