The profound impact that loss has on you is never felt more intensely than the loss of a child. The grief is heavy and oftentimes brutal, and as a Funeral Director, I see that grief compounded by the fact that families simply don’t know where to start when it comes to planning a funeral.
But I wasn’t always on this side of the planning. When faced with the stark reality of planning a funeral for a loved one, I was confused and lost and utterly unprepared for the moment. Discontent with my options at the time, I set about creating Rite of Passage Funerals as a new way to honour life, and death, by reimagining what funerals and end-of-life events can look like. From private ceremonies to candlelight vigils, each and every service is as unique and special as the people they’re for.
So where do you even start when it comes to honouring your little one? Here, some common questions.
When do you call a Funeral Director?
My first piece of advice to families who have experienced a stillbirth is to slow down. It’s okay to take your time here. Don’t feel pressure to get the ball rolling immediately by assigning a Funeral Director and making arrangements. This time is sacred and once planning commences, so do the decisions and questions. Each situation is different, but a Funeral Director can be called anywhere from 1 hour to a few days after birth.
What can a Funeral Director help you with?
A Funeral Director helps to coordinate and plan from the moment your baby comes into their care until the day of the funeral/burial or cremation. A Funeral Director arranges transportation, mortuary care, professional advice, booking/planning and project managing the service, liasing with the celebrant, ordering the casket and/or urn, working with the caterer, stylist, venue and florist, filing all the paperwork on the family’s behalf, arranging the cremation or burial and much, much more.
What are your service options?
In the difficult circumstances of having to plan a service for a baby, there are generally two options. The first is a funeral service, which is the name of a service where the coffin or casket is there with you. It occurs before a cremation or before/during a burial, depending on where you hold the service (i.e a graveside burial service will take place at the same time as the burial itself). While this option might be considered more traditional, by working with a progressive, creative Funeral Director you can make it personal by using unique and beautiful venues, having styling at the event to make it unique or keeping in line with your own cultural beliefs. The other option is a memorial service, which takes place after the cremation or burial and can be held anywhere because there’s no casket. There really are no limitations with this. I usually set up an arbour or stunning focal point with a table for the urn and some personal touches like photos or other meaningful items the parents want to include. I’ve held these in hidden coves near the beach and secret gardens, too.
Obviously budget plays a part in this, so I always work on prioritising my client’s needs so we can redistribute their budget into the things that matter most. A memorial service is often more cost effective because you don’t require a casket or hearse, so you can use that money towards styling or catering instead, if that’s more important to you.
What additional rituals are available?
Acknowledging this deeply painful experience looks different for every family, but here are some things that have helped other families I’ve worked with:
- A private viewing: You may have had time holding and cuddling your baby in the hospital, but your Funeral Director can also arrange for your baby to come home with you for a short period for a more intimate setting. This might include having some photos taken, or even a small ceremony.
- Photography: Having a photographer come and capture images of your little one can be a healing and cathartic experience. Many parents find comfort in these images, maybe you will too?
- Virtual memorials: If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that there is a place for technology when it comes to funerals. Virtual memorials offer an opportunity to gather your loved ones online to create a ritual, ceremony or simply gather in support at this extremely difficult time. This option can be hugely beneficial to those of you with family overseas or limited access to your support network, and it’s incredibly versatile. From Zoom memorials to virtual candlelight vigils, women’s circles and prayer groups, the options are endless when it comes to creating meaningful ceremonies online.
What can a ceremony look like?
The ceremony is arguably the most important part of any funeral or memorial service as it honours the significance of this tragedy. A good ceremony allows guests to feel and acknowledge their grief, uses meaningful rituals to facilitate a sense of healing and offers some comfort to those present. There are no rules when it comes to the ceremony, especially in the case of a stillborn, so I recommend asking yourself some questions to get really clear on what you want this ceremony to represent. Questions like why is this ceremony important to you? What do you want to get out of the ceremony? What, if any, cultural rituals do you want? are a great place to start so that you can work with your celebrant in getting the most out of this event. I’ve included rituals like lighting candles, writing letters and sending flowers out to sea (to name just a few) in the ceremony, along with comforting words, songs and poems to build unforgettable ceremonies at the most difficult of times.
Yasemin Trollope, owner of Rite of Passage Funerals.