After the birth and death of your baby comes the longest
part of the process. I am not an expert on grieving, but those
who are say it takes two years to fully come to terms with the
death of a baby. I have come to believe the key to a proper acceptance
of the death is learning to remember our babies and incorporate
them into our souls now that we can't incorporate them into our
daily lives. Everyone will accomplish this differently, and everyone
will make various steps at his or her own pace. I merely share
some of what I did in the hopes that it will give you ideas for
memorializing your own child.
This will be the first memorial for your baby, and unfortunately
obituaries for babies are short and don't say much. Longer-lived
persons will have their interests and possibly their cause of
death listed, but in many communities the obituary for a baby
says little more than "infant son of" and a list of
surviving relatives. It pays to think in advance about whether
you want a cause of death listed. We didn't consider it until
afterward, and I regret that. They also put only her middle initial
in the heading rather than writing out her full name. Since many
newspapers print obituaries for free, you may not have much bargaining
room, but if something is important to include, ask that it be
included. They may agree to do it.
We had professional birth announcements printed by a company
which also does engraved wedding invitations. It's a sweet little
announcement, and if I ever get a scanner I'll make sure to post
a copy here. It has a subdued image of a ribbon-heart in a mother-of-pearl
color with baby footprints in the middle. The copy (lavender)
reads the names of myself, my husband, and my son, and adds that
we are "both proud and sad to announce the birth and death
of Emily Rose." We give her time of birth and time of death,
and at the bottom the name and address of the charity to which
memorial donations may be made in her name. In this announcement
we included for out-of-towners the prayer cards and seed packets
not snapped up by the other mourners at her funeral.
If you were able to get photographs of your baby, this is
the most basic memorial you will have at your disposal. The photos
may be very painful to you at first. I was able to pinpoint exactly
when Emily died in the procession of photographs because that's
when her bear was moved onto my lap with her.
I found it helpful to put all the photos of Emily and Emily's
funeral into one photograph album. We chose one of those
albums that's no larger than the size of the photos and holds
approximately a hundred photos. There's a space on the metal
front cover for a photo there, as well. It looks very nice, and
it can stay on display. There were some photos that didn't fit
in this album, and they're in another album of the same type
without the metal frame on the front. I put an angel sticker
on that album and keep it with the first. I dislike how this
isolates her photos from the rest of the family's photos, but
on the other hand, if I want to look just at her, it's easier
to do it.
I made copies of every single photograph for all of Emily's
grandparents. This gives them some measure of inclusion in her
memory, and it also gives me peace of mind: four entire houses
would have to burn to the ground simultaneously before all those
photos were destroyed. When all you have as a memory is photos,
the prospect of their loss becomes vaguely paralyzing. Before
we got the copies made, I insisted on bringing Emily's photos
with us on long trips just in case something happened to the
We made enlargements of some of the photos, framed them, and
put them up on the living room wall and mantle beside the rest
of our framed photographs. Emily is a part of our family, and
I feel better including her there.
The video of Emily's life is too painful for me to watch right
now. I keep the SVHS tapes in her memory box, and I have one
VHS copy in SP mode which I'll eventually make other copies of.
In the meantime, I wait. I'm not ready to do anything with it
yet, even capturing the nicer screenshots from the video. She's
realer in video than in photography, and it feels as though I'm
with her there. It doesn't help that the tape runs out on almost
exactly the minute she dies.
This is an extension of photography. Originally I had intended
to make duplicates of all Emily's photos and create a scrapbook
the way the proficient crafters can. Mine would be neither proficient
nor crafty, but I imagined I could use photo-corners, stickers,
craft paper, etc, to tell her story in more attractive fashion
than just a procession of photos in an album. I've reached the
conclusion that I will not do this at any time in the future.
There isn't any limit to what you could conceivably put in
one of these albums. Your child's hospital bracelet, the birth
and death certificates or certificate of fetal death, cards from
any flowers you received after your announcement of being pregnant
or after your child's death, the prayer card from the funeral,
a baptismal certificate, congratulations cards and condolence
cards from either end of the pregnancy, and if you happen to
have it, your pregnancy test. Your doctor may still have the
records of the lab tests which confirmed the pregnancy, if you
had one. Ribbons from the casket or extra baby socks you never
got to use, gifts from friends, a scrap of baby's blanket--they
can all go in. Poems or prose pieces that you associate with
the grief process can help give structure to your scrapbook.
Virtually anything that's flat and reminds you of your child
can make a good addition!
My husband has compiled a scrapbook for his youngest brother,
however, since his death three months after Emily's. He said
he found the process therapeutic, and he feels good having many
memories of Christopher all in one place.
We didn't get very many flowers because others knew we didn't
especially want them. However, those we did receive I made sure
to dry before they wilted. Drying flowers is very easy (you probably
guessed that, since I was able to do it!) When they begin to
wilt but before they fall to pieces, pull them from the vase
and suspend them upside-down in a cool, dry, dark location. This
will help the stems to dry straight. I tie a thread around the
stem and hang it from a nail in my kitchen, since I don't have
any cool, dry, dark locations in my house, and that works as
well. Craft stores sell something like flower hair-spray which
helps the flower retain its shape. Craft stores also sell a gel
that can be added to the water in the vase while the flowers
are still hale and beautiful, and that will help them retain
their color and shape. I have never tried this. I did save the
ribbons and cards that came with the flowers as well.
Once the flowers dry, someone with good craft-instincts, a
grape-vine wreath, and a glue-gun can create a flower-wreath
out of the dried funeral flowers. Craft stores will have all
the necessary materials and may teach classes on the subject.
Some of Emily's flowers were varieties that do not dry well
at all. Those I stripped the petals from and used as potpourri.
Then I put the final result into one of the ubiquitous (and useless)
crystal bowls we received for our wedding. I keep it now in our
I have heard of an organization which will take rose petals
prior to drying and turn them into rosary beads. When I get more
information about them, I'll add their address here. I like the
idea, but unfortunately I didn't get the information in time
for my daughter's or brother-in-law's flowers.
We saved every single card we received, plus all the emailed
messages and all the flower-cards. Someone making a scrapbook
might include them. I'm still not sure what I want to do with
them all. They take up a lot more space than I anticipated, and
it seemed they kept arriving for weeks. The worst part, however,
was the first day no more cards arrived. Intellectually I knew
it didn't mean Emily was already forgotten. But emotionally,
it was hard to cope.
After asking othes, I've learned that it is within proper
etiquette to select a charity for memorial donations and to mention
it in both the birth announcement and the obituary. When an adult
or a child dies, generally the benefitting charity is one either
relating to the cause of death or to a cause the deceased loved.
Our babies won't have had causes they loved. I've heard of many
different types of memorial donations, the most memorable being
the family which had donations in their baby's name sent to the
children's section of their community library. Every so often
they still find books with book-plates naming their son as the
memorial donor. We chose Birthright of Ithaca, a crisis pregnancy
center for which we both worked during college, as the beneficiary.
The woman in charge is the sweetest person alive: if I had a
pregnant teenage daughter, this is the woman I'd want her talking
to. We knew they frequently had no money to spare, and they were
small enough to really benefit from the few extra dollars that
might come in, whereas The March of Dimes might not even notice.
They sent us a list of names as people donated (but not dollar
amounts) and we sent them thank-you notes in addition to the
official ones from Birthright.
If you wish to keep it private, you can still make a donation
in your own child's name to a cause you feel worthy of being
associated with your little one.
My father and I both have memorial gardens, although mine
is the kind that comes in a bag with its own fertilizer and a
preselected set of wild flowers. My father's is very elaborate,
with flowers and shrubs carefully selected for various reasons.
By a string of wild coincidences, he found an Emily Rose aucuba
bush, for example, and now he has two of those in his garden.
Both he and I will try to get ahold of an Emily rose bush next
spring, as well. My father's garden has a birdbath statue of
an angel. (Again, once I get a scanner, I'll include a photo.)
I jokingly refer to it as The
Shrine, but in actuality, it's only a corner shelf devoted to
Emily's memoribilia. I had purchased the shelf shortly after
we moved into our house, but only after Emily died did my husband
finally install the thing. It's near our wall of photos so that
when more photos are added, it will seem like an extension of
the family photos. On the shelf we have two small photos of Emily,
a teddy-bear that arrived in one of her flower arrangements and
an angel from another one, a crystal cross from one of Emily's
grandmothers, the crucifix laid on her casket during the funeral,
and two silk daisies from our church's candlelighting memorial
service for all the deceased. Above the shelf on the wall we
have a framed copy of Emily's footprints (with a lock of her
hair), a framed birth announcement, a ceramic cross from my brother
and his wife, and the ceramic mold of Emily's feet. It helps
me to have many of Emily's mementos in one location. While I
joke about The Shrine, I feel the corner shelf is a means of
carving out a space for my daughter among the clutter of our
We have three memory boxes, and they're all full. The first
is a sewing box with a pretty pattern on the outside. This is
something I bought before her birth to keep all her outfits in
until they were needed. Currently it has the remaining outfits
sealed in plastic bags, a silk envelope containing a lock of
her hair, several smaller gifts from relatives (like a pin and
a rosary bracelet) and one of her hospital blankets (again, sealed
in a plastic bag.) I have three other blankets that don't fit
in this box.
The second is a handsome, dark-wood jewelry box with an engraved
nameplate. In this I keep paper mementos, such as her birth and
death certificates, obituaries, church bulletins with her name
in it, and my pregnancy journal.
The third is a hand-painted wooden box from the hospital,
donated for bereaved mothers by a local crafter who herself suffered
a neonatal loss. In this I keep some of Emily's things from the
hospital: the hats she wore, still with her blood on them (also
in plastic bags), the socks she never got to wear, her hospital
bracelets and mine, and the SVHS tapes.
Looking through the memory boxes is hard; looking at the items
she actually wore or touched is hardest of all.
If you've chosen burial or to bury your baby's ashes, you
will have a special place to go for remembering, in addition
to any space you may carve out as a memorial spot in your home
or garden. If your cemetery permits you to keep long-term decorations
at the site, you will have another way to remember your child.
In addition to laying down cut flowers at the grave (carnations
last longest, incidentally) we have left pinwheels, planted flowers
and ivy, left a scarecrow, and placed two kevlar helium balloons-on-a-stick.
The balloons are an interesting conundrum, by the way, because
many places no longer carry small balloons in a solid color:
they have to have a message or a character shape on them. Some
of the most wildly inappropriate messages we've found were "Get
Well Soon," "Congratulations!" and "Glad
You're Here." The first balloon we found was a subdued pink
with a teddy bear and the words, "Lovely Baby Girl."
I affixed that balloon on very tightly and stuck it hard into
the ground. When we returned, the stick remained but the balloon
was gone. I believe Emily took it and it's on a mantlepiece in
heaven. (Don't laugh--I've had something else taken under circumstances
that make my hair stand on end.) The next time we found a balloon,
it was Winnie The Pooh, and this remained all summer until we
took it home at the beginning of leaf-blowing season. For Christmas,
we planted a "living tree" from the grocery store (to
be uprooted in January. Living Tree is a misnomer. These trees
always die anyhow.) We have a flower-fairy garden statue currently.
This sounds like a lot, and if it were all on the grave simultaneously
it would look like a carnival sideshow. We try to keep it to
three mementos at the grave at a time.
Emily's next-door neighbor has a display of silk flowers,
a votive light with a candle that can burn for a week at a time,
and a Matchbox car (he would have been four now.) Both that grave
and a neighboring grave have stone angel statues. Two others
have only annual flowering plants beside the stone, and the remaining
three have nothing at all. Any level of decoration is fine (provided
it doesn't look like my above-mentioned carnival, I suppose).
It depends on you and your preferences, and how you feel most
comfortable remembering your baby.
In the beginning, I visited Emily's grave five times a week.
As time goes on, I visit less frequently (winter cold has something
to do with this, as well as progression towards a state of acceptance.)
I used to visit with my coffee in the morning and linger a long
time talking to her. I've heard from mothers in which the opposite
was true: at first they did not want to visit the grave at all,
and later they could only as they progressed in their grieving.
As in many other cases, whatever level is comfortable to you
is fine, even if you never visit. Some families travel to the
gravesite on special occasions and spend a couple of hours having
a picnic. I think this is a nice idea, and perhaps someday I'll
There are more memorials, but I've placed them on another
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