Topics

Catholic Vancouver Oct. 31, 2018

Infant loss memorial touches hearts 3,000 km away

By Agnieszka Ruck

Two dozen candles, lit in honour of children who died very young, are seen at Gardens of Gethsemani cemetery on international Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day Oct. 15. (Photos submitted)

Mom Felicia Gabina-Kealoha was devastated when she stood up from the breakfast table a few days after Christmas in 2014 and noticed blood on her jeans. She rushed to the bathroom and her greatest fear was confirmed: she had just miscarried her 10-week-old child.

“My world changed,” she said. “I didn’t want to admit it or say it out loud until I knew 100 per cent that what I thought was real.”

Her husband rushed Felicia to hospital. “When I went to the lobby where my hubby was waiting and told him the dreadful news, it was at that moment where it finally sunk in. By saying it out loud and telling someone else, it made losing my baby real, and I hated it.”

It had been too early to know their child’s gender, but they felt he had been a boy, and named him Jacob. So began their journey into the world of grief.

“Even though it has been almost four years ago, my heart still aches for my baby, and it always will. It will ache for my dreams and memories of who he would have been, how he would have lived his life.”

It is parents like these that Gardens of Gethsemani cemetery reaches out to with its Infant Loss Memorial, held annually on International Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day Oct. 15.

“Healing from the loss of a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death can be very difficult for mothers, fathers, and their families,” said community and outreach coordinator Terry Whiteley.

She said the cemetery sees many grieving families each year, and even buries children under a year old for free in their Rachel’s Garden burial space.

At their memorial this month, Gardens of Gethsemani staff lit two dozen candles and placed them before the altar in their onsite chapel. Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB, celebrated Mass as each flame honoured a child who had passed very young.

Felicia’s son, Jacob, was remembered there. So was her next child, Joseph, who was stillborn 11 months ago.

Candles lit for Joseph and Jacob before the altar at the Infant Loss Memorial Mass.

“There was this tiny and beautiful little baby boy in my arms, just so perfect. For all anyone knew, he could have just been sleeping,” she said. “I still hope and pray that he never suffered as he passed away.”

Felicia, who lives with her husband and four children in Hawaii, heard about the memorial Mass 3,000 kilometres away through an online infant loss support group at www.littlelightofheaven.com.

The support group, which is based in the Lower Mainland, alerted her to the Infant Loss Memorial Mass in Surrey, and she soon was in touch with Whiteley and the cemetery, hoping to have her two youngest sons honoured at the chapel.

“It meant the world when Terry said she would light candles for them,” Felicia said. “It was such an honour to have them both recognized not only by me and my family, but by others, people I’ve never even met before. It was so heartwarming.”

She said her husband has been a great support in the grief process. Other organizations and support groups, especially those where parents can meet each other in person, have also helped her mourn and feel understood.

A display on Infant Loss Memorial Day at Gardens of Gethsemani cemetery.

Felicia is not a Catholic, but said as a “mother to angels” she will keep Jacob’s and Joseph’s memories alive. She believes no matter what religion parents ascribe to, those who have lost little ones all grieve the same way.

“I would like the world to know that a life, no matter how brief, is a life nonetheless. Every life deserves to be acknowledged, celebrated, and remembered,” she said.

“And be respectful to what you say to us. If you don’t know what to say, a hug will always do.”

To read another mom's story of sorrow and healing, click here.