Advice for Funeral Directors and Clergy: A Bereaved Parent’s Perspective
By Katie D. Smith
previously published at KotaPress.com, Nov 2004
When I was planning Charles’ funeral, the funeral director wanted me to purchase a casket for my son’s services. I was already in a complete state of shock, and the idea of a casket put me in total hysterics and more tears.
I told the funeral director that I will not purchase a casket for my baby. I did not want my final memories of my precious baby boy of him being in a casket. Emotionally and financially, I could not comprehend the logic of having a casket for Charles. He would be cremated after the services to have his ashes rest in an urn at my home.
The chaplain, that I initially met at the hospital after Charles’ delivery, came to the funeral home with me to plan the services. Pastor Case knew how upset I was during this planning process. She told me that she would provide something special for Charles to rest in for the services and his cremation. Pastor Case told me not to worry about that part of the planning as she assured me that Charles would not be in a casket.
I remember the funeral director asking me, “…how do you expect us to not have a casket…”. My responded to her, ” I don’t care if you just wrap him up in a blanket and lay him on a chair, because he’ll be in my arms for most of the service.” The funeral director was a woman that was my age in her early twenties at the time. I think I put her in a state of shock with my persistence to have Charles’ services planned to my liking and approval.
Charles’ services was this funeral director’s first infant funeral. I hope in some small way, I made a difference for future infant funerals. I hope this funeral director will always remember Charles and help others by suggesting alternative solutions to avoiding a casket while offering a pleasant atmosphere for an otherwise very emotionally charged day.
When I arrived at the church chapel for Charles’ funeral, I saw my son wrapped up nice and cozy in a soft blue blanket in this beautiful antique wooden doll’s cradle. The cradle along with the warm and tender atmosphere was suited perfectly for my sweet little prince!
It was a beautiful and bittersweet day as this was the first day, that I was truly able to hold my son in peace. I will be forever grateful to Pastor Case. She stood beside me through the entire funeral planning process. She even performed Charles’ funeral service and baptismal. Pastor Case has continued to be there for me through good and bad times since losing Charles.
Funeral Directors and Clergy have a difficult task in offering peace of mind and comfort to families that have lost a child of any age. The following are suggestions from bereaved families to assist and guide those of service to families that have lost a child.
- Do ask families what they would like and expect to have occur for and during their child’s services.
- Do not insist on a product or item such as a casket for an infant’s services. Let families know that it is not required to purchase a casket for their baby during funeral/viewing services whether or not the family plans to do a casket burial or a cremation.
- Do provide solutions to alleviating the financial burden of funeral and burial costs.
- Do offer a variety of ideas and alternatives for the funeral to help families make an informed decision that they will not later regret.
- Offer bereavement support materials and literature such as a listing of local support organizations that provide support to families experiencing a loss.
- If a family’s baby was stillborn, provide information on how families can obtain a certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth if available in your state. Families want that documentation of their child’s life and existence. To find out more information on passing the MISSing Angels Bill in your state, visit https://www.missfoundation.org/. Make your state the next state to offer the certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth!
- Give families something tangible to hold onto in honor of their baby such as a cuddly teddy bear to hug. Perhaps offer a memory box that include various keepsakes such as a hand and footprint kits, a baby’s quilt, and a beaded bracelet with child’s name.
- Check in on how families are doing by calling them. Send a care and support card on anniversaries and other significant days such as holidays. Always remember that grief does not have a time line. We will forever remember, miss and love our children.
- A cradle or bassinet for infant to rest in during services
- Display of flowers that represent the child’s birth/death month
- Symbolic remembrance items for guests such as packets of ‘Forget-Me-Not’ flower seeds to plant in honor of the grieving family’s baby
- Videography of services
- Photography of family with their infant
- Music that may be symbolic to their child such as songs about angels
- Baptismal (use a small sea shell to dip into the holy water and gently poor over the baby’s forehead. Have a small heart shaped cloth pillow to wipe off excess water).
- Readings of poems and letters written for one’s child by the family
- Release of butterflies; doves or balloons in honor of a family’s baby to symbolize their child’s free spirit and love.
- Light memorial candles to symbolize and express the eternal love between parent and child that will never burn out. Possibly use aromatherapy candles such as lavender scents to create a soothing atmosphere.
- Encourage families to hold their baby and spend quiet time with their child before and after the funeral.