May 31, 2019

Parish’s miscarriage ministry aims to help people through grief and promote sanctity of life

Members of St. Mary Parish’s Miscarriage Ministry in Greensburg stand at the spot of the soon-to-be built Little Souls Cemetery. Pictured are Dan, left, and Diane Scheidler; John Harpring; Chris Harpring, holding Philomena Harpring; and Rebecca Harpring holding Louis Harpring. The families are spearheading the ministry at the parish to help women know they can bury their miscarried babies. (Submitted photo)

Members of St. Mary Parish’s Miscarriage Ministry in Greensburg stand at the spot of the soon-to-be built Little Souls Cemetery. Pictured are Dan, left, and Diane Scheidler; John Harpring; Chris Harpring, holding Philomena Harpring; and Rebecca Harpring holding Louis Harpring. The families are spearheading the ministry at the parish to help women know they can bury their miscarried babies. (Submitted photo)

By Jennifer Lindberg (Special to The Criterion)

GREENSBURG—Like many women suffering a miscarriage for the first time, Rebecca Harpring was uncertain what resources were available to her and her family to bury their baby.

Harpring and her husband Chris, members of St. Mary Parish in Greensburg, want to make it easier for other mothers and fathers who find themselves in the same situation. The Harprings lost two babies to miscarriage in 2016—Agnes Marie and Andrew Paul. While they were able to bury the babies in a family plot, there was still a lot to figure out.

Rebecca had to find an appropriate bottle for the remains, ask her father to build a small wooden casket and then find a plastic vault for the burial.

“Although people were very kind to us, it still felt like we had a lot of decisions to be made and a lot of searching for things while also processing the fact that I was no longer pregnant,” said Rebecca.

Rebecca also had the “false thought” that she was being a burden on people, asking them to do so much for her and Chris.

Yet when they began to open up about the miscarriage and how they had buried their babies, people responded with their own stories of loss through miscarriage.

“We heard over and over again, ‘I wish I would have known that I could bury my baby,’ ” said Rebecca.

The medical definition of miscarriage is the loss of a fetus before 20 weeks gestation. Any baby born after that has to have a death certificate and follow state laws for burial.

St. Mary is making a special cemetery—Little Souls Cemetery—that will provide everything a mother and father need if they lose their baby through miscarriage. It has become a community endeavor, with local funeral homes providing miscarriage kits and burial vaults. St. Mary will then bury the baby with an 8 inch by 8 inch granite marker for $110.

The cemetery is also providing memorial markers for women who were not able to bury their babies through miscarriage. Financial assistance will be available to those in need.

Father John Meyer, pastor of St. Mary Parish, said this ministry is an answer to helping people through their grief and another way to promote the sanctity of life.

“This becomes a more obvious ministry for the protection of the unborn,” he said. “How else can you say that the life of the child begins at conception? This speaks volumes. This helps us say as much as we can for life.”

Father Meyer also said it helps couples feel they are not alone in their loss.

Rebecca agrees that this ministry helps affirm life. A volunteer in pregnancy care centers, she said starting the miscarriage ministry was about affirming that life begins at conception.

“If it is a baby, then why shouldn’t it have just as dignified a burial as a baby who is a couple months older,” she said. “I think this helps affirms what the culture of life has been saying all along. It is a baby.”

The ministry is already seeing women being healed of their grief. A woman approached Rebecca who had two miscarriages 40 years ago. She was crying over the loss of those babies that no one seemed to acknowledge and felt she just had to move on without grieving, Rebecca said.

“I told her it was OK to cry. She lost two babies,” said Rebecca. “When no one acknowledges that it was a baby that was lost, it is even harder on the woman. She goes through the grief process, but is confused about why she is grieving since no one says to her, ‘I am sorry for the loss of your baby. Can I do anything to help you?’ ”

However, a woman who did not bury her baby lost to miscarriage must not feel like she did something wrong, because many women do not know they have the option to bury the baby, Rebecca said.

Part of the miscarriage ministry at St. Mary is about informing couples of the rights they have when they lose a baby through miscarriage.

If you miscarry at a doctor’s office or hospital, you have a right to bring your baby’s remains home with you. If the remains were sent to a lab for testing, you have the right to have them returned to you. If you miscarry at home, you have the right to bury your miscarried baby’s remains.

The Little Souls Cemetery will be a place of prayer and hope. The parish has commissioned a statue of Jesus holding a baby combined with a bench to sit and pray that has the words, “Surrounding us our babies lost prior to 20 weeks gestation. God has them in His keeping. We hold them in our hearts.”

Father Meyer said the importance of this ministry has been shown in the great outpouring of support and donations at the parish, amounting to $26,000. The cemetery is expected to open later this summer.

Extensive rain in the area has not allowed for some of the concrete to be poured. During this time, Rebecca and other volunteers are making sure there are brochures in the church with prayers to say after a miscarriage and a brochure that explains a woman’s rights in a miscarriage situation. There are also phone numbers on the brochures of women who have had miscarriages, and who are willing to help women who need to talk about their miscarriage or ask questions about the ministry.

“People see how important this is,” Father Meyer said. “So many people stepped up immediately. It is a beautiful sign of compassion and empathy.”

The Harprings said they hope this idea spreads to other parishes and communities.

“We want to help ease the burden for others,” Rebecca said. “I feel like seeing the memorials and burials will help portray a message about the fact that these are little souls that were created.”

For more information on how to start your own miscarriage ministry or to donate to St. Mary’s miscarriage ministry, call the parish office at 812-663-8427.
 

(Jennifer Lindberg is a freelance writer and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville.) †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!