By Christine and Dominique Johnson
As Catholics, we believe that all life should be respected from the moment of conception to natural death. For families that experience the death of a child due to miscarriage, the support they receive from their Church community and through the sacraments can help them through the healing process.
This past spring, the day after Ash Wednesday, we experienced the loss of a child due to miscarriage. We had only learned we were pregnant two weeks before and were excited about being blessed with another child. The loss, of a child that only us and our provider knew of left us lost and confused.
It was Lent and the devotional we chose to read together for the liturgical season was Remember Your Death: Memento Mori by Sr. Theresa Aletheia. Reflecting on death wasn’t easy, but it was also a reminder to spend our lives doing the best we can to follow what God has called us to do. This was a grace the Holy Spirit provided us to help us accept and move on toward healing.
We began to think of how we can honor the life of the child we lost. Through internet research, we learned that the Church encourages parents to have a funeral or memorial service because burying the dead is a corporal work of mercy. Thankful that the midwife that was with us during the miscarriage encouraged us to keep our child’s remains, we called the local mortuary in Juneau. They let us know that they offer cremation for miscarried children at no cost and donate urns for the ashes. Again, we were blessed by the grace the service provided to us in an unexpected time of grief. As Catholics, though we knew if we were to give our child a final resting place.
We were compelled to offer a ministry to families in Juneau who suffer the loss of a child due to miscarriage. We contacted Joe Sehnert, Director of the National Shrine of St. Therese, about the possibility of purchasing a niche at the Shrine columbarium. The plan we proposed was to offer a shared niche to parents who miscarry a child at no cost. Sehnert agreed that it was a good idea and graciously donated the niche.
Later that spring, we had a small memorial service for our baby at the Shrine celebrated by Deacon Steve Olmstead, who along with his wife Janet helped us through our grieving process. It was help from people of the community and the sacraments that we were able to start the healing process. Having a marked niche for our child also gives us a place to pray for her.
Since the niche has been made available, one other child has been laid to rest at the Shrine. We hope this ministry will help those who may experience a miscarriage in the future, also find healing in a time of sorrow. We also hope that this will help families honor the lives of their children.