The Fourth Annual IRIS Bike Ride is hitting country roads to remember infants lost before and soon after birth. This year, cars are invited to register and join the ride.

Organized by the Harley Davidson Owners Group (HOG) Chapter of Faribault in tandem with Infants Remembered in Silence (IRIS), the guided ride is from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 15 and covers a little over 100 miles through the western part of Rice County and part of Le Sueur County. There is a rest midway through

The ride isn’t the only way to help support IRIS. A silent auction will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Tri Eight will perform live music from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. There will also be food trucks throughout the event and a trophy ceremony at 4:30 p.m.

When the original organizer of the IRIS Ride was unable to continue, the HOG Chapter stepped up.

Tom Stanley, photographer and membership officer of the HOG Chapter, and co-chairperson of the IRIS ride said the event “struck lots of HOG members and we decided we could do this. We didn’t want this to die, we want it to continue on.”

Stanley and his wife lost their first child at birth.

“Nothing like IRIS existed when we struggled with the loss of our child. We didn’t have anyone to turn to,” Stanley said. “IRIS really helps people in their time of need.”

Stanley also said “it’s the only show where you can contribute to a good cause and still have a lot of fun. We would like to thank [Rice County Sheriff] Troy Dunn and the Rice County [Sheriff’s Office] for making our ride safe.”

Lisa Burkhartzmeyer, a motorcycle lover who also lost a child, is co-chairperson of the IRIS Ride.

“This is something I can get my heart around, it means a lot,” said Burkhartzmeyer, who wasn’t aware of IRIS at the time of her loss. “Even if you lost a child years ago, they can still help,” she said.

“You don’t need a Harley Davidson Motorcycle to come enjoy the events. Anyone who wants to ride can, no matter the brand,” Burkhartzmeyer said. “This is our first year trying to involve all people, anybody can go on the car ride.”

She said the cars will either follow the motorcycles or be lead counterclockwise along the route to meet the motorcycles in the middle.

“Ann Hofmeister, owner of Faribault’s Harley Davidson, was very generous,” Burkhartzmeyer said. “She didn’t hesitate to be a supporter in giving us room to have this, planning meetings, facilities, tents and tables. They are invested in this community and this is one way they do this.”

Hoffmiester said the dealership decided to support IRIS along when they realized what a good cause it is.

“We hope to have a lot of support from riders and non-riders to help raise money for IRIS,” she said

The beginning

IRIS was started in Faribault in 1987 by Diana Kelley. Her goal was to help one family a year. IRIS is now a no-profit organization that offers free support, education and resources to families, friends and professionals about the death of a child in early pregnancy or from stillbirth, premature birth, neo-natal death, birth defects, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), illness, accidents and all other types of infant and early childhood death.

What began in her home has grown to six counties including Dodge, Goodhue, Le Sueur, Rice, Steele and Waseca counties and reaches far beyond Minnesota.

According to Kelley, one in four women have a baby miscarry or lose a child soon after birth.

IRIS help affected families create keepsakes and memories along with other tasks so the parents don’t leave empty handed. This includes bathing and dressing the baby, taking pictures, creating hand and footprints, making castings, and more. The advocate also spends an average of four to six hours helping at the funeral home.

“Advocates give them priceless keepsakes that they can have for a lifetime,” Kelley said. “They make such a difference in people’s lives.”

IRIS also provides bereavement support that include information on the type of death, understanding grief, grieving as a couple, how to preserve photos, other services provided by IRIS, and a bibliography, newsletters, poems, information for fathers, a book for grandparents, a pamphlet for family/friends, a booklet on how to plan a funeral or memorial service, a journal, a listing of characteristics of bereavement and suggestions on how to create loving memories.

In Faribault alone, 100 packages have been given to mothers, fathers and family members who’ve experienced a loss. Within the six counties supported by IRIS, 7,000 packages have been given out. She’s had doctors, nurses and funeral directors move to another town and call her to say they brought the packages with them.

“It’s a local organization that uses money to help people locally,” Kelley said.

Also offered to parents through IRIS are clothing sets, burial assistance, a newsletter, an annual balloon release, an annual holiday service of remembrance, support group meetings and one on one support.

In October, IRIS organized a candle lighting service at the IRIS office in Faribault where grieving parents could write their child’s name on a heart and place it in the empty cradle of a weeping angel statue. 5,000 names were placed in the cradle.

“Young people, old people, it’s amazing to see all of the support in the community; some are affected and some haven’t been,” Kelley said. “If people have questions, they are welcome to call, whether they’ve had a child pass away or not.”

Reporter Renata Erickson can be reached at 507-333-3129. Follow her on Twitter @FDNrenata.

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