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From loss to healing: Memorial Mass planned for children who have died

Nancy Lefor, left, speaks about the trauma of miscarriage with Doug and Deanna Jilek during a conversation at Nicole Berger's home Nov. 6.

The loss of a child is considered one of life's deepest pains, regardless of the child's age. The pain of what would been is often the most difficult to embrace and work through.

To recognize the loss and to help with the grieving process, St. Patrick's Church, Dickinson, is hosting a memorial Mass for children who have died before baptism. It will be celebrated by the Rev. Todd Kreitinger at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

The Mass is an opportunity to come and be nurtured, said Barbara Little, who is helping organize the gathering. While she has not lost a child, she attended a similar Mass on the West Coast.

"The Mass is an opportunity for healing for families and a chance for our parish family to remember and celebrate these children lost through miscarriage, stillbirth or abortion," she said.

The memorial Mass is a celebration of life, said Rev. Jeffrey Zwack, pastor of Queen of Peace Church.

"I think it also comforts the families knowing their children are with God and eternal life," he said. "We entrust them to God and know He will take care of them."

Three Dickinson families who have experienced a miscarriage share their stories.

Nancy and Glenn Lefor

Nancy and Glenn were married in 1997 and living in Rockford, Ill. In August 2001, they came home to Grand Forks for a 10-year class reunion.

"I had a miscarriage at home -- we were completely shocked," she said. "We had waited so long."

The child was named Noah Joseph and the baptism by desire was performed by Nancy's brother-in-law, the Rev. Jason Lefor.

"Noah is buried on my dad's grave in Grand Forks," she said. "I feel it's a blessing -- we have a place to go."

"We never thought it would happen again, but we were in for a reality check," she said. "I miscarried again at eight weeks in April 2008."

The child was named Andrew and his honorary godparents are his sister, Monica and brother, Max.

"They pray for him every night -- it's important to make sure the children are remembered," she said.

When Nancy miscarried again, Monica told her parents, "Now Noah has someone to play with in heaven."

Unless parents have experienced a loss, she said, "They don't have any idea of what we've gone through."

While the Lefors always don't understand God's plan, they celebrate every heartbeat of life.

"We take nothing for granted," she said.

Nicole and Ryan Berger

"We were never supposed to have children at all," said Nicole. "We would go to church and see all the kids, and we were almost jealous -- they have kids, why can't we?"

Living in Bismarck, she said, "We were married three months when I became pregnant with Brooklyn. She's 6 now."

She became pregnant again in December of 2008 and an ultrasound was performed February.

"It was roller coaster ride. The heartbeat was there and within two days it was gone," she said. "We miscarried at home as well."

Brooklyn is credited with naming her sister, Melanie, and helping her mom with the grieving process.

"I was home for a couple of weeks when Brooklyn said, "Mom get out of bed. We're going to make your bed today.'"

"We got pregnant a second time last year, but again I miscarried on Thanksgiving in 2009," said Nicole. "We named him Isaiah. I think I was going crazy. I thought I was the only one who felt this way."

She has been supported in her grieving by family and friends, especially her friend Nancy Lefor.

Nicole wondered how Nancy could talk so openly and freely about her loss.

"She said, 'Some day I'll be able to do that,'" said Nicole. "A year later, it has happened."

Doug and Deanna Jilek

Doug and Deanna Jilek are the parents of six living children, but they will always remember the four lost to miscarriage -- Joshua Marcus in 1994, Arryn Joy in 1998 and the twins, James Alan and John Dominic in 2004.

"With our first miscarriage, I was three months along -- I was showing and buying maternity clothes, thinking nothing will happen," she said. "It's devastating. Until you experience it, you don't know how devastating."

With the loss of the child, Doug added, "Oh my gosh, I was angry with God. Then it dawned on me, I still have Deanna. It put things into perspective."

The second miscarriage occurred at 10 weeks.

"I wasn't any less sad, by any means," said Deanna. "Mourning the loss of two, it put me in somewhat of a depression. I needed to step back and have time to process it."

The third time, Deanna was certain she was pregnant with twins.

"I got too big, even for me," she said.

The ultrasound at 18 weeks revealed twins and Deanna recalls, "I thought, we needed a bigger house -- by then we had three children."

But there were no heartbeats. Deanna was scheduled to go through labor and delivery.

"Knowing you're delivering children who are not living was a difficult thing to process," she said.

"The day before delivery was probably the most difficult," said Doug. "With all my kids, I'd go into chapel to pray that Mom and baby are healthy. This was different. I knew the babies were dead. This day, I gave it all to Him."

With delivery, they learned the umbilical cords were tied into knots and that's why the twins had died.

"They were so beautiful," said Deanna. "We got to hold them as long as we needed to."

Returning to the chapel, Doug recalls thanking the Lord that Mom was OK and that he was the father of twins.

"If I didn't have faith, that would have been tough," said Doug. "I never realized that you actually can feel grace and be joyful."

He called the house where his parents were watching the other children. He told his daughter, Emily, "You have baby brothers."

"Emily was allowed to hold her brothers -- that was beautiful," said Deanna.

The next morning, the funeral director came for the boys. A private funeral was held with close family and friends.

"They were buried together in a little white casket," said Deanna.

At the cemetery, each family member was invited to place a handful of dirt into the grave. Their son, Isaiah, 4 at the time, took along his shovel from the sandbox.

"He started shoveling -- he would not stop," recalls Deanna. "I think it was what he needed to do."

"We received an outpouring of cards and prayers," she added. "It was a sorrowful time, but it was uplifting. With people sending us cards -- there's another person praying to help us get through, another person to celebrate life."

"We still have days of longing, we still feel sorrow," added Doug.

From their experiences, Deanna said, "We rejoice in life and realize how precious it is."

"Every morning and every night, we throw them kisses," she added.

The parents who shared their stories agreed that naming a child lost to miscarriage is healing. Another suggested making ornaments in their memory.

The parents felt it was important to announce the pregnancy early, even if they fear miscarriage.

"We need those prayers -- we need that extra support," said Nicole. "If you don't share with people, they don't know."

Allowing time to grieve is also important, they agreed.

"Years can go by and you can still cry -- you're not crazy -- it's OK," added Deanna. "Even if we miscarry again, it's still a gift."

Little said parents of her generation seldom named the children lost to miscarriage.

"That made it more difficult to heal," she said.

"The older generations kept miscarriages quiet, so you suffered in silence," added Deanna.

Parents who have lost a child years ago also are encouraged to attend the memorial Mass, as are grandparents, siblings and those who care.

"You don't put grief in a box," said Little. "Even if after you accept it, your child is still part of your life."

The Mass and reception are sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Council 1515. The planning committee would appreciate reservations, but they are not required. Call 701-483-6700.