Some lived in the openness of the world but for a few moments, or seconds, others never had the opportunity to breathe the outside air, but they matter to the mothers who carried them in their womb.
Susan Simmons believes these babies should be remembered and mourned, and each year parents who lost their children through stillbirth, miscarriage, or neonatal death (the death of a baby within the first 28 days of life) gather at the Langley Lawn Cemetery’s Unknown Baby Plaque and Baby Tree for a solemn ceremony.
This year’s public ceremony begins at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 15, at the cemetery at 4393 208th St., and has a lotus theme because the lotus, Simmons said, “is a symbol of new life.”
Cards with the names of children who have died will be hung on a Baby Tree, candles will be lit, and doves will be released during the service.
Simmons, who each year facilitates the ceremony, talks about the “new normal” of living life without a child who died before, during, or after normal birth time.
“Our ‘new normal’ is difficult because it reflects the major changes our lives that the death of the child made,” Simmons said.
She added, “I know one of the greatest healers is talking, sharing our grief in many ways and in celebrating 20 years of Mourning Mothers. We share many different expressions of our grief.”
Simmons founded Mourning Mothers after her 25-year-old son Joseph died suddenly in 1994.
Being a trained hospice volunteer of 10 years at that time, she continued to meet mothers in her neighbourhood, “seven or eight of them,” she explained, whose child had died.
“They all had a need to just let their feelings out,” Simmons said. “I knew as a volunteer that this was very important, to be able to express your emotions, otherwise you get sick.”
Simmons invited the group for coffee and said, “that was it.”
Mourning Mothers, in its 20th year, is for women who had lost a child at any age, but after Simmons moved her son’s ashes to Langley Lawn Cemetery, she started focusing on a ceremony to help parents whose child died through stillbirth, miscarriage, or not long after birth.
“People often didn’t realize the fact that you were even pregnant,” Simmons said. “But, still, once you conceived, you were a mom. So I thought, ‘There should be somewhere for mothers to go to honour the lives of [their] babies that have died.’”
In 2002 she spoke to the Langley Lawn Cemetery’s supervisor who thought the ceremony was a great idea. It has been held at the Brookswood cemetery, off 208th Street, just north of the Langley Riders Arena, ever since.
Simmons said some believe babies who die through miscarriage are “just a tissue.”
“After two weeks, it has a heartbeat,” she said. “After a few weeks it has a whole teeny little body, so it’s there.”
The first year of the ceremony, Simmons met a couple who, 57 years prior, had lost their child through stillbirth.
“In that time when their baby died, they did nothing with the bodies but just throw in the garbage, literally,” Simmons said. “They never knew what happened to their baby, and they were shedding tears because now they had a place they could come and remember their little baby.”
Five years ago, Simmons said the Unknown Baby site was overgrown and “awful” and needed a facelift.
Township cemetery supervisor Kevin Bunnett took the initiative to clean the site up.
“The Baby Tree was dying,” Simmons said. “He [Bunnett] saw that this was a very valuable service and talked to the municipality about it and said ‘This is what we’re going to do.’”