How Tragedy Focused LaNita Cox’s Plans for the Future

Cox Family. Photo credit: Hesed Family Photography, Kelsi Strawn
Cox Family. Photo credit: Hesed Family Photography, Kelsi Strawn

LaNita Cox has a passion for helping others, a passion born not from joyful exploration or a compelling hobby, but born of grief and sustained by additional tragedy.

But first came raising a family and running her own business, and then a decision to enroll at UIS.

 

Preparing for a second career

As so many UIS students had before her, LaNita Cox enrolled at UIS as a non-traditional student.

Soon after high school, LaNita and her husband moved from Kentucky to Taylorville, Illinois, where they raised their three daughters. She worked for many years as a cosmetologist, opening her own shop in 2002.

In 2009, a friend told her about a tuition waiver available at the University of Illinois for anyone whose parent had fought in a foreign war. Well, LaNita thought, her father had fought in World War II.

She had always planned on going to college, and the timing was perfect, so she applied.

“To be honest, I could tell that I wouldn’t be able to stand on my feet with my arms above my head for too many more years,” she says.

 

No particular goals other than a degree

So in Spring 2011, she began commuting from Taylorville to take classes at UIS. “When I started, my goal was to get a degree,” she says. “In what, I had no idea!”

After a few exploratory majors, she ended up with a major in Communication, which she chose “for its versatility.” She also loved the energy and encouragement of professors like Amie Kincaid and Hazel Rozema—so much, in fact, that she went on to complete a master’s degree in the program.

She says, “The education I have received at UIS has provided me with the basic skills to pursue my passion of helping others. I have developed mentor relationships with many of my professors which provide a network of advisors going beyond the classroom. UIS was the perfect place as a non-traditional college student for both my undergrad and graduate programs.”

When LaNita began her classes at UIS, she still wasn’t aware of the singular passion that so inspires her today—though the first of five tragedies had already occurred, two years before she had begun classes at UIS.

 

Out of loss, a new purpose

In 2008, her oldest daughter lost her child—LaNita’s first grandchild—in early pregnancy. Another daughter experienced an early pregnancy loss the next year, followed by three more pregnancy losses during LaNita’s time at UIS—one in the first trimester and two stillbirths.

Today, LaNita and her husband have four living grandchildren and five that they have lost.

“In going through the losses with my daughters,” LaNita says, “I discovered they were not talking about their losses because it seemed to make people uncomfortable. This silence made their grief and recovery harder.”

That got LaNita thinking, and she began doing projects for her master’s on the communication that is lacking for women who have lost babies during pregnancy—and her passion to help families through the process grew.

LaNita says UIS made all the difference: “Learning about communication through my classes, doing research on the subject, and talking with my professors and getting lots of encouragement from them made it all come together and helped me find my focus for my future.”

 

An unexpected move to Birmingham, Alabama, and LaNita goes online

This past August, after LaNita moved with her husband to Alabama, she became a fully online student.

She had always assumed on-campus classes were better for her because she liked the face-to-face discussions and interactions. In her online classes, however, she actually did better.

“Since I had no choice about being online, I was determined to get the most out of the classes as I could, and I ended up learning a lot more than I expected.”

She now considers online classes “a godsend.”

 

The Alfred E. and Mildred I. Roese Memorial Scholarship

This past semester, she had another godsend. In addition to her tuition waiver, and a year in the graduated assistant program; LaNita received important assistance from the Roese Memorial Scholarship.

Deborah Roese, a 2002 UIS Special Merit Master’s Thesis winner, established the scholarship in memory of her parents. The extra financial support proved to be especially helpful to LaNita because of what she describes as her “relocation adventure” to Birmingham.

In a letter of gratitude to Deborah Roese, LaNita wrote:

“Your act of kindness in providing this scholarship is appreciated more than words can express. You have made an impact on my life that will never be forgotten.”

 

What’s ahead for LaNita

LaNita finished her master’s degree in December 2015. Her ultimate goal now is to offer a grief-counseling program for grandparents and other family members in the Birmingham area so they can deal with their own loss and help walk their families through the process.

Programs like these, she believes, will help to make the grief that results from loss in pregnancy a grief that society acknowledges and supports.

For now, here’s a small sample of what LaNita has learned about how grandparents can help their families through pregnancy loss:

 

5 ways grandparents can help their family grieve after a pregnancy loss

LaNita acknowledges that every experience is different and that some parents may not feel the need to discuss their losses.

But for those who do, she offers these suggestions for how grandparents can help their families grieve and remember their lost children:

  1. Recognize that you are grieving for the loss your son or daughter experienced, but grieving for your own loss as well. Find an outlet—your own support group, for example. The research that I’ve done has been my outlet—looking for information and then asking what I could do with the information to help.
  2. Be aware of your son’s or daughter’s needs. Parents will often come to the grandparents for guidance and strength, and often grandparents are the only ones who can recognize that their son or daughter is suffering.
  3. Talk openly about the loss, if possible, and not just right after the loss occurs. We try always to address anniversary dates, for example. On the day that we experienced the loss, we make a phone call to each other or send a little note. At Christmas, we have ornaments on the tree for all the children with birthdates and names, so that the babies that we lost are part of all our family celebrations.
  4. Be aware of triggers. When someone has a baby shower, we discuss it with each other first to prepare for some of the emotions or when a mom brings her newborn to church or to a family gathering. We try to be there for each other in those times. It’s not that a woman who has lost a child doesn’t want to share in others joy, but we must remember that times like these make this mother’s arms feel even more empty.
  5. Accept that the grief will continue. We don’t realize the lasting effects of grief that comes along with losing a child, like anxiety attacks or the inability to be in large crowds. Reminding each other that there’s a reason for these anxieties and feelings helps everyone work through that process.

At UIS, anyone can make a gift that adds to the size of a scholarship award. We welcome your gift in any amount to the Alfred E. and Mildred I. Roese Memorial Scholarship Fund. Use the link to give safely online.