SERVICE FOR MISCARRIAGE OR STILLBIRTH
Funeral services have their own unique challenges, but a service for a stillborn child, or a service in the event of a miscarriage, is complicated by the fact that one cannot offer tributes that celebrate accomplishments or recall the personality of the life being remembered. It has been noted that, “miscarriage is more often seen as a medical problem than a real loss. If your baby is stillborn, you’ll get a little more concern and sympathy, but many people will still wonder why you are missing a baby you ‘hardly knew.’” (Healing Together, For Couples Whose Baby Dies. Marcie Lister and Sandra Lovell. Centering Corporation, NE. 1991.) Parents expecting the birth of a child are usually filled with hope and excitement, but when death replaces life, it may feel like nothing remains. A nursery may have been prepared during the pregnancy, but the crib will remain empty. In the event of a miscarriage there may not even be a body to hold. Grief is the natural human response to loss, and the greater the sense of loss the greater the sense of grief. A service for a miscarriage or still birth can therefore offer some structure and comfort for those who grieve.
Some general guidelines to help adapt a service:
The service offered here is only a suggested outline and should be adapted as necessary. One resource used to prepare the following service is the New Zealand Anglican Prayer Book. While there are many things to consider in preparing such a service, it is essential to craft a service that offers an appropriate balance of both lament and comfort. Miscarriages and still births are tragic events and it is proper to acknowledge the pain in the loss. At the same time the goal of the service is to provide an opportunity for those who grieve to encounter God and find some sense of comfort, hope and peace.
Allow for and encourage an appropriate amount of time between the tragic event and the service. Of course it is always appropriate to offer pastoral prayers in a moment of crisis, but this type of service should not be rushed.
One should always respect the couple’s desires concerning both the participants and even those invited to the service. The couple may or may not want to include their parents. Likewise the larger church family may or may not be included. It is entirely appropriate to allow for a private ceremony whether it is held at the church, home, hospital, or some other significant location.
In both the private and public service it is good to acknowledge that this type of loss will have an impact on more than just the expecting parents. The grieving family may include previous children who were anticipating a sibling. The couple’s parents shared in anticipation as they thought of becoming grandparents. A church family also experiences sorrow as the Body will “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). The prayers in the service should be inclusive and extend beyond the parents.
Prayers in the service may also need to address any sense of guilt or shame that may be experienced by both the father and mother. Both parents may share a sense of failure; however, it has been noted that:
When recognized miscarriages are investigated, approximately 50 to 60% are found to be caused by chromosomal abnormalities. These are the result of accidents that occur in the production of the eggs and sperm. They cannot be avoided. Parents have no control over the production of eggs and sperm. There is nothing done that causes these accidents to occur and nothing that can be done to prevent them. .… Within the last several years, there has been more effort put in the evaluation of babies who are stillborn. Even with a comprehensive evaluation, a recognized cause for the stillbirth is identified only 40% of the time … The causes that are recognized are related to things over which the parents have no control. As with miscarriages, there is generally nothing parents have done to cause the still birth nor is there anything that they could have done to prevent it from having occurred. [From the RTS Counselor Manual, Prepared by K. Josephson, M.S. (1994). La Crosse Regional Genetic Services, La Crosse, WI. Used with Permission.]
These statistics show that in the event of a miscarriage and stillbirth, there is typically nothing the parents have done to cause it and nothing that could have been done to prevent it. On the other hand, there may be some instances where a specific cause can be identified, and in those particular situations prayers for forgiveness may also be required.
Two things to avoid:
Many people experience a sense of awkwardness in talking with others dealing with grief. Two common responses to a miscarriage or stillbirth, often said by well-meaning people with the best of intentions, can in fact be unhelpful and even hurtful for a couple that is grieving. These comments are:
“It wouldn’t have been a healthy child.” Although the statistics do support the fact that many miscarriages occur because of chromosomal abnormalities, grieving parents need love and support not explanations.
“You can always have another baby!” Resist the urge to share a similar story of tragedy that is followed by the celebration of another life after a successful pregnancy. While that may be the hope, this comment is insensitive because the parents that grieve do not want some other child. There could never be a replacement for the child that was lost. The time may come for a couple to consider trying to have another child but that is not a possibility they are willing to entertain in the early stages of grief.
Final suggestions for adapting the service:
The medical profession works with clinical terms (a miscarriage is also termed an abortion), but one should try not to use impersonal language especially in reference to the baby. Avoid terms such as fetus or “it” and if the gender is known, use ‘he’ or ‘she’. Again, by giving the baby a name the service becomes personal. Naming the child is in fact a very important component to the service. This can still be done if there is an early miscarriage and the gender is not known. In addition to naming the baby, there are other actions that can have symbolic and significant meaning, for example, the mother or father may want to write a letter addressing the child. A hand or footprint may be taken. A candle lit. A lock of hair saved. Even photographs of the baby would be appropriate. Another meaningful action is the creation of a memory box (for stillbirth), where memorabilia, such as an infant hospital hat, a photo, hair clipping, ribbon, wrist band, etc. could be placed. Each couple is different and the goal is to offer something tangible to give expression for the loss.
The service does not need to be long, but begins with a prayer to answer the question “Why are we here?” In this prayer, and throughout the service, the language should include expressions of grief and lament with hope and praise.
Memorials and Symbolic Acts:
• Naming the Child
• Donations in memory of the child (i.e. an appropriate picture, placed in a church nursery, with a name plate in memory of the child)
• Write a letter to the baby, expressing your feelings
• A symbolic figurine or picture (i.e. Jesus with a child) to be placed in the home
Ilse, Sherokee. Empty Arms: Coping After Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Infant Death.
Wintergreen Press: 1990.
Gamino, Louis and Ann T. Cooney. When Your Baby Dies Through Miscarriage or
Stillbirth. Augsburg Press: 2005.
Sister Jane Marie Lamb, ed. Bittersweet …Hello Goodbye. Prairie Lark Pr, Springfield, Illinois: 1989.
A complete resource for anyone involved with perinatal loss. There are six sections, including planning services for hospitals, groups, congregations and individuals. Prayers, scripture, readings and other resources are included to assist in meeting individual circumstances. There are suggestions, resources, patterns for keepsakes, and other items to aid parents. The most complete guide for use when planning a memorial or funeral for a baby. AVAILABLE on-line: www.nationalshare.org/
The mission of Share Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support, Inc. is to serve those whose lives are touched by the tragic death of a baby through pregnancy loss, stillbirth or in the first few months of life.
The primary purpose is to provide support toward positive resolution of grief experienced at the time of/or following the death of a baby. This support encompasses emotional, physical, spiritual and social healing, as well as sustaining the family unit.
The secondary purpose of Share is to provide information, education and resources on the needs and rights of bereaved parents and siblings. The objective is to aid those in the community, including family, friends, employers, members of the congregation, caregivers and others in their supportive role.
A Place To Remember is committed to publishing and providing uplifting support materials and resources for those who have been touched by a crisis in pregnancy or the death of a baby.
New Zealand Anglican Prayer Book has a funeral service for a child, or in the case of a miscarriage. It is a service that includes a commendation, naming, committal, prayers for the parents, and 17 additional prayers to choose from. This is an excellent resource, both pastorally sensitive and theologically sound.
Instructions for a Self-Directed Service
Should a couple or an individual choose to use this material for a self-directed service, what is absolutely essential to the service is both the honesty of the grief balanced by the hope that is found in the promises of God. Be sure to offer Scriptures that can serve as a foundation for both important components.
SERVICE IN THE EVENT OF A MISCARRIAGE OR STILLBIRTH
We have gathered here today to commend a beloved child [name] to our heavenly Father, to assure the parent(s) [name(s)] of God’s everlasting love, to acknowledge the deep sorrow in this loss, and to offer comfort and support.
Scripture Passages: (see also Deuteronomy 33:27, Job 19:25-26, Psalm 25:5-9, Psalm 46:1, Psalm 103:8-18, Lamentations 3:22-23, Matthew 5:4, John 14:1-4,6, Romans 14:7-9, 1 Corinthians 2:9, 1 Peter 1:3, Revelation 7:17).
People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
Heavenly Father, your Son took little children into his arms and blessed them. Grant to us now the assurance that this child [name] is encircled by those arms of love. In the midst of our grief, strengthen by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit our faith and hope in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
O Lord, you have searched us and known us. You know when we sit down and when we rise up; you discern our thoughts from far away. You search out our paths and our lying down, and are acquainted with all our ways. Even before a word is on our tongues, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem us in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon us. Such knowledge is too wonderful for us.
Where can we go from your spirit? Or where can we flee from your presence? If we ascend to heaven, you are there; if we make our beds in the depths, you are there. If we take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead us. If we say, “Surely the darkness shall cover us, and the light around us become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed our inward parts; you knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. We praise you, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that we know very well. (Adapted from Psalm 139)
Naming of the Child
Minister will address the parents:
_______ and _______, have you chosen a name for your child?
Parents will answer: We name him/her __________________________.
The Minister will respond:
[Name of child], we give you this name, and do so in the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Although your life was brief, you will be remembered as one belonging to the __________ family and as a gift shared with us all.
God of wisdom and all compassion, you make nothing in vain and love all that you have created. In the midst of our many questions and our lack of understanding we believe that little ____________ is in your presence. We pray for the courage and strength to say “good-bye” before we had the opportunity to say “hello.” May you, O Lord, care for, love and nurture little __________ forever. Help us to endure and wait for the day when we will be re-united after we too obtain the fullness of your promises in the age to come, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Symbolic Acts, and/or Eulogy from Parents
O God, we offer our thanks for _____________________, for the potential of his/her life which came to us as a precious gift from you, even though that potential was not realized as we would have wished. Although we come with sorrow and with tears, we trust in your unfailing love. We thank you that the Scriptures proclaim that nothing can separate us from your love. We acknowledge that even though __________ was part of our lives for a short time, he/she has left a mark that will never be lost.
We thank you too for the promise that what we see here in this world is not all there is, and for the hope of seeing him/her again because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Increase our capacity to trust in your grace, even through our loss. Despite the emptiness that we now feel, we know that ____________ is safe in your arms of love.
O God, help and comfort the parent(s) of ____________ and each one who feels this loss sharply. Thank you for the people who hold and support them in both their pain and joy. Continue to show your grace to this family. And may your peace, courage, hope and light draw us all together in this hour. All this we pray in the name of Jesus, who died, and yet lives forever. Amen.
Benediction (not used if the service is to continue at the graveside)
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
[Any or all the following Scriptures may be read.]
“I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25 26).
“For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last He will stand upon the earth;… then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold…” (Job 19:25 27).
“For we brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world” (I Timothy 6:7).
“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).
“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going. Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me’” (John 14:1 6).
[Then shall the minister say]
Inasmuch as Almighty God, in His wise providence, has received from this world our deceased child, we therefore commit this mortal body to the ground, looking for the resurrection in the last day and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose Second Coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the mortal bodies of those who sleep in Him shall be changed, and made like unto His own glorious body, according to the mighty working whereby He is able to redeem all things unto Himself.
[The minister may pray extemporaneously or use the following]
O merciful God, you are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life, in whom whoever believes shall live, though they die, and whoever lives and believes in Him shall not die eternally. We humbly beseech You, O Father, to raise us from the death of sin to the life of righteousness, that when we shall depart this life we may rest in Christ. And we pray that at the resurrection on the last day we may be found acceptable in Your sight and receive that blessing which Your well beloved Son shall then pronounce to all who love and fear You, saying, “Come, you blessed of my Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.” Grant this, we beseech You, O merciful Father, through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen.
• Many resources were consulted in preparing the above service, in particular the New Zealand Anglican Prayer Book.