Celebrating Life… and Death

“We celebrate the time that we had with our precious babies (twins) and mourn their passing. We wished for these babies for such a long time, and cling to the dreams we had for them, dreams like those of any new parent. We will forever cherish the memories of our brief time together.” 

These parents announced the birth and death of their twins, something people did not think to do years ago. Miscarriage is treated very differently today compared to those years.

In 1994 I was employed as a chaplain. Today, I am the full time Infant Bereavement Coordinator at Altru. Years ago I had a stillbirth. When I went to the hospital, in labor, the nurse told me that I did not want to see my baby. I thought she must know something that I didn’t, because I wanted to see and hold my baby. I was alone when I delivered, but the nurse came and quickly took my perfectly formed little boy before I could even touch him. I never saw him again. Twenty five years later, a nurse mentioned she had named her stillborn baby. It had not occurred to me. I named my baby that day.

Memories of a Short Life
Teddy_blogIn 1989, the staff on the Altru Birthing Unit started giving mothers whose baby died a memory box, a baby ring, a tiny garment for remembrance, photos of their baby and one book on miscarriage. Today, in addition to these items, parents are given a folder of books and information and an Angel Bear. This bear does not replace their baby but is something to hold in their arms. It is a known fact that some mothers have aching arms after the death of their baby.

In 1994 I asked the Pastoral Services staff if they would support burial services for these babies. After a year and a half of research and work, we had our first burial at Babyland in Calvary cemetery. These continue twice a year, in spring and fall, for all babies. Most parents do not know Box_blogthey can have their own burial for their miscarried baby. If their baby has died and they come to the Birthing Unit for delivery, parents are told they can have their own burial or leave their baby for our burial. If they choose, we will assist them in planning their burial. The carpentry class at Northland Community & Technical College makes small burial boxes which are given to these parents.

Dads Grieve, Too
We have a special book for dads called Strong and Tender which tells how men and women grieve differently and what a dad can do to help his grief.  Dads usually hear, “How is your wife doing?” Rarely does anyone ask how they are doing.

Thanks for the bear and other materials. Together we went through the things we received and my wife fell asleep with the bear in her arms. This afternoon I felt sad and exhausted and I came home to take a nap. When my wife came home, she tucked the bear in my arms and the tears came. We really miss our baby.”

The Christmas Box Angel
In 2000, an angel from Richard Evan’s book “The Christmas Box” was dedicated to children and babies who die before or after birth. It is located in the park east of Altru Hospital. In purchasing the angel, Altru promised to have a memorial service every December 6 for children who have died. At this service, parents can have their baby’s name inscribed on a Christmas ornament that they place on the tree in the lobby of our hospital. At the tenth anniversary of the angel, a Memorial Wall was placed near the angel. This wall has names of children of all ages who have died. The Altru Alliance had a fountain installed at the site.

This summer, take a stroll through the park and see the memorials. And if you have a friend or relative who has a baby die outside of Altru, contact me at 701.780.5257, and I will provide you information to send them.

Toni_blogAltru’s Infant Bereavement Coordinator, Chaplain Toni Betting has worked at Altru for 19 years. She was born and raised in Michigan, N.D. and raised her family in Ellendale, N.D. Toni enrolled in college at the University of Mary in Bismarck at the age of 50, after the last of her nine living children graduated from high school. She graduated with a major in pastoral ministries and a minor in addiction counseling.  She was hired as a chaplain here in 1994 and on January 1, 2013, took the position of full time Infant Bereavement Coordinator. Toni has 28 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren. Her favorite pastimes include gardening and traveling, mostly to see her family.

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