The angel baby funeral: an act of remembrance
Updated: Jul 2, 2021
A funeral is a chance to touch, a chance to serve, and a chance to heal.
To me, an angel baby funeral gives meaning to and validates a family’s grief. The occasion is an opportunity to acknowledge the depth of this feeling, and for a family to express their love for their child.
by Joanne Williams
As a funeral celebrant, I understand that speaking on such occasions is not just a job. For me, it is a passion. I have genuine concern for the grief my fellow human beings. Funerals can be a vital tool in the processing of this grief.
I personally approach angel baby funerals with the dignity and respect that befits my professional training as a certified civil celebrant. My approach is warm and empathetic. I understand that grief is a process, not a state of mind. As with any process, it may be more successful if guided by a person who has experience in the subject matter.
Funerals establish an angel baby’s legitimacy and significance in the world, and provide families with the opportunity to express their pain and their love.
It is common even for caring friends and family to trivialise pregnancy loss. They may fumble over their words in an attempt to make the situation around a baby’s passing seem like a blessing. This attitude often does more harm than good.
Well-meaning sentences like “She was only a newborn who hadn’t really lived yet” are not helpful. Because for a parent, even a stillborn baby had a distinct existence: in their mind, in their thoughts, in the womb, and in their future life plans.
It is important when celebrating a life, even a short one, to understand the value of reality and closure. Take the time to embrace and hold your baby. Take photos – your experience is real. Viewing your baby before the funeral can also help you begin a process of closure, although this may not be what you want at the time. Having that last chance to hold your baby will assist you in trying to grasp the reality of what has unfolded.
This reality hurts. Yet by acknowledging this pain, much progress may be made on an individual's grief journey. The importance of celebrating your child turns the funeral into a meaningful event.
The funeral experience is more than holding a service: it is an act of remembrance entwined deeply with the grief process as a whole.
I have chosen this profession because I believe that humanity needs more love and compassion. I believe we need caring and sensitive people to accompany us during a funeral and beyond. I cannot think of anything closer to my calling than being a celebrant: celebrating the milestones of birth, marriage and ultimately, celebrating a life.
Funeral celebrants cannot be ignorant about the grieving processes that the bereaved experience. I feel strongly about the many outdated misconceptions that plague society, some of which are associated with grieving. That grief is to be displayed in private only, not to cry in public, and not to show emotions. One is expected to move through the grieving process in a particular order and in a particular time frame.
Historically, it was considered men’s business to arrange funerals, leaving the grieving mother without a say in the proceedings. Funerals for young babies were considered taboo, and mothers rarely attended.
Public expression of grief for an angel baby is, for the most part, kept private even today. This norm does grieving parents a disservice. They have a story to tell: and they do now have a child, though it is not there for you to see. By allowing a family to participate in the funeral process, to whatever degree they choose, gives them the opportunity to share picture boards, video clips and other memories they choose to share.
When an angel baby is validated in this way, its existence is made more real to the mourners as well. The idea of a child they may never have seen becomes less abstract, and may help them support the bereaved family better in the future. It will also make them a more competent interlocutor on the subject of loss in any subsequent conversation.
Gone should be the days when we suffered in silence.
I also feel strongly about the taboo around siblings attending funerals. Keeping them at arms length only serves to confuse their sense of place in the family unit, as well as their ability to comprehend their parents' emotions. The birth and death of an angel baby should not be denied those who share memories of its existence, in-utero or post-partum.
Where possible, ask the hospital to help you take mould castings of your baby’s hands and feet. A beautiful hand drawn portrait will also be treasured for many years. Take as many photos as you are able. If you are happy to share these photos during the funeral, include them. Include photos of the months and days leading up to your delivery: the act of sharing demonstrates the significance of your child’s life, and some parents also show their ultrasounds. While this may be confronting for some, it can be a healing moment for many: most importantly, for you.
You can contact Joanne on the Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants website .
If Possum Portraits has helped you on your grief journey and you would like to share your story on our blog, please get in touch by writing us an email to info(a)possumportraits.com.au