St. Francis Medical Center Hosts Memorial Service for Infants Born Before 20 Weeks

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by Bonny Van

Emotions were high at a special memorial service for infants born before 20 weeks. Parents and family members gathered at St. Matthew Parish Cemetery in downtown Monroe on Saturday, September 16, for the service. The prayer service, an annual event sponsored by St. Francis Medical Center, is intended to assist parents through the grief process.

“It is very important for most of the parents who have faith in God and eternal life. It offers a safe place for family and friends to honor the deceased baby and celebrate its life,” said Fr. James Dominic, manager of pastoral care at St. Francis Medical Center.

Bro. Charles Headrick, a hospital chaplain at St. Francis, said parents of a baby born before 20 weeks have the option of handling burial arrangements or letting the hospital handle them. For the latter scenario, St. Francis works with Mulhearn Funeral Home, Downing Pines Crematory and St. Matthew Catholic Church to handle the remains.

St. Francis Medical Center started this service in 2008. A special memorial bench and Guardian Angel statue was placed in the cemetery in honor of these infants.

Headrick said parents respond in different ways to the situation, especially so in the earliest stages of pregnancy. While some might want to “press on and move forward,” others will talk about the baby as being their child.

“The human life from conception is different from any other life,” said Headrick. “As scripture says, ‘God breathed the breath of life and created man.’”

St. Matthew Parish has placed two marble benches in the cemetery to serve as gravesites for the babies. One bench is inscribed with a passage from Psalm 119:76: “May your unfailing love be my comfort according to your promise.” The other bench is inscribed with Isaiah 49:16: “See, upon the palms of my hands, I have written your name.” The area provides a place for parents to visit and remember a lost child.

Headrick said it’s important for parents to take time to grieve and process the loss of a child so that it won’t “manifest itself in other ways.”

Headrick knows first hand about such loss. His wife, Lydia, was pregnant with triplets 21 years ago. Only one, his second son, survived.

“Very often people will say, ‘At least you have your other children,’ or ‘God must’ve needed this baby more than we needed the baby.’ The comments are meant to help but they don’t acknowledge the reality of the loss,” he said. “Very often it’s not seen as a genuine loss because its not well formed as far as the remains are concerned. Very often people will not think of this as a child.”

More than 50 people attended the Infant Memorial Service for 35 babies. Among the group, six families were represented with some family members traveling from several states to attend the ceremony.

“We honor the dignity of life from conception to death,” said Fr. Dominic.

The 30-minute service featured special prayers, scripture readings, benediction and music by Lydia Headrick, which included a song she wrote titled “Your Life is Still Precious.”

“It helps many to get emotional support from those present at the service and help them to cope with one of the most difficult experiences of their life. It highlights the value of life from conception and the importance of spirituality. It is an opportunity to share with those who are undergoing the same grief,” said Fr. Dominic.

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