Diocesan News

Holy Innocents Mass Comforts Grieving Parents

See below: Helping Others Cope with the Loss of a Baby

(SNR) - The Feast of Holy Innocents Dec. 28 recognizes the first martyrs for Christ – all the little boys under 2 years of age who were slaughtered by Herod in his attempt to eliminate the Christ Child (Matthew 2:16-18).

Each year on the Feast of Holy Innocents, parents, family members and friends gather in Lincoln to remember their own lost innocents – infants who died before or shortly after birth.

The tradition began a number of years ago, when a group of moms who had lost babies arranged to have a special Mass said at the chapel of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters.

Each year, more grieving parents were added to their number, eventually outgrowing the Pink Sisters’ chapel.

The Holy Innocents Mass is now sponsored by Healing Hearts, a grief recovery program offered through the diocese’s Family Life Office (FLO). It’s held in the chapel of the Blessed John XXIII Center, 3500 Sheridan Blvd., by FLO director Father Matthew Eickhoff.

To celebrate each child’s life, their names are written on a banner and read aloud prior to the Mass. Each family receives a rose in memory of their child. Afterwards, a reception allows family members to support one another and write about their children in a memory book.

Sandy Danek, coordinator of Healing Hearts, said, "Families suffering the loss of a baby, no matter what the age, need to affirm the life of the child. This is why the Mass of the Holy Innocents is so important."

In 2010, Charlie and Jenny Medinger of St. Michael Parish in Lincoln attended for the first time, having lost a child earlier that year.

When Mrs. Medinger was 20 weeks pregnant, an ultrasound determined that their baby had a chromosomal defect called tritloidy syndrome. Another test confirmed the diagnosis.

"Essentially, it could be deadly to the mother and it’s always deadly for the child," Mrs. Medinger said.

The Medingers decided to name the baby after their confirmation saints – Michael for a boy or Veronica for a girl. Just a week later, the situation got dangerous. Veronica, their first daughter after three sons, did not survive.

At the Holy Innocents Mass, Mrs. Medinger liked hearing Veronica’s name read along with the other children’s.

"It was a nice reinforcement… a validation of her life," she said. "If it’s a grandparent who died, we say those names all the time, but you rarely get to hear the name aloud with a deceased baby."

Five years ago, Shawn and Mary Labadie of North American Martyrs Parish in Lincoln were at the Holy Innocents Mass, still reeling with grief. Just weeks earlier, they had discovered their fourth child, Peter, had died in the womb.

"What followed was a strange mixture of confusion, despair and even guilt," Mr. Labadie remembered.

On December 13, 2007, Peter was delivered. The couple and their older children took turns holding his tiny body, saying their hellos and good-byes all at once.

Somehow, they got through Christmas. Three days later, they were at Blessed John XXIII Center, listening to Peter Jacob Labadie’s name read aloud, along with hundreds of others.

"To know we were not alone and to know that so many other parents understood our pain and sorrow was just what we needed," Mr. Labadie said.

Peter’s grave at Calvary Cemetery in Lincoln is just steps away from Liam John Love’s, the dates of their stillborn deliveries exactly one year apart.

John and Julie Love of St. Michael Parish in Lincoln had been expecting twins, a boy and a girl.

In the eighth month of pregnancy, there was concern for their daughter, whose umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. Delivery was scheduled for December 18, 2006.

On December 11, the couple and their obstetrician listened to two strong heartbeats. Two days later, an ultrasound revealed that their little boy had died.

An emergency caesarian section delivered Lauren safely, and then Liam. The ensuing weeks were complicated for the Loves, whose joy at their daughter’s birth was tempered by the loss of their son.

"We were so blessed and happy and grateful we had Lauren, but honestly, I was so overwhelmed by grief, it was difficult to celebrate the way we all think of celebrating the birth of a child," Mrs. Love recalled.

Lauren was one of the keys to how the Loves processed their grief. But after the birth of their second son, Jaxon Liam, the floodgates opened again.

The Loves sought help from Healing Hearts and added Liam John’s name to those who are read at the Mass for Holy Innocents.

Mrs. Love takes great comfort in knowing that Liam will always be remembered by the Church.

"Sandy told me, ‘We’re going to read Liam’s name, and we’re always going to read Liam’s name,’" she said. "Even if I can’t go [to the Mass], it just reaffirms in my heart that Liam is with Jesus and the Blessed Mother."

Mrs. Danek reported that there are more than 700 names on the list now – so many, in fact, that it takes a half hour to read all of them. But no names will be removed.

"How could I ever remove a name?" Mrs. Danek wondered. "These names are submitted from families who want their children honored."

All are welcome to attend the reading of names at 6:30 p.m. and the Mass for Holy Innocents at 7 p.m. Dec. 28. To submit the name of a child lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, or SIDS, please call the Family Life Office at (402) 488-2040.

The Family Life Office can also provide information about Healing Hearts grief recovery, which ministers to anyone who has lost a loved one.

Helping Others Cope with the Loss of a Baby

By S.L. Hansen

(SNR) -Whether a baby dies after birth or in any stage of development beforehand, parents feel a deep, lonely grief that most others can’t even imagine.

As coordinator of the Healing Hearts grief recovery group, Mrs. Danek noted, "Even the loss of a baby at his or her earliest stages of life can be devastating. These families not only lose their baby, but all the hopes and dreams they had for this child."

The loss of an infant is rarely met with the same level of sympathy that the passing of other loved ones typically generates.

"Society barely notices a miscarriage, even one during the second trimester," said Shawn Labadie, whose fourth child died in the womb.

"It seems like there is an unspoken amount of time for which you are allowed to be sad, and after while everybody expects you to move on," agreed Jenny Medinger, another parent who lost a baby before birth.

For extended family members and friends, it can be difficult to know what to say... or if anything should be said at all.

"Unfortunately, many will think it is better to not bring up the issue, especially during the holidays," Mrs. Danek said.

This can lead the grieving parents into a deeper sense of despair.

"Their baby is constantly on their minds, so avoiding the subject can bring about feelings of isolation," explained Mrs. Danek. "There may be tears, but the acknowledgement and showing concern offers needed comfort."

She suggested, "What is most important in dealing with grief is to be patient.  Listen to their concerns and validate their feelings."

Encouraging the couple to move on or to try to conceive again might seem like a positive statement, but it’s really taken as a message that the baby who was lost doesn’t really matter.

"This is a life-changing time for these families," Mrs. Danek stressed. "Many times, as young families, they have little or no experience with death."

After one of her twins died shortly before birth, Julie Love most appreciated the people who said, "I don’t know what to say, but I’m so, so sorry!"

"Just let the family know you’re there for them," she recommended.

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