The e-mail came from a colleague in Ontario: to create and officiate an intimate immediate family ceremony for a stillborn baby. She wanted help and ideas. We all raced to our resource libraries and got to work.
Miscarriage, a stillbirth, or complications at birth are equally heart-wrenching. Before a child is born the parents carry everything inside side of themselves, their anticipation, hopes, dreams…all pictures projected into the future. For both parents (and particularly the mother) a being is present and the seeds of a relationship are sprouting.
When birth and death join hands, most people feel lost, unsure of what to do. For bereaved parents, honouring the loss is so vital, yet they are often both physically and emotionally drained.
The documentary “Capturing a Short Life” (watch for it on CBC) steps bravely and tenderly into that place we don’t want to go. It offers:
Few people are aware that in North America every year, tens of thousands of families are having to say goodbye to children they’ve only just met and millions more lose babies to miscarriage or stillbirth.
When a baby dies, it is not only an infant that is lost, but a toddler, a child, a teenager and an adult. An entire life, an entire future, disappears. There will be no first birthdays, no first steps, no first report cards, no first loves.. instead there is an intense, impossible, few moments to say hello and goodbye.
The film features “remembrance photography“, a loving and generous concept from the Now I Lay me Down to Sleep Foundation. Over 7,000 volunteer photographers in 26 countries offer their services to “allow families to honor and cherish their babies, and share the spirits of their lives.” Not every hospital is acquainted with this program, and often initial contact is made by families.
Families play a key role here, especially as the hospital chaplain role withers under budget restraints. Would-be grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles are often those who both want and need some form of observance for the healing of those they love.
In this situation, the baby’s grandmother intuitively stepped in, with the intent of surrounding her family with love, giving voice to their sorrow, and marking the tragic close of a life in the making The final ceremony was a beautiful mix of music, family stories and blessings, and poetry.
(Bless my womb, which has the power to create life and death).
Bless my arms
that would have embraced her.
Bless my hands that would have lifted her.
Bless my heart that grieves. ~ Starhawk