Respectful burial for wee ones
At the beginning of our memorial services, I describe myself lying in an Emergency Room in Nevada realizing that my 9 week pregnancy was over and internally fretting over what would happen to the physical remains of my pregnancy. I had already been a nurse long enough to know how these kinds of conversations went…if I even asked, I would be dismissed as burial for “miscarried” (stupid word) babies was simply not done. I knew this was wrong, but I didn’t know what “right” would look like.
I honestly think that there are a few different options that would be more “right” than giving parents no options and treating tiny ones as medical waste like the fate of my baby.
A few years later, I was studying Clinical Pastoral Education (Hospital Chaplaincy, yea…Catholic women can be Hospital Chaplains…more on that another day) and they asked for volunteers to go pray over the babies. We were led down to the basement rather than up to Maternity as the babies were all miscarried (that word again) losses that were about to be cremated and taken to a local Catholic Cemetery. Well, THAT is closer to “right”.
Another move took us to a city where I was working in the Neonatal ICU as a nurse but working on the Bereavement Committee and the topic of burial came up again. They didn’t have to ask me twice; I nearly leapt from my chair volunteering for the project. It would be an uphill battle as our hospital is not religiously affiliated and I would first need to convince leadership that there were enough secular reasons to offer this service.
Before the project got off the ground, the nurse who headed the Bereavement Committee resigned and I applied for her job. With my new title, I had a little more leverage to get the project underway. Trouble was, I had never undertaken a project of this sort or magnitude and was as clueless as I could be. I struggled in fits and starts embarrassing myself repeatedly amongst the various stakeholders before I learned enough to proceed intelligently. It took about 18 months of work and planning to get all of the needed components in place.
Our program would provide free, respectful burial for any loss that occurred prior to birth – from conception through term stillbirth (hate that word too). Our first burial was (I think) in Oct 2006 and we buried 7 babies with a memorial service following. We have had burials quarterly since then never being without someone who needed the service. We had 24 babies one quarter and I tried valiantly to get Spanish-speaking clergy and the local clergyman who I asked to do it was so mean to me on the phone I wept bitter tears (which felt all the more strange because I had to prepare all 24 babies for burial and I did that task singing to their sweet souls rather than weeping. I sing very badly but I hope they aren’t picky).
Doing this project was and is hard, I won’t lie. If you ever want to feel painfully inadequate, try having a funeral for 12 babies, nothing you could ever do will ever be “enough”. Even admitting that it is hard, I still encourage others to do this in other cities…it is NEEDED. I KNOW it really helps entire families in their healing. I will likely never know the full benefit of this project while I’m on Earth…maybe in Heaven.
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