By: Rose Carlson
Those who work with and support families who experience the tragic death of a baby know just how meaningful ceremonies, rituals and memorial events are to heartbroken parents. Many parents continue to honor their baby over the years, and they are especially appreciative when others also remember their baby and provide them opportunities to continue to honor his or her life. If you are in a position to host events for the families you serve, consider an event to commemorate October 15, which is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.
October 15 was declared Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day in a resolution passed by the United States House of Representatives in September 2006 thanks to the tireless efforts of a group of miscarriage awareness activists led by Robyn Bear. Robyn is the founder of October15.com, and her vision was for a day “when all grieving parents could come together and be surrounded by love and support from their friends and families, a day where the community could better understand their pain…a day to reflect on the loss yet remember the love.” October 15 is now observed by bereaved parents and their loved ones around the world in a Wave of Light. At 7 PM in all time zones, candles are lit and kept burning for one hour, creating a 24 hour “wave of light” as it moves around the world in reverence of beloved babies who are dearly loved and forever missed.
The national Share office has been hosting a Wave of Light event for several years. Keep it simple; it is not necessary to spend a lot of money, but it is a touching way to honor beloved babies and well worth your time and effort. Following are some ideas and photos to get you started:
If you work in a hospital or other facility, you may be able to hold your ceremony in the chapel, a meeting room or outdoor memorial garden. Public libraries and community buildings often have free or low-cost meeting spaces, and local parks are another possible location.
You can choose a theme, but it is not necessary. If you decide to have a theme, carry it throughout your invitations, decorations, candles, etc.
Invitations and programs:
It is a good idea to send invitations through the mail, via email as well as have printed copies to hand out at support group meetings or community events. Again, you can keep it simple and purchase pre-made invitations or create your own. The program can be as simple or elaborate as you choose; you can list the order of the ceremony along with the words to the poem and song if you have space.
Music and poetry:
Again, it is okay to keep it simple; a singer and/or musician adds a special touch, but playing a song is just as meaningful. Both the song(s) you play and the poem you read should have a hopeful message. Poems and songs should not be religious so that all feel welcomed and embraced.
Parents love to hear, say and see their child’s name. A necessary element of this type of ceremony is providing a way for parents to write and display their baby’s name. Following are a few ideas for items parents can write their baby’s name on:
- Tags with ribbons placed on a potted plant, tree or branches placed in a vase.
- Stones can be written on with paint markers or other permanent markers and placed in a basket, bowl or jar. Invite parents to take their stone home with them.
- Satin ribbons tied onto a decorated wreath. Experiment a head of time with different types of pens and markers to see which work best on your ribbon as some inks run on certain ribbon.
Reading names is a touching part of the event, and there are a couple of ways you can approach this. The first is to have parents put their baby’s name along with pronunciation on the sign in sheet, and have someone read the names. As each name is read, the parents write their baby’s name on whatever medium you have chosen before lighting their candle. Or, parents can say their own baby’s name while lighting their candle.
If your event will be outdoors, purchase white or brown paper lunch bags, markers and battery-operated tea light candles. As everyone gathers before the beginning of the event, provide the opportunity to decorate a bag and place it on the sidewalk, pathway or garden.
You can ask those who come to bring a candle with them, or you can provide candles. You may want to provide clear glass votive holders, stickers, ribbons, charms and other items and make decorating a candle holder part of your event.
*Refreshments are important. You can ask those who attend to bring something to share. Start your event early enough to allow for families to share food and fellowship before the candle lighting portion as most will want to leave following that.
*It is best to limit children to those over the age of 3. It can be difficult, especially for newly bereaved parents, to be around babies and small children. You might want this to be a solemn event, and young children can sometimes be disruptive.
*Create a welcoming, inviting atmosphere. Parents who have not attended such an event before as well as those who do not know you or anyone else can feel overwhelmed and intimidated, so make sure you have someone stationed at the entrance to greet everyone as they arrive.
*Before you begin your program, share the background of October 15 as parents may not know why this date is significant.
*If weather permits and you are in an area where it is possible, go for a walk with everyone carrying their candle with them. If you decide to do this, make sure your invitation states that those who attend should bring an enclosed candle. If budget allows, consider purchasing glowing balloons to carry when walking instead of candles.
*Encourage those who are unable to attend to light a candle at home. If you have a website or Facebook page, ask those who light candles at home to share photos, creating a virtual wave of light.
It can take some time and creative effort, but the thoughtful care and love you invest in providing the families you care for a memorable way to honor their beloved child is worth it. If you want to plan an October 15 event and have questions, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are planning or have held a Wave of Light event, feel free to share your ideas, as well.
Learn more about Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month and Share’s activities for October Awareness.
Rose is the Program Director at Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support. She came to Share in 2002 as a volunteer and eventually joined the staff in 2004. She has a BS in Psychology with a minor in Sociology and her personal experience as a bereaved parent brings an invaluable perspective to her work. Rose does much of the research for Share materials and has published articles in several professional journals throughout the country.