I think we all have an innate need to have a physical component to grieving, not just memories. It satisfies a need to have some continuity with that person.”
Hosting remembrance events for bereaved families has several benefits for you as well as for the families you serve. Many parents want to continue to parent and honor their baby long after his or her death, and remembrance events offer the perfect way for them to do that. These events provide positive meaning and connection to their child’s life and facilitate a way for families to cope and survive in their “new normal.” Newly grieving families can see the healing that will be possible for them when they attend events with those who are further on the grief journey. They provide those families who have been attending for some time the opportunity to offer support to newcomers. As a care provider, these events can affirm that the work you do matters as you see families continue to attend your events each year. Remembrance events are important to families for other reasons as well, including:
· They are a way for parents to continue to honor and parent their baby.
· They provide a sense of community and a way for parents to connect with each other.
· They reassure grieving parents and families that it is “normal” and okay to continue to celebrate and honor their baby over the years.
· They help parents feel supported when others remember their baby.
· They acknowledge the deep suffering that can be experienced when a pregnancy ends too soon or a newborn baby dies.
· They allow siblings, grandparents and other loved ones to participate in the ceremony.
While you can host an event at any time, there are certain times that are common to provide a memorial event to your families.
· October, as it is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month
· October 15—Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day
· The winter holidays
· Mother’s and Father’s Day
· Grandparent’s Day
The success of your event will depend on how organized and well-thought out it is. Consider the who, what, when, where and why.
Who is your target audience? Is it for bereaved parents, siblings, grandparents, recently bereaved; are family members welcome? Determining your target audience will guide the planning for the rest of your event as a ceremony that is focused on bereaved parents will be different than one that is for grandparents. One that welcomes children will require a different plan than one for parents only.
What type of event do you want it to be? Will it be a holiday event, a hospital event, a quarterly or annual event?
Is it based on a season? Again, think about your intended audience. An event for parents might be better in the evening to accommodate work schedules. An event that includes children might work better on the weekend.
Where will the event take place? Will it be held in a park, a hospital conference room, library or community room? Again, consider your intended audience when choosing a location. It can be quite difficult for parents to attend events at the hospital where their loss occurred, but if this is your only option, be aware of other events that might be going on at the same time. For instance, you will not want to host your event at the hospital on the same night as childbirth classes.
Why are you hosting the event? What is your goal, or what do you hope to achieve? Is it to bring grandparents together, or a group of parents? This is important to know when you promote your event to the community.
Other considerations when hosting events:
Theme: If you decide to have a theme, carry it out in the flyer, invitation and decorations. Choose a theme carefully, and keep in mind that unless you are a religious organization hosting the event, religious themes can make some feel uncomfortable or unwelcome.
Promoting your event: You can promote your event via social media, email or mailed postcards. Consider your target audience when deciding on the best way to promote it.
Who can attend: Sometimes, it is best to indicate that the event is not meant for children under the age of three. It can be difficult for newly bereaved parents to be around babies and small children. Some events are more appropriate for young children and families, such as walks or picnics, whereas more solemn events, such as holiday candle lighting ceremonies, work best if babies and small children do not attend. You may encounter parents who are disappointed their child/ren cannot attend, but usually, once you explain that it may be difficult for newly bereaved parents, most will understand. For a grandparent event, some may feel more comfortable if parents do not also attend.
When planning your program, these are some things to keep in mind:
· Parents and others who attend these events are often feeling emotional and anxious, especially those who are new. Make sure you have adequate staff or others to offer support when needed.
· Keep the event hopeful. Yes, it is sad to have a remembrance event for babies who have died, but you want the overall theme to be one of hope, encouragement and healing. Keep this in mind when choosing guest speakers, music and poems.
· Those who are grieving often find great comfort and solace in music and poetry, so be aware that what you choose may resonate with parents. Poems and songs should be uplifting and not be religious in order to make all feel welcome.
· During some point in the program, read baby names. You can also allow parents to say their own baby’s name or write it on a stone, ribbon, tree tag or other item. Following the reading of baby names, request a moment of silence.
· Include luminaries or candlelight when possible. Candlelight is symbolic of light illuminating dark times, and the warmth of a candle conveys love and support. Finding ways to incorporate light into your events will add a meaningful touch. Whether the event is indoors or outdoors, purchase white paper lunch bags, let families decorate them with markers and add battery operated candles. Line pathways or aisles with the luminaries. You can also use glass jars and tie ribbons around the top.
· Refreshments/fellowship—The informal time parents spend together is important. You will often see parents gravitate toward each other and make connections they may not have made otherwise. This is also the time when you as caregivers may be called upon to provide support to families so make sure you have others there to assist you.
Parents appreciate being able to take a keepsake home with them. They find it touching and healing to leave with something that maximizes memories of their child’s life. Following are some ideas for keepsakes that are inexpensive yet meaningful:
· Packets of flower seeds.
· Ornaments—if you host a ceremony around the holiday season, consider providing each family with an ornament to take home. Choose one based on your theme. During the ceremony, parents can place it on a tree as you read their baby’s name.
· Healing stone—many families find meaningful connection to their baby in nature, and stones provide an easy and inexpensive keepsake. Purchase smooth rocks at landscaping companies or craft/hobby stores. You can glue a fabric heart or other symbol to one side of the rock and provide permanent markers so parents can write their baby’s name on the other side.
· Journal—expressive writing is a powerful therapeutic tool that can allow bereaved parents to release their pain and process emotions and thoughts.
· Charm—a charm that symbolizes the theme of your event tied to a ribbon and attached to a poem or quote on a small card is an easy and inexpensive way to provide a keepsake.
Planning remembrance events can feel overwhelming, so give yourself permission to start out simple. Pick one event you would like to host, find a few parents or others to help you, and have fun! Even a small and intimate event planned with love will be much appreciated by your families. Hosting events for families may be one of the more rewarding things you do as a perinatal loss caregiver.
Thank you to Yolanda King, MSW, for her contributions. Yolanda is a Social Worker in the Department of Women’s and Infants’ Services at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC.