Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ways to Celebrate Your Baby's Birth and Death

Hold close these moments for we shall always live by remembering...

            It’s difficult to celebrate a birth when death is staring you down. Perhaps it would be easier to think of it as celebrating a life—the life of your precious child. And celebrate and recognize you should. 
            But just what is the right way? How do you say goodbye? Should you have a funeral or a memorial service? Will it be just a special time with you and your husband?
            There are no right ways or best answers; there are only alternatives and preferences. But formally recognizing your child’s life is important. While others move on with their lives, parents never forget. It is important that you take the time to say goodbye, in a way that’s meaningful to you. It will help you in the grieving process.
            You may decide to have a funeral, with an open casket and viewing. You may decide on a simple memorial service or cremation. Whatever you do, make it a day you will always remember. Make it a gift to your child.
            Here are some requests or activities parents say they did, or wish they had done:

1. Hold the baby one more time.
2. Dress the baby in a special outfit, or wrap the baby in a special blanket.
3. Place a special toy in the casket with the baby.
4. Save a lock of the baby’s hair.
5. Arrange for another picture to be taken.
6. Have a special memorial service or, at least, a small ceremony. This event helps you to officially say goodbye and can go a long way in helping others realize that this little baby was a significant, loved human being.
7. Personally handle the tasks of dressing and grooming the child for burial.
 8. Have a special quilt draped over the casket.
9. Have a special reading shared at the memorial service.
10. Put an announcement in the paper.
11. Send announcements of your baby’s birth and the death. (This was helpful for me, but a word of warning: I heard nothing from some of my closest friends after sending out announcements, and their silence was devastating to me.)
12. Make impressions of your baby’s feet and hands in clay that you can bake to hardness. Hang this in a special place in your house, next to pictures of your other family members.
13. Plant s special tree or plant in your yard dedicated to your child.
14. Make a special donation to a favorite charity in your child’s memory. Set up a memorial fund in their name.

            Think carefully about how you would like to say goodbye. If it has been some time since you lost your baby, and you did none of these things, consider having a ceremony now to commemorate your baby’s life. Arrange a special event on the anniversary of their birthday. Have flowers placed on the altar of your church in memory of your child. Do something special and significant, no matter how small. This year, April 13th, will be the 20th anniversary of Victoria’s birth and death. I plan to have flowers placed on our church’s altar to commemorate this special anniversary.  
            I need to tell you that Chris and I did not say goodbye formally, and it created difficulty in the grieving process. We had Victoria cremated, and the little sterile, white box containing her ashes sits on a shelf in our home study. There was no memorial, no small service with our pastor—who repeatedly suggested it to us so we could have some “closure”— no simple “ceremony” with just the two of us. For years I have wanted to do something, but twenty years later Chris says he’s still “not ready.” I think avoiding this next step, of formally saying goodbye, has made the grieving process more difficult for us. We will finally be picking out a special container in which to place Victoria’s ashes this year, and will display it in a significant place in our home. Our youngest son made the perfect suggestion for a special container, and I hope to receive it before April 13. I’ll let you know how that works out for us.  
            My sister, who died at eight months gestation due to umbilical cord strangulation, is buried in a simple, unmarked baby’s grave in Kansas City, Missouri. My father made all of the arrangements, without input from my mother; and my mother has never seen the grave. I know that bothers her: she was never allowed to say goodbye, and she never saw the final resting place of her daughter. I think my father thought he was helping her, protecting her. But a mother needs to know these things.

            As I learn of more ideas I’ll add to the list on this post. If you have any to share, please let me know. I’m sure they will be greatly appreciated by many readers!

(Forgive me for posting this later in the day. I actually struggled with writing it, perhaps because I still have regrets, remorse, for what we did not do, what was left undone.)
            Thanks for joining me.
            Until next week!