Mourning parents can find comfort at memorial garden

June 26, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Parents who want to mourn the deaths of their young children and heal from the losses will soon have a private sanctuary at a Howard County cemetery.

Landscaped with trees, flowers and shrubs, the Children's Garden at Columbia Memorial Park opens today in a 4 p.m. dedication ceremony.

The garden has 64 plots and is reserved for children under age 3. Parents can have their children's remains buried there, or meditate and reflect upon their children's lives in the peaceful setting.

"I'm offering opportunities for parents who want to have a funeral service or sacred place to return to," said the Rev. Arthur Lillicropp 3rd, pastoral care director of Howard County General Hospital and the garden's chief organizer.

Those whose children have died say the ecumenical garden will give them a place to grieve and to honor their children.

"Here, I'll be able to see the baby in a more spiritual light," said Phyllis Corry of Columbia, whose son died six days after his birth in 1964.

Anne Barney, whose two children died in infancy, said the garden will help parents immortalize their children.

"It's an announcement to the world," said Ms. Barney, a Catonsville writer who helped create the garden. "It's real important to say my baby lived -- at least for a moment."

Father Lillicropp came up with the idea for the garden after his 4-month-old daughter died 15 years ago from complications of spina bifida and other health problems. He said that at the time he felt lost and abandoned.

"The father feels helpless," he said. "They feel as abandoned as the mother but have had no physiological bonding with the child."

Eager to help others suffering the loss of a baby, the Episcopal priest wrote poems for stillborn infants, arranged their funerals and recruited volunteers at Vantage House, a Columbia retirement community, to crochet bootees, caps and blankets that could be used as receiving clothes or funeral garments.

Last fall, Father Lillicropp organized a 15-member committee of hospital nurse managers and others to create the memorial garden and a support group for parents whose young children have died.

Parents who want to have their children buried at the garden are charged only the cost of interment. The gravesite is free. Parents may contribute money toward a trust to help maintain the sanctuary, which was donated by cemetery owner Harvey Geller.

Parents may also purchase a brass nameplate, flower bulbs or a tree with a memorial plaque.

A brass plaque in the garden will feature a poem by Ms. Barney, who wrote a book of poetry about infant loss after her daughter's death in 1991. She said that losing a young child is devastating.

"You feel like you failed yourself, your husband . . . and your baby," Ms. Barney said.

Parents who have lost infants have not had a chance to create many memories, said those familiar with such situations.

"There's not much to share with the outside world," said Lydia Frasca, who coordinates a Timonium support group for parents whose infants have died. "All your hopes and dreams are gone now. All your future is gone with that baby."

Remembering details of the labor and delivery is one way to remember the baby, Ms. Frasca said.

"Tiny little things are real important," she said. "You may only have one full day with the baby. Every minute within that 24 hours is real important."

Although mourning the death of a child is important, it shouldn't prevent people from continuing their lives, Ms. Barney said.

"It's really important for people to grieve and move on and live the best life for their kids," she said. "I feel like my children are with me in various ways."

For more information about the Children's Garden, call 997-7800. For Ms. Barney's book, "Stolen Joy: Healing After Infertility and Infant Loss," call (410) 821-7807 or write to Icarus Books, P.O. Box 5524, Baltimore, Md. 21285.

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