People are not taught how to deal with the death of a baby. Friends and family often donâ€™t know what to say. Most people expect the parents, especially the father, to return to work within a few days and be â€˜back to normalâ€™ within a matter of months, but the death of a baby changes parents forever . . .
As I finished a call and cradled the phone, an unfamiliar woman entered and then quickly exited my co-worker Loriâ€™s office. The woman had been carrying a rectangular object. I knew Lori* had left for hospital visit and wouldnâ€™t return for several hours. What had been delivered in her absence? Curious, I eased across the hallway and stopped at the doorâ€™s threshold to peer inside.
I gulped. Now I knew what had been brought for my colleague:Â a coffin the size of two back-to-back shoeboxes, its exterior elegantly wrapped with soft, padded fabric.
For the last few years, Iâ€™ve worked part-time at Hinds Hospice as a so-called Bereavement Support Specialist. Trust me, Iâ€™m not much of a specialist in anything, but my employers had to concoct a title for my duties. The part of Hinds where Iâ€™m employed is The Center for Grief and Healing and Angel Babies. The diminutive coffin had been brought to Loriâ€™s office by the person who had built it because of the final two words in The Centerâ€™s name . . . Angel Babies.
My bereavement work is exclusively with adults. I make follow-up calls to those who have experienced the death of a loved one. When a sister or grandparent or father or aunt has died under Hinds Hospiceâ€™s care, we make sure those who are grieving know theyâ€™re not alone. Not only do we call folks, but we also send monthly letters and sponsor various workshops and conferences throughout the year. Additionally, I lead grief support groups and do a variety of â€œthisâ€ and â€œthatâ€ for The Center.
But I donâ€™t work with the ones whoâ€™ll use the handmade coffin waiting in my colleagueâ€™s office; I donâ€™t deal with the parents who have, or will soon, experience their babyâ€™s final breaths. I like to think my work with adults struggling with loss allows my colleagues to have more time to care for parents grieving the death of a precious infant.
In 2001, Hinds created the Angel Babies program. Its mission is â€œto comfort, support and uphold the dignity of families whose babies have a life-limiting condition or whose babies have died.â€ According to Kathy Cromwell, the Director of the Center for Grief and Healing and Angel Babiesâ€”and my bossâ€”over 3,100 Central Valley families have been supported since the programâ€™s start.
Cromwell added . . .
â€œAngel Babies staff responds to local hospital emergency rooms and labor and delivery rooms to support families who are going through this experience. As we provide resources and support at such an overwhelming time, we assure our families that we will be available for continued support. People are not taught how to deal with the death of a baby. Friends and family often donâ€™t know what to say. Most people expect the parents, especially the father, to return to work within a few days and be â€˜back to normalâ€™ within a matter of months, but the death of a baby changes parents forever, and results in a uniquely deep and personal grieving process. The bereavement services provide families with helpful information and support during their journey of grief and mourning.â€
Unlike most of the good work of all hospices, including Hinds Hospice, the support given and services provided by Angel Babies are NOT paid for by private insurance or Medicare benefits. Fund raising is critical and constant. Volunteers are essential. And various gifts, like a handmade coffin constructed for a family that never in their worst nightmares imagined needing it, are profoundly appreciated.
And right now, you can help this wonderful program! Yes, I have an agenda!
A few months ago, Fresno-area employees of Aetna Health nominated Angel Babies as one of only 33 groups across the nation to be eligible for $30,000 grant from the Aetna Voices of Health Foundation.
The group who gets the grant is the group with the most votes tallied between August 28 and October 13 of 2013. You have to go here to this WEB PAGE to vote. (And please . . . vote! It’s darn simple. I was even able to do it . . .)
Me? I stood by the door of Loriâ€™s office and gave thanks for the hands that had fashioned this tiniest of coffins. No one would ever desire or seek this gift. But some will need it as they face one of the worst momentsâ€”and lifetime woundsâ€”a parent will ever experience.
With a few clicks of your mouse, or the touch of your fingers on a tablet or smartphone, I invite you to help the families that Angel Babies helps.
*Lori is Lori’s real name, and you’d enjoy knowing her, and she would be one of the wonderful Angel Babies counselors you’d want to visit you, or your family, if you were in the hospital, filled with far too much loss and sadness . . .
Image is from the Angel Babies website.