Visiting the cemetery was really hard. I, very unexpectedly, burst into tears the moment David turned our car into the cemetery. Lucia had to go to the bathroom almost immediately and there are no facilities on the grounds open on the weekends, so we had to leave pretty quickly to find a gas station. And then, of course, was the fact that this wasn't just a regular trip but also a goodbye. We move away next week and have no idea when or if we'll ever be able to visit our baby's grave again.
An afternoon at the beach provides a beautiful counterbalance to our morning at the cemetery. It's easy to get caught up in the sorrow of our lost babies at times like that, so doing something as our earthly family of three is a perfect reminder that while we'll always feel the absence of those four little souls, the life we've been given is pretty great too. We have so much to be thankful for and there is so much joy in our family just the way it is, it's hard to miss those truths during a sun-filled day at the beach.
After our day, I was reflecting a bit on how much we're going to miss this little tradition and how blessed we've felt to have been able to bury our baby. Francis is our only child with a grave because he was the only one for whom we had an actual body; two of our others showed only empty sacs on their ultrasounds, meaning they never developed a body or their bodies were reabsorbed into the gestational sac very early; the other was a very early loss and I never noticed the baby passing. Some couples do bury whatever tissue and remains they have, even if it were just and empty sac, but after the stress we underwent trying to arrange a final resting place for Francis, we were at peace not burying those little ones.
Many Catholic diocese have programs in place that bury miscarried children for free. Usually, it's a large grave for all miscarried babies with some kind of statue or memorial, and there are group services several times a year. I've also heard of cemeteries that provide plots for free and funeral homes that will perform their services for free. There are no such programs or places in our area. After our first miscarriage, we had the remains of our baby in a little plastic container in our refrigerator for days as we tried to figure out how to bury him with dignity.
I contacted our diocese, pro-life organizations, and every possible group I thought could help and received the same response over and over again, "Sorry for your loss, but we can't help you." There was no one who could offer me any advice. I called every funeral home and cemetery in our area, but none could offer me even a tiny discount. We were told we had to pay full price for a child plot and full price for an infant casket, which would have been around $1,000 total. It was money we didn't have at the time, especially since we were facing medical bills for the miscarriage related costs. It was a stressful time for us. The only things we could do to care for our baby were name him and bury him and the longer our baby sat unburied, the heavier it weighted on our hearts.
Thankfully, we were able to get a hold of our wonderful pastor who took care of everything for us. He already had plans to take another father to the closest Catholic cemetery (about an hour away) to bury his miscarried child and invited David along with him. He was friends with the pastor of the cemetery parish and was able to arrange for our child to be buried for free. We only had to pay $50 for the grave marker. He drove David and the other father to the cemetery and had a little service while they buried the babies.
We were lucky. Our pastor does not have the ability to make arrangements like this for every family. Had he not been friends with that parish's pastor or had he not already had the outing arranged with another family, we would have most likely have ended up needing to just purchase a plot and coffin. (I had previously called that same cemetery and they said they would charge us full price - $450 - for a child plot and we had to have a several hundred dollar full-sized infant coffin.) Unfortunately, most families in our area have no resources to help them bury their babies. There are some organizations I'm aware of that help bury stillborn babies (lost after 20 weeks gestation) but none that I'm aware of that help miscarried babies. If you know of any, please let me know.
In all the articles and blog posts that I've read about how to help a couple after a miscarriage, I don't think I've ever seen the suggestion to help the couple bury their child but in some situations, this is a real need. Not every family is able to bury their miscarried babies for various reasons. Often, there are no remains or they are not given access to the remains after a D&C, etc. But some parents do have the remains and want to bury their babies but are unable to because they lack the funds or need help arranging it. It can be an extremely difficult time emotionally after a miscarriage which would only add to the stress and confusion of planning a burial.
As Christians, we are urged to "bury the dead" as one of the corporal work of mercy. If you know someone who has lost a baby and has the child's remains, you can offer to:
- Help them to arrange a burial (and service or funeral if wanted). Make phone calls. Sit with them as they make decisions.
- Give financial support if you can. Sometimes even if the family can pay for a plot or receives one for free, they may not be able to afford a grave marker, so the grave sits unmarked for years.
- Share any knowledge you have of the process. Even if you've never lost a baby, if you've lost another family member and had to arrange burial, your experiences could be very helpful.
- Share contact information to local organizations that can help. If you are so called, perhaps you could start some kind of organization within your community or church that helps families with the arrangements.
If you've buried am unborn child, what were your experiences? Do you know if there are local organizations or resources in your area? Or any national ones? How did others help you with the process or how do you wish they would have helped?