Planning your baby’s farewell

There is nothing that prepares you for a silent birth and there is nothing that prepares you for going home without your baby. I often refer to the moment that Sophie was born as a deafening silence, and I know that this is a contradiction in terms. So I thought I would write a series of blog posts, not to upset people, but to explain what happens during a silent birth, why the silence is deafening, and what happens after the birth. This is just my experience, and other people’s experience may be different… I would like to hear other experiences so please write a comment or send me an email if you wish.

In the series are:

Planning your baby’s farewell

Anyone who knows me, knows that I hardly ever refer to Sophie’s farewell as her ‘funeral’… I much prefer to call it ‘Sophie’s special day’ or ‘Sophie’s farewell’. It is just my way; and the way in which you refer to your baby’s farewell is up to you too.

We decided to organise Sophie’s farewell ourselves, because that gave us the most freedom to decide on the special things that we would like included for her. We could choose the cemetery, choose the type of service, have as many people as we wanted and do everything we could to make her day as special as possible. For us, having our friends and family there was really important; we personalised the church and the cemetery services, the order of service, we travelled in the hearsette with Sophie, and we also booked a gorgeous venue for the wake which we decorated with white, pink and lilac balloons. The balloons were released by all the guests at the end of the day and it was just perfect for Sophie.

So… what are your options?

With a hospital arranged funeral, there may not be as many choices as you would have if you made your own arrangements. Some hospitals offer both burial and cremation, whereas others only offer to arrange cremations.

Burial arranged by the hospital

Some hospitals offer parents a choice between an individual grave or a shared grave, and some only offer burial in a shared grave, so it’s important to check this with the chaplain before you consent to the hospital arranging the funeral.

Cremation arranged by the hospital

Some hospitals offer both individual cremation and shared cremation. Individual cremation is most commonly offered for babies who died after birth or were born sleeping at a later stage of pregnancy. In a shared cremation, several babies are cremated at the same time.

A hospital funeral ceremony

Hospital funeral ceremonies for babies are usually led by one of the hospital chaplains. Most hospitals hold a shared funeral ceremony at regular intervals for all the babies who have died recently. Parents, and anyone else they want to invite, are usually welcome to attend. The ceremony may be held in the hospital chapel, or in the crematorium or cemetery chapel. The staff who discuss the funeral with you will tell you when and where the next ceremony is likely to be. Depending on the hospital, there may be options for you to make some choices about the funeral, such as the content of the service, the type of coffin, readings or music. However, if it is a shared service then these are likely to be restricted. You don’t have attend the ceremony if you don’t want to, but take a little time before you decide.

Arranging a funeral yourselves

The first thing to do is call a few funeral directors, you have to feel comfortable with the people who will be looking after your baby. By making a phone call you can get a feel for the helpfulness and care that they show and it will help you to decide which one you think would suit you best. We decided on Doves in Maidstone as they were truly amazing over the phone; they also welcomed me to go and visit Sophie as much as I wanted before her final farewell.

Burial or cremation

You will need to decide whether your baby will be buried or cremated. The funeral director can help you by telling you about local crematoria and burial grounds and what each offers. Your baby’s burial can be in a cemetery, a green or woodland burial site or in consecrated grounds. Burial at home may also be an option, though you may want to think about how you would feel if you move away. With a cremation most crematoria try to ensure that there are ashes from the cremation and they should be able to offer you ashes if your baby was born after about 17 weeks of pregnancy. However, if you want to have ashes, you need to tell the funeral director or the crematorium.

Choosing a coffin

This, I found to be one of the hardest parts; and I went to pieces as soon as the ‘coffin catalogue’ was brought out. You will be offered a range of coffins, however, if you would like something different then please ask. You could, for example, have your baby tucked into a moses and, if necessary, transferred into a coffin for the burial or cremation. Coffins can be made of a range of substances including wood veneer, wood, cardboard, bamboo or willow. If you choose a woodland or natural burial ground, check with the staff there: they will have rules about the type of coffin they accept.

Setting a date

The funeral can be held as soon as all the arrangements have been made. However, don’t feel rushed as you may want to take time to think about what you want for your baby’s farewell. Most funerals are held within 2-3 weeks, although Sophie’s wasn’t help for a month as we wanted to make sure all our friends and family could be there. Whatever kind of funeral you are having, take time to think about how you would like to say goodbye and what you would like included in the day.

Who will lead the ceremony?

You may want to ask a church minister or a member of the hospital chaplaincy to lead the ceremony. You could contact the Institute of Civil Funerals (IoCF) or Funeral Celebrants to find a celebrant who will help you plan a ceremony with as much or as little religious or spiritual content as you want. If you don’t want any religious content at all, you could contact the British Humanist Association for advice about local humanist funeral celebrants, or you could ask a trusted relative or close friend to lead the ceremony. The choice is yours.

What kind of ceremonies are available?

In most cases a minister or chaplain will be willing to include what you want and they can also make suggestions. In some faiths the structure is fixed and there may be less opportunity to adapt the ceremony. If the ceremony is led by an independent funeral celebrant, a humanist, or a friend or relative, you can usually plan more or less anything you want.

Invitations

When a baby dies people are often uncertain of whether or not they should attend the funeral. They may feel like they are intruding and they may not know how to react to the news or whether they should attend. You may want a very small private funeral. However, if you would like more people to come, you may want to mention, when you let them know when and where the funeral will be, any special requests you have, for example, about flowers and what people should wear. There may be some people that you don’t want to attend. For example, some parents find it hard to be around others who are expecting or have just had a baby; you could ask a relative or friend to tell them that you want to keep the funeral low key and are only inviting a few people.

Readings

You may want to write your own poem or text which can be read by the minister, a family member or yourself.

Music

You may want to choose music or songs for the funeral. However, you may also want to bear in mind that whenever you hear the same music or song in the future, it could prompt new waves of grief.

Flowers

You can choose whether or not to have flowers on or with the coffin. You can also decide whether or not you want other people to send flowers. If you do, you will need to tell them where they should be sent. After the funeral you may want to take some of the flowers home, so that you can press and keep them. You may also want to keep any message cards that are sent with the flowers.

Candles

You may want to light candles before or during the ceremony. If you do, check beforehand with the crematorium or cemetery that this is allowed.

Releasing balloons or doves or butterflies

Some parents have written messages, attached them to balloons and released them after the ceremony or at the graveside. However, there are some environmental concerns about balloons. You could also release butterflies or doves at the graveside.

Photographs

Some parents get a friend or relative they trust to take photographs before, during and after the funeral ceremony. If you want this, it’s important to tell the person taking the photos exactly what you do and don’t want, and when you do and don’t want photos taken.

The order of service

You may want to produce an order of service containing the words and music that will be used. You could have a photo of your baby on the front, or a symbol that has meaning for you such as a flower or butterfly. You and the other people who attend will be able to keep the order of service as a precious memento. The funeral directors can also arrange for this to be printed.

Donations to charity

As well as, or instead of, sending flowers, you could suggest that family and friends who want to, make a donation to Sands or another charity.

Taking your baby home

Some parents decide to take their baby home before the funeral. There is no legal reason why you should not do this if it is something that you want. If you would like to take your baby home, tell the midwife. Many hospitals give parents a form to take with them to confirm their right to take their baby’s body out of the hospital. The staff should also give you information about keeping your baby as cool as possible, you may be able to borrow a cold cot for your baby. If the hospital is arranging the funeral, the staff will tell you when to bring your baby back and if you are arranging the funeral yourself, you can keep your baby at home until it takes place.

Preparing your baby for the funeral

You may want to wash and dress your baby for the funeral. If your baby has had a post mortem examination, ask the hospital staff to tell you what to expect – for example, where the stitch lines will be. These will be covered when the baby is dressed and wrapped. You may want your baby to be dressed in a particular outfit or wrapped in a special blanket. You may also want to put special items into your baby’s coffin, such as a soft toy, a letter or a poem.

Bringing your baby to the funeral

You have many choices to make depending on where your baby is before the funeral. If your baby is at the funeral directors or the hospital, you can ask the funeral director to bring him or her. If you don’t want a hearse, you could ask if your baby could be brought in an ordinary car. Some funeral directors have cars that are specially adapted to carry a small coffin and have space for the family. You could collect your baby from the funeral director yourselves and take him or her by car to the ceremony. If your baby is at home until the funeral, you could take him or her yourselves by car. The funeral director, if you use one, could carry the coffin in for the ceremony or you could carry the coffin in yourself.

After the funeral

You may just want to get back to the privacy of your own home, perhaps with one or two people you are especially close to. Alternatively, you may want family and friends to gather for a drink and something to eat. You may want to have the gathering at your home, a relative’s home or you could book a private function room. You don’t have to do anything special at this gathering. It’s just an opportunity for people to be together.

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