Thursday, May 21, 2015

To Bury the Dead

A couple weeks ago was the year anniversary of our baby Francis Michael's due date. I mentioned that our tradition for his due date and loss date is to go to the cemetery to visit his grave and then to the beach, and I shared a few pictures from the due date last year. We weren't able to do it that weekend due to poor weather, but last Saturday, we made the trip. 

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?


  1. When we lost Levi, the hospital said the state would bury his body (since I was 22 weeks along), and they did give us the option to do it ourselves, but said it would cost a lot of money (hundreds, possibly thousands) - which we, like you, didn't have because we were anticipating medical bills as well. I am thankful his body is buried somewhere, but it is REALLY hard not knowing where. I almost wish we had just done it ourselves, no matter how much it costs…but I was not in the right state of mind at the time. We didn't have time to think about it or anything because of our situation!

    My friend buried her miscarried baby last year, and I think they ended up putting the baby's remains in a family plot. A priest friend accompanied them, and she found a lot of peace from doing that. I would like to mention, though, that they had to pretty forceful with the doctor's office/lab/whoever (she had a D&C) to get the baby's remains. Turns out nobody asks for their miscarried baby! You're so right, there needs to be more talk about this.

    1. It's so hard to expect families to make those kinds of decisions at such a tough time. I wish there were more resources out there that would come to the hospital to speak to families after a loss or at least provide a pamphlet with options.

      And that's a great point about having to fight for the baby's remains. Unfortunately, some parents lose that fight and aren't able to bring their babies home if they wish. There was recently a bill passing through the Texas house that would give the parents rights to the remains of miscarried babies. I'd love to see something like that pass everywhere.

  2. With our first loss, I was 13 weeks along and had a D&C. We hadn't thought anything about it, and had three options. Hospital disposes as medical waste, you have a mortuary come and take care of it at your own expense, and they bury the baby in a community grave at a local cemetery. We chose option 3. In some ways it would be nice to have an individual grave, but we can go and sit on the bench at the cemetery and it is nearby and beautiful and I'm okay with that option. I have recently heard that the Archdiocese of Denver has a free option for miscarried babies, but I didn't know it at the time. Even if I had I don't know that I would have chosen it because the cemetery is further away and we wouldn't go as often.
    Our second loss was early and there wasn't anything concrete to save.
    Our third loss was this year when I was almost 37 weeks. We did the full funeral mass (as much as you can do for an unbaptized person) and then private family burial. No one seemed to think that was odd, and if they did, they at least had the sense to not tell me. I delivered her at the same hospital as my son (and first D&C) and I really feel that they respected the rights and life of my children. She is buried in the child area of the same cemetery where our first son is yet in her own grave. That cemetery donates the plots for children and we received 75% off all the services from the funeral home. This still amounted to about $1,500, and then we have not completed the headstone yet but I believe that will be about $1500 as well. We are lucky that we were planning on the expenses for the birth (not exactly lucky, but they were budgeted for) and we can afford the other and family wants it as a gift.

    I do think this should be talked about in public since it is such a terrible time and most people have never thought about options. I do feel all the more terrible for people for whom this is a big financial burden.

  3. We are so, so, blessed in our diocese to have a sacred burial space especially for children who die prior to birth. I'm not sure about the costs - I would definitely encourage you to reach out to Fr. Heilman with questions about how they got this started and funded. The parish that he leads does some super interesting and amazing things! The website for the Rosary Garden is

  4. Epiphany Catholic Church in Coon Rapids, MN (Twin Cities suburb), has a cemetery and provides free burial for miscarried babies. For a fee, a name can be engraved on the large communal stone, but this is not required. Thank you for your blog. It is a comfort. We have experienced 5 losses and 6 live births in our nearly 12-year marriage.

  5. The USCCB came out with a document on miscarriage last year that I found to be a great source of support, knowing that the Church recognizes and supports us as we face this trial: From the document, "Burying those who have died at any age is seen by the Church as a corporal work of mercy. Therefore, the Church encourages a funeral rite for children whose baptism was intended by their parents, but who died before being baptized."

    Logistically, we found that Heaven's Gain ( has small caskets/vaults for babies lost during pregnancy and infancy, wincluding very inexpensive but beautiful and sturdy options made specifically for miscarried (before 20 weeks) babies, and their website has a lot of information on logistics.

    We have lost two children to miscarriage, and we were able to have funerals for both and bury both. The local Catholic cemetery had us purchase an infant plot, where we were able to bury both babies, and then there were costs for labor, and they specified what size of stone to get in that section. I wouldn't have minded something simpler, as the costs were higher than I thought they needed to be for a baby so small, but I think it's the least we can give to our children. Had they lived, we would have happily paid so much more. Giving them names and a proper burial was the only thing I'll ever really be able to give them, and I'm so glad to be able to give them that.

    1. Thank you for sharing those resources. Maybe I'll get a "burial" resource page up one of these days since the information is so hard to find!

  6. Thanks so much for sharing your story and for helping people understand how they can help others who are in the unfortunate fraternity of losing a child to miscarriage. My wife and I were blessed to be served by a cemetery and funeral home in Austin, which provided us funeral services, a casket and a small burial plot without cost. Being able to celebrate the life of our daughter, Mary Claire, with others was the greatest gift we could have ever been given.

    We're working find funeral homes and cemeteries that are willing to step up (or who may already be doing something similar) for families in the way that we were served. We've begun a 501(c)(3) - The Mary Claire Project ( which will provide simple wooden caskets for the funeral homes to provide to families without cost.

    Plain and simple - we think that every family should have the opportunity to honor the life of their child without fear of the financial burden. Thank you so much for helping shine the light on this issue.

  7. The Diocese of Phoenix offers free burial for miscarried babies at two Phoenix-area Catholic Cemeteries - Holy Cross in Avondale, AZ and Queen of Heaven in Mesa, AZ. More info here: