THE WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
November 2, 1998
The loss of a baby
Parents seek ways to grieve the loss of a young child
By Anthony Palma
Re-printed from The Catholic Register
The loss of a child is a painful event for any mother, particularly when there is nowhere to turn.
When Bernadette Zambri's daughter Stéphanie died in 1992, she was completely devastated.
"At the time, I felt God had abandoned me. I was shocked, hurt, and numb. I could no longer feel his presence," she recalls.
Zambri's tragedy made her aware of an absence of formal support in the Catholic Church for the victims of early infant death. This led her to establish Morning Light Ministry, an organization that provides group workshops, one-to-one consultations and academic resources for grieving parents.
Through prayer and reflection and with the assistance of Catholic Charities, Zambri was called to write a book that would lift the spirits of families in similar circumstances.
Zambri's struggle was rewarded, after 15 emotionally exhausting months, with the non-profit publication of Morning Light: Miscarriage, Stillbirth and Early Infant Death from a Catholic Perspective. Proceeds from the sale of the book will be directed to the volunteer work of Morning Light Ministry.
"I now have an image of God receiving my child, not taking her," remarks Zambri, a former teacher.
Zambri's volume is dedicated in loving memory to "all other babies who died at various stages of life . . . they are indeed gifts from God." It includes commentary on the author's own experience with her daughter's death and the trials and tribulations of her own spiritual journey.
In addition to stories, poems and Scripture readings, the text contains practical suggestions for bereaved Catholics in the area of faith development. There are also counselling tips for caregivers and clergy.
"I wanted to write the book from a Catholic perspective," notes Zambri. "Too many of the secular books I came across in my research were littered with technical, impersonal and meaningless language."
Halifax Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, a former auxiliary bishop in Toronto, wrote a foreword to the book.
Much of Zambri's inspiration came from a lack of Catholic institutional resources that assist in the grieving process. "We live in a death-denying culture . . . .It seemed (at the time) that there was no way of ritualizing the loss of such things as a pre-born child. Many of the Catholic parishes we contacted offered little in the way of hope.
"There was such a spiritual void in my life after Stéphanie's death partly because I felt the church had not responded to our needs.
Father Wayne Manné, pastor of St. Marguerite d'Youville Church in Brampton, has found the Catholic prayer service written by Zambri and her husband Norfi especially comforting. Full of hymns and songs of praise, it acts as a kind of liturgical ceremony.
The service was created in acknowledgement of each baby who has died as a starting point for grieving parents, says Zambri.
"It offers dignity to the deceased child and reinforces the Church's teaching on the sanctity of life from conception to death," Manné explains.
"Pastors will find services like the one developed by Bernadette and her husband to be a tremendous resource in a very difficult yet vital ministry to bereaved parents."
Zambri has come full circle in her knowledge of God and is longing to share he insight with others. "I had to re-evaluate my religious beliefs when this happened," she admits.
"But I ultimately grew closer to God. Though God's will is often beyond the limits of our understanding, I came to know that a loving God does not purposely punish. We are not alone in our suffering, God is always with us."
Zambri has some sound advice for concerned family members. "A mother who has lost her child before term needs love and support, she needs a shoulder to cry on, someone who will be there to listen to her and to guide her."
For more information, contact
Morning Light Ministry at St. Mary Star of the Sea Church, 11 Peter St.
S., Mississauga, ON, L5H 2G1, or phone 416-765-2155.
(Canada's pro-life, pro-family newspaper)
'Children only die when they are forgotten'
Through prayer and mutual support, families are finding hope after miscarriage and infant loss
By Sue Careless
My baby was already yours, God. Why couldn't he be mine for just a little while longer?
I don't have any ugly, hand-painted ties, or a pencil holder made of a tin can. There are no pictures on my desk of grinning, snaggle-toothed children, and I have nothing to add when the guys at work tell funny stories about their kids. But I am a father. They don't know it, but I am. I hate that my baby died before I got to know her. I loved her and still do. No one at work knows about my little angel. I think of her smiling at me from heaven, and I talk to her sometimes. After all, I am still her dad.
In 1994, Georgina and James Hunter's seven-week-old daughter Madeleine died from dehydration after being examined and sent home by two pediatric hospitals and two doctors' offices. The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons refuses to acknowledge errors might have been made, despite the evidence before a coroner's inquest.
By spearheading the service, the Hunters reached out to others who were also grieving their own losses. On Oct. 5, 1997, nearly 200 bereaved parents and grandparents gathered in St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Ottawa for a moving ecumenical memorial service honouring babies who had died through miscarriage, who had been stillborn, or who had died in infancy.
Some came with flowers, others with teddy bears. Many wept openly. Parents were encouraged to write their baby's name on a prayer paper, and hold the scroll with them during the service. For some this was the first time they had named their child. Others simply wrote Baby. Each family came forward to light a candle in memory of their lost baby, naming the child aloud if they wished.
"Today is a day to be grateful for the gift of our babies' brief lives. They came from us, grew in us, are part of our soul. Defying understanding, we've returned them to God. Be certain that our babies are safe and happy."
Georgina Hunter also spoke at St. John's at Madeleine's funeral. "Then I was in shock and crushed by grief. Today I'm here to celebrate my baby's life ... Families who keep a baby's death a secret only end up hurting themselves. Children only die when they are forgotten."
Even people who had lost a baby many years ago came to the service. Gordon Johnston mourned the loss of his day-old infant sister.
One mother who had lost two babies before birth thanked Hunter for the service. "I never felt their warmth until now when I held a candle. I have never been able to lay them to rest. Today helped so much."
In 1992, Bernadette and Norfi Zambri's daughter Stephanie was delivered stillborn. Devout Catholics, they were deeply distressed when Stephanie received only a perfunctory, five-minute burial service.
"From the time I found out that Stephanie had died, I was shocked, angry, disappointed, and hurt that the Catholic Church, which had such a pro-life message, did not have a prayer service for babies who died through miscarriage and stillbirth. There was such a spiritual void in my life after Stephanie's death, partly because I felt the Church had not responded to our grieving needs."
Fearing a similar loss in a subsequent pregnancy, the Zambris wrote a prayer service for babies who have died through miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. It can be found in Zambri's book Morning Light (see resources) which is endorsed by Cardinal Aloysius Ambrozic of Toronto. Thankfully, the Zambris' next child was born alive and well, but their service has consoled other grieving parents.
Infant loss is all the greater because it is often downplayed. One female doctor told a woman who had miscarried at 12 weeks, "It's not potentially a person yet." The upset mother replied, "That's your view, not mine!"
Another female doctor told a patient who had lost a preborn at three months, "It was just a chemical pregnancy. Your body thinks you're pregnant but you're really not. It was more a chemical reaction." The mother recalled, "I felt like my baby wasn't real and my pregnancy hadn't really happened."
"By trying to minimize the loss, society is telling bereaved parents that they don't have a right to grieve," argues Zambri.
Fathers feel helpless. "I couldn't defend my baby from whatever it was that killed him. I can't protect my wife from her pain and from the knowledge that our baby is dead today and will be dead tomorrow and every day after that."
Not all health care staff lack sensitivity. Lucile Hildesheim, another participant in the Ottawa memorial service, told the Ottawa Sun that she is still thankful for the sensitive treatment she received at Ottawa Civic Hospital. When she gave birth at 31 weeks, she, her husband, and the her doctor knew her daughter would be stillborn. But the doctor said, "You have a beautiful baby girl." She was given a lock of her daughter Angel's hair and a photo the hospital took.
Most hospitals allow the parents time to be with their stillborn baby to say goodbye. Many parents take this opportunity to take photographs, locks of hair, footprints and handprints. Zambri says, "This is precious time. Do not let anyone rush you. Spend as much time with your baby as you need."
Some parents choose not to see their infant. If so, Zambri advises that someone take a roll of film for them. They can decide later whether to look at the photos.
Grieving parents need something tangible as a memento. They often keep a blanket, the bassinet card with the hospital record of length and weight, the mother's hospital wrist band, and, if there is one, the baby's ankle bracelet.
The Anglican Church has a service for the "Burial of a Stillborn Child" in Occasional Services. Its preamble states:
"Pastoral care givers, particularly chaplains, should be prepared to offer prayers of comfort and consolation as soon as possible after the miscarriage or stillbirth. Hospital procedures should include notifying chaplains of miscarriage and stillbirth so that prayers may be offered in the clinical setting. Later, prayers and a service can be held at the church or home.
"It is important that our words and actions acknowledge this loss. It is appropriate that the memory of this experience is not dismissed or taken lightly. Comments made to parents should not burden them with guilt or false reassurances. If there are other children they should also be allowed to enter into the mystery of this loss.
"The liturgy for a stillborn child should reflect sensitivity to the fact that the parents have lost their own expectations as well as the child's future. It may be helpful if the stillborn child is named." The guidelines also recommend the laying on of hands and anointing with oil for the family.
"Often, miscarriages and stillbirths are overlooked and the only response is a nonresponse," admits Fr. Keith Wallace, the Zambri's former pastor at St. Mary Star of the Sea, Mississauga. "The death of a baby ... through miscarriage, stillbirth, or early infant death must be acknowledged. This is the first step in allowing the family to grieve."
In Morning Light, Wallace advises clergy, "Be present at the home or hospital as one would be if experiencing the death of any person. This may include being present at the hospital before or after the delivery, if requested by the family. In a society that discounts life, especially in the womb, it is important to acknowledge that the child was real and was a person .... Your presence, acknowledgement, prayers, and referrals to support groups may serve to deepen the person's faith and allow the person then to minister to others, thereby experiencing their grief as redemptive."
Certainly, the Zambris' church, St. Mary Star of the Sea, and the Hunters' church, St. John the Evangelist, have encouraged the ministries of these parents by lending their churches' facilities and resources.
Today, Bernadette Zambri says, "I have an image of God receiving my baby, not taking her." The cover of her book, Morning Light, has an illustration of Christ cradling a tiny baby in His arms.
"It helps some parents to
think of God holding their baby tenderly for them," writes Lafser in An
Empty Cradle, A Full Heart. "I think He wants to hold us too, as we grieve.
We need only to turn to His embrace."
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER
May 14, 2001
Examining the limbo question
By Paula Antonello Moore
The Catholic Register
Our Babies are Safe with God: Examination of the Limbo Question tackles some interesting aspects about limbo according to the teachings of Vatican II and present day approaches. As well, it offers comforting activities and prayers to help guide couples in dealing with the loss of a child.
However, the catechism of the Catholic Church makes no mention of a state called limbo and as the booklet points out, limbo is not an official church teaching.
The principle writer-researcher and co-ordinator of Morning Light Ministry is Bernadette Zambri. She founded the ministry in 1996 after the loss of her second child, Stéphanie. The ministry caters in particular to married couples who receive an adverse prenatal diagnosis for their unborn baby, those who have suffered the loss of an infant, parishes and couples involved in the marriage preparation course.
"After my own daughter died, I wondered where she was," said Zambri. "In the past five years in Morning Light, the questions have come up on everyone's minds, especially for Catholics. Protestants don't deal with the subject of limbo."
The booklet took about five months to complete. It was an important subject for Zambri who had the topic at the back of her mind but "kept putting it off. Then last year, I received a call from a woman in Louisiana. She asked really specific questions like where did (the concept of limbo) come from," Zambri explained.
When a priest friend told Zambri that he couldn't understand how there isn't more of a response to the death of a baby in a womb, Zambri was moved to action.
"When I researched it, I discovered that because of the murkiness of limbo in teaching, it was a murky area for a baby who dies in the womb," said Zambri. "Personally, I was trying to figure out why our grieving needs were not dealt with. This book really helped to heal me. It helped in my healing process. Priests are not really trained in this."
Our Babies are Safe with God: Examination of the Limbo Question draws on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Bible and Christian theologians such as St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Much time is spent defining the different aspects of limbo in a church context, in relation to Original Sin and in terms of the baptized or unbaptized. It proceeds to concentrate on Scripture, prayers, personal stories and encouraging words from clergy (all of which Zambri has specially selected), as well as Zambri's own words, offering couples, encouragement during a difficult time.
It is her hope that other aspects of grieving the loss of the children are addressed in the future. She is already preparing for upcoming subjects including sibling grief and single bereaved mothers, especially within the Catholic Church.
"One single mother, on our web site, discusses how she didn't know where to go when she lost her baby," Zambri said, in reference to the "social stigma" of single-motherhood, especially for Catholics. "She didn't want to talk to her priest. That's an area we want to address."
Our Babies are Safe with
God: Examination of the Limbo Question and other resource booklets are
available by contacting Morning Light Ministry at St. Mary Star of the
Sea Church or by calling 416-765-2155, fax 905-278-0961, or by email at
or visit the website at http://members.rogers.com/morninglightministry
Morning Light Ministry
By Denise Bacso
Terrance Prendergast, S.J., Archbishop of Halifax from the Foreword of MORNING LIGHT: Miscarriage, Stillbirth And Early Infant Death From A Catholic Perspective
Perinatal grief is unique, and bereaved parents need a special kind of support for it. It is unique because a baby's existence, particularly while in the womb, is not affirmed by society in general. So the grief felt by parents is not commonly acknowledged. Society often doesn't understand and grieving parents may be left on their own.
I was devastated after the death of my son David through stillbirth. He was the fourth child I had lost due to miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. I felt punished and abandoned by God. I also felt guilty and foolish for mourning. I needed a place to talk about my loss and pain and my spiritual confusion. I found nothing in the Church or community so I chose a secular route.
After three years my emotions were healing, but my spiritual growth was something I believed to be impossible. I returned to the Church still confused and guarded in my faith as a Catholic, until I found a notice in the parish bulletin one day about a group called Morning Light Ministry. My initial phone call was returned promptly by Bernadette Zambri, co-founder of Morning Light.
She informed me that the ministry supports mothers and fathers who have experienced the death of their baby through ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death up to one year. They also assist mothers and fathers who choose to carry their baby to full-term despite any adverse prenatal diagnosis.
Morning Light Ministry is a ground-breaking ministry started in Toronto in 1996. It received the Apostolic Blessing of his Holiness Pope John Paul II in January 2000. With the spiritual guidance of Father Keith Wallace, Bernadette Zambri developed this ministry several years after her own journey of faith following the death of her baby Stéphanie.
Her book MORNING LIGHT: Miscarriage, Stillbirth And Early Infant Death From A Catholic Perspective grew out of her interactions with other bereaved parents and was granted the Imprimatur of Cardinal Ambrozic. There is a tremendous need for baby bereavement resources so that the Catholic community can better reflect the beliefs of the Catholic Church, says Zambri. She has written three other resource books that were reviewed by Catholic theologians.
The reflections and prayers and coping suggestions of her beautifully written book "Morning Light" will contribute much to healing the pain of loss. " I pray that this book, written from a Catholic perspective and steeped in the truths of our faith, may help many to find peace in and with God," says Archbishop Prendergast of Halifax.
The resource books can be ordered through Morning Light Ministry, c/o St. Mary Star Of The Sea Church, 11 Peter St., South, Mississauga, Ontario L5H 2G1.
All services of Morning
Light Ministry are provided free of charge; donations will be gratefully
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