Laying Tiny Loved Ones to Rest, Holding Space for Grieving Families

Submitted by: PeaceHealth

Caregivers at the PeaceHealth St. Joseph Childbirth Center compassionately care for families in both joyful and challenging moments. 

In one of life’s incomprehensible tragedies, there are times when pregnancies end unexpectedly and parents must prepare to re-enter the outside world without holding their babies in their arms.”

“Families need to know that it’s OK to grieve, and that they’re not alone. The God of their understanding is with them also.” Photo courtesy: Peace Health

For those who come to deliver at fewer than 20 weeks of gestation, there are no established structures or documents—like a fetal death certificate—to recognize the life that has been lost. But the grief is very real.

The PeaceHealth St. Joseph Spiritual Care department works in partnership with Moles Farewell Tributes, a funeral care provider in Whatcom County, Washington, to add an additional layer of support to honor this loss and cradle these grieving families in the midst of their sorrow. Twice per year, Moles funeral directors and PeaceHealth St. Joseph chaplains work together to offer memorial services for families who wish to cremate their tiny loved ones and lay them to rest.

The memorial services aim to tend to aching hearts in empathetic, intentional, meaningful and inclusive ways.

Naming the loss

Chaplain Rev. Tessie Mandeville, MDiv, BCC, has been an integral part of the services for the past five years. She noted the importance of acknowledging the profound sense of loss that families experience. “No matter the length of the pregnancy, a bond had formed as the new life grew inside the mother. Hopes, dreams and visions of the future took shape—and will no longer come to fruition,” she said.

She added, “Families need to know that it’s OK to grieve, and that they’re not alone. The God of their understanding is with them also.”

Evoking healing

The memorial services include music, readings, prayers, blessings and a special burial of the ashes, but Rev. Mandeville stressed the importance of leaving space for whatever a family needs in that moment to foster healing and provide comfort. She described one instance when a mourning mother dug the earth with her bare hands as she participated in the burying ritual. “She needed to touch the earth to let it do the holding and healing,” Rev. Mandeville said. “It was very powerful.”

The ashes of the babies—who are all symbolically together—are taken from a special heart-shaped urn and laid to rest in the “Garden of Angels” at Moles’ Greenacres Memorial Park. Families can return and visit as much as they’d like.

The services poignantly demonstrate the loving and caring treatment of the PeaceHealth Mission. “Life is precious and always to be treated with respect and dignity,” she added.

With the nurturing support of Rev. Mandeville and her team, and in the community of one another, the message to families is clear: These tiny babies will always be remembered. And they are loved.  

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