Lost too soon: Hospital’s infant memorial aids parents’ grieving
For most families, the birth of a baby is a joyous occasion, filled with happiness and celebration.
But for those who lose an infant—either to miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal complications—the birth is an emotionally devastating experience.
For up to nine months, parents have anticipated the arrival of their new child, and to have the baby pass away is heart wrenching.
In order to remember, celebrate and honor the tiny lives of those who died far too soon, the Infant Bereavement Support Team at Chandler Regional Medical Center is holding its 6th annual Infant Memorial Service at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15.
“This is an evening where families are comforted by one another,” said Vicki VandenHeuvel, R.N.C., the Infant Bereavement Coordinator and a charge nurse at Chandler Regional Medical Center, adding that the team holds the service on Oct. 15 each year to coincide with the National Day of Remembrance.
“We see the service as a special tool to comfort and promote healthy grieving where families are given the opportunity to gather, acknowledge, verbalize their baby’s name, share stories with others who have experienced loss as well.
“And most important to us is to make sure these people know that they have support from the hospital staff and community.”
VandenHeuvel said the service, which is facilitated by Mario Valadez, the hospital’s director of spiritual care, will include a few speakers presenting readings as well as a moving candle lighting ceremony. Attendees who wish to do so may bring a new teddy bear to donate to the hospital’s “Empty Arms” program, which provides moms who have lost a baby a soft bear to hug and hold.
“We will end with a quiet walk to the memory garden where families can place a personalized river rock in the garden in memory of their little one,” VandenHeuvel said. In addition to the speakers, parents who wish to do so may also read poems or share memories about their lost child.
“It is a service that brings much healing to families,” she noted. “Some parents and grandparents come year after year, stopping in their busy lives to pause and remember their loss.”
Pat Rancourt, R.N., said the service is just one of the many things the Infant Bereavement Support Team does to help families that have experienced the loss of a child.
“We have support packages made up for moms, dads and grandparents and even for the other siblings in the family to give them resources for the grieving process,” she said, adding that the Labor and Delivery nurses first initiate the process.
“We have made votives and place a candle inside it and place this at the bedside or on the floor so all nurses in Labor and Delivery and postpartum are aware there is a loss on the floor.”
Pictures of the baby are taken, Rancourt said, and if possible, imprints of the infant’s hands and feet will be made in white plaster. The families also receive a memory box that they can keep items in to remember their child.
When the families ask to see their baby the nurses wrap up the infant and bring the baby to the room, she said. Once the mom is discharged from the hospital, if the family chooses, VandenHeuvel will follow up with the families by phone and mail, and they are encouraged to contact the team with anything they may need.
“Our families are grateful for the support that they are given during this time of grieving and the support they are given afterwards,” Rancourt said.
“We as nurses also grieve the loss these families have had. We cry with them and hold them and are there for anything they may need. They let us know in so many ways that they are grateful for us. The fact that many come to the memorial service is a reflection of how they felt about the care they received.”
Rancourt said the Infant Memorial Service also helps parents who have lost a baby feel like they are not alone in their experiences.
“Many people outside of the grieving family don’t know what to say so it is good for them to be able to talk to others with a loss,” Rancourt said.
“Many times they feel they are the only ones with a loss and the memorial service has given them the opportunity to talk with other families and get more support information from them. It is quite a healing process for them.”
To RSVP for the program, please call 480-728-3134.