MADISON --Any loss is difficult, but the loss of life during pregnancy or shortly after birth can be particularly painful for families. On Sunday, April 22, at 2 p.m., St. Mary’s Hospital will host a public infant loss memorial ceremony. This public memorial hopes to offer families the chance to honor those lives lost too soon, while finding fellowship with others who have experienced similar loss.
“I think the service provides closure and hope. Those are the two big things,” says Amy Helt, an RN on Birth Suites and this year’s Bereavement Committee chair. “We want to support these families in every way that we can. Not all families are willing or know how to have a service of their own. These parents are not expecting to have their child pass before them.”
This year’s ceremony includes changes that the hospital hopes will be more inclusive for families of all beliefs and non-beliefs. Instead of hosting a public burial, this year’s memorial will be held in the hospital’s Healing Gardens and will include interfaith poems, speakers who will share their stories of hope following their own infant loss experience, music, a naming ceremony, a place for families to light candles in remembrance of the babies they have lost, and an opportunity for fellowship.
This year the group is expanding the types of loss being recognized. In years past, families who experienced loss prior to 20 weeks were invited. This year, invitations extend to families who have experienced infant loss at any stage, from ectopic pregnancies to the loss of a newborn life.
In addition to the main ceremony, the local HUGS support group will also be on hand to meet with and talk to families who have experienced an infant loss. HUGS -- which stands for Hope Understanding and Grief Support -- is a support group that pairs families who have experienced infant loss and gone on to have a successful, living birth with families currently going through the grief of losing an infant. These specially trained families provide bedside grief support and are available to provide support for up to a year after a loss once after a family leaves the hospital.
“I think the HUGS volunteers fill a huge gap from the care we’re able to provide at the bedside to when the patient goes home and has to deal with this huge journey of grief,” says Helt.
In the event of rain or inclement weather, the ceremony will be moved to the Sr. Mary Jean Conference Center inside the hospital.