by Terri Winder
Wendy Crane gripped the phone, trying to understand what her sister-in-law was telling her.
What did she mean when she said her baby would be born sleeping?
The baby wasn’t due for almost another four months. Then it became clear as she told Wendy the doctor hadn’t been able to find the baby’s heartbeat.
This first child—a miracle baby so hoped for and so long in the coming—would not be going home with his parents.
Wendy asked the grieving mother what she could do to help, but neither she nor her younger sister-in-law had ever dealt with anything like this before; they were navigating unchartered territory.
After she got off the phone, Wendy called a few other women that knew the terrain. One mother suggested all white burial clothing, but where does one find clothing for a 14 ounce baby?
Wendy searched the internet, hoping to find a place she could stop at on her way from Monticello to Logan. She was able to find a preemie clothing outlet but feared the tiny outfit she purchased would still be too large.
As Wendy arrived at the hospital, her grief and anxiety were softened by relief and wonder as she found two volunteer women—experienced and trained in dealing with prenatal and neonatal death—already at her sister-in-law’s side.
Wendy learned they were part of a national organization called Share, a pregnancy and infant loss support group. Everything Wendy had wanted to do for baby Oliver and his parents, but had felt so inadequate and unprepared for, these women were equipped to do.
Wendy came away from that experience edified and inspired. She studied the program, including an organization called Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, which is a group of professional photographers who donate their services to families who are suffering the loss of a baby.
Wendy trained under a woman named Heidi, in Riverton, UT, a RN who long ago realized the need for this type of compassionate service. Heidi taught Wendy how to make kits for the babies, sharing clothing patterns as well as ideas.
Then, with trepidation tempered by determination, in September of 2012, Wendy approached the San Juan Hospital with her plan. The administration was agreeable but didn’t think her services would be needed very often.
Wendy knew that she would only be called if the families wished her to come, after they had been told what she had to offer. She hoped she was prepared to offer what was needed.
Since that day, Wendy has responded to four calls. She has had four very different experiences, but all have been alike in that she has had a calm reassurance that this service is important to the heartbroken families.
When Wendy and her helpers go, they offer to dress the baby. The baby is outfitted in a cloth diaper, kimono, and a crocheted hat, and then wrapped in a blanket.
Later, those clothes are removed and given to the family as a keepsake. The baby is then redressed in burial clothing.
Photographs of the baby alone and with the family are taken by Brook Pehrson. Adriann Goodwine creates replicas of the baby’s hand and foot out of plaster of Paris. The family receives assistance in creating a suitable birth announcement.
Unfortunately, Wendy will soon be leaving Monticello, but Cindy Christensen and Erin Hall are training to take her place.
Other volunteers have helped by donating money, material, and time in making the blankets and clothing.
When Wendy was searching for ways to help her brother and sister-in-law, she thought about Brad Bunker.
She had once heard that he had made a few small caskets, but she didn’t call him because she had no idea he actually had some on hand. Now she knows better.
The first tiny casket Brad made was for his own child, four years ago. As he and his wife, Julie, tried to find something for their stillborn baby to be buried in, they were disappointed in the quality of what was available.
So Brad carefully crafted a hardwood casket with solid hardware, expressing the deep emotions he felt for his angel son through his labor of love.
Later, as Brad thought about it, he realized that there were other families facing the same kind of pain and disappointment he and Julie had experienced.
He determined that they shouldn’t have to settle for a too large casket or inferior materials.
In a real sense, though he never drew breath, Brad and Julie’s son has made his mark on the world, as it is through his influence that Brad found a way to provide this valuable service to others. The beautiful caskets are now offered through several mortuaries and Brad does have some on hand, as well.
“It’s so important to acknowledge the family’s loss,” Wendy said. “In the medical profession it is termed a ‘demise’. To the family, it is a birth. It is a child they have looked forward to welcoming into their family. We are there to ease their grief and help them say goodbye.”