June 6, 2014

New grave for babies miscarried offers “way to bring closure”

Father C. Ryan McCarthy, pastor of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, says a rite of burial for infants at Our Lady of Peace Cemetery in Indianapolis for two babies miscarried at six and nine weeks. A new common grave there allows for individual burial of such children to honor their lives and bring closure to grieving families. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Father C. Ryan McCarthy, pastor of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, says a rite of burial for infants at Our Lady of Peace Cemetery in Indianapolis for two babies miscarried at six and nine weeks. A new common grave there allows for individual burial of such children to honor their lives and bring closure to grieving families. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

The slightly overcast skies seemed to reflect the somber scene as the two families gathered around the grave on May 20.

Following a burial rite for infants, the remains of each family’s loved one were buried in separate, small receptacles.

After the service, the families introduced themselves to each other—a friendly gesture, since their miscarried children will share a common grave.

Theodore Sixtus Egan and Frankie Roller are the first two children in a single grave at Our Lady of Peace Cemetery in Indianapolis that will eventually hold 16 more babies lost to miscarriage prior to 20 weeks gestation.

The common grave came about through recent events involving two families, a priest and a cemetery director.

‘To bury and honor these children’

Around Easter, Father C. Ryan McCarthy received two separate phone calls, each from a sorrowing and concerned mother who had just experienced an early-term miscarriage at home.

They wanted to know how to reverently bury the remains of the babies they lost.

“If we wanted to do the full burial with a vault or crypt, it was going to be very expensive for a couple centimeters long of a little body,” said Caris Roller of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis, who miscarried at six weeks.

“I called [our pastor] Father McCarthy and said we need to do something for these babies.”

Father McCarthy has had such requests in the past when he was pastor of parishes that had their own cemeteries.

“But I’ve never had to deal with it in Indianapolis proper where I didn’t have a cemetery that I was the administrator of,” he said.

Father McCarthy made some phone calls and discovered that the state of Indiana does not consider a baby miscarried prior to 20 weeks to be “legal remains.” (Related resource: Burial options for children miscarried prior to 20 weeks)

“After 20 weeks, you have to get a death certificate and go through those formalities,” he said. “Ironically, that makes it easier [in cases of miscarriage prior to 20 weeks], because the Catholic Church can do whatever we want, essentially, to bury and honor these children without having to worry about the state regulations.”

Father McCarthy called Tim Elson, executive director of the archdiocesan Catholic Cemeteries Association, about the possibility of having a gravesite set aside on the consecrated grounds of a Catholic cemetery for such circumstances.

“Tim was very positive and supportive,” he said. “He thought it was a good idea. I talked about the idea, and he did all the work after that.”

Elson designated a plot in the infant section of Our Lady of Peace Cemetery on the north side of Indianapolis. The grave can hold up to 18 small containers, each large enough to hold the individual remains of a child miscarried under 20 weeks.

“That allows us to use one grave for several [children], but still do something respectful and reverent to provide the family with closure,” Elson said. “A priest [or deacon] can come out and they can do an individual burial for each child. It’s a healing step and obviously a benefit for the family.”

The plot will have a marker listing each child buried in the grave. When one grave is full, a new one will be started.

The only cost involved, said Elson, will be the cost of engraving the child’s information on the marker.

‘How Catholics honor end of life’

“We’re so grateful,” said Roller after the service. “Look how pro-life this whole process has been. It is just not a pro-life statement that these babies [miscarried under 20 weeks] are not considered by the state to be human remains.”

Her husband, Rob, agreed.

“It’s a statement about when life begins,” he said. “These are human lives from the moment of conception, and we honor them in burial in the same way we would with any child who came through the womb, or any adult who lived to old age.”

Tim and Rose Egan, who lost their child at nine weeks, also appreciated the opportunity to recognize the short life of their baby with a Christian burial.

The Egans, members of St. Matthew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, turned to Father McCarthy, Tim’s close friend since grade school, when they lost their baby.

“When we were talking to Father McCarthy, he mentioned this idea. We thought that’s something that we would really be interested in. That’s how as Catholics we honor the end of life. We felt like for Teddy, that’s how we wanted to honor the end of his life.”

Although it was too early to determine their baby’s gender, Rose said she and Tim were “pretty sure” they were going to have another boy.

“In our hearts, he was a boy, but maybe we’ll find out differently when we get to heaven,” Rose said.

The Rollers also named their unborn child.

“We named the baby Frankie because we don’t know if it was a boy or a girl,” said Caris. “So Frankie would be for St. Francis or St. Frances.”

‘A way to bring closure’

Caris and Rose have both had miscarriages before, but in a hospital rather than at home.

St. Francis Hospital on Indianapolis’ south side and St. Vincent Hospital on the city’s north side both have free cremation and burial services available for babies miscarried prior to 20 weeks, whether the miscarriage occurs in the hospital or at home.

Each hospital’s program involves cremating the remains, delivered in the hospital or brought to the hospital if the miscarriage took place at home. The ashes are placed in one receptacle that has a designated grave with a general marker—at Our Lady of Peace Cemetery on the north side for St. Vincent Hospital, and at Calvary Cemetery on the south side for St. Francis Hospital. Both cemeteries are operated by the Catholic Cemeteries Association.

St. Vincent holds one burial service annually at the north side gravesite. According to Kathy Carroll, clinical coordinator for St. Vincent Hospital’s Center for Perinatal Loss, the service is held close to All Saints Day on a Saturday, so that families from out of town can participate.

According to Joni Cutshaw, bereavement coordinator for Memories to Hold at St. Francis Hospital, two burial services are held annually at Calvary Cemetery, once on the Feast of the Ascension and again on All Saints Day. This year’s second service will be held at the cemetery at 2 p.m. on Nov. 1.

The difference between the hospital programs and this new service, said Elson, is that the new service allows for individual burial in separate containers at any time of the year, and the inclusion of each baby’s name on the grave’s marker.

The service is only offered at the north side cemetery but is open to anyone, said Elson.

“Our Lady of Peace has the best setting for it,” he explained. “It’s more private and quaint.”

For Tim, this service is “a way to bring closure for that event of experiencing the joy of finding out you’re pregnant, and then the disappointment” of losing the baby.

“I know, and my children and my husband know, we had a life growing inside of me from the day we conceived until we miscarried,” said Tim’s wife, Rose.

“I think this is a really powerful and strong pro-life statement for families who miscarry a baby at home.” †

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