More than 40,000 American women do not carry their unborn child to term each year. These pregnancies can result in stillbirth, in which case an infant is born deceased after 24 weeks of gestation, or pregnancies can end in miscarriage, in which case a woman gives birth to a nonliving child before 24 weeks. A miscarriage or stillborn infant can cause a mother and her expectant family tremendous grief. Holding a graveside service for a deceased child can help a mother and her family deal with grief and begin the healing process.
- Skill level:
Set a time and a date for the graveside service. Invite family and friends by phone or e-mail, or set up a page on a social-networking site, such as Facebook. Family and friends can use these websites to RSVP and also post condolences.
Select music, readings and a list of who will speak at the service. If you are officiating the service, you can choose poems or Bible verses that deal with grief, or ask the parents what they would like read.
Begin the service with a prayer or a reading, such as The Lord's Prayer, Psalm 23 or a poem. The liturgies of some religious denominations provide prayers to begin a service. Alternatively, start with a poem from writers who have dealt with the subject of untimely death, such as Edna St. Vincent Millay or A.E. Housman.
Include music that expresses a recognition of sorrow and grief but also points the way toward hope and closure such as, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms." As the funeral will take place at the graveside, avoid instrumental music. Instead, hire a soloist or have members of the church or a local choir sing choral music.
Read a short sermon that deals with death and transcending death through the gospel and faith. If the parents asked for a non-denominational service, include a reading that touches on sorrow, tribulations and its purpose in our lives.
Provide time for the parents and family members to express their personal thoughts. Encourage the parents to name the baby and to talk about what they had hoped for their child to be and accomplish in the future. Alternatively, have the parents read a letter written during the pregnancy that was intended for the child to read at some point.
Finish with a Benediction prayer or reading. Read from a selection chosen by the parents or choose a prayer or passage that deals with transcending sorrow, for example, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ("To everything there is a season...").
Allow the parents time to say goodbye to their child before burying him.
Tips and warnings
- Some religious denominations provide a liturgy for a stillborn service or may specify the procedure for a stillborn graveside service. For instance, the Presbyterian Church has its own funeral liturgy for stillborn funerals.
- Determine the funeral requirements in your state for the disposition of stillborn infants. Each state specifies how the unborn child must be buried, if at all. For example, Ohio does not require parents to file a "Fetal Death Certificate" for pregnancies that ended before 20 weeks, but parents must file one of these forms if they wish to bury or cremate their child.
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