ARLINGTON, Va. (CNS) — When Kara Palladino lost a child through miscarriage about a year ago, she knew she wanted to bury the baby in a way that honored her Catholic faith.
But after calling a long list of funeral homes and cemeteries, she couldn’t find any with a plan in place to bury and memorialize an infant lost before birth. In many cases, the cost was prohibitive, with one cemetery charging $5,000 for a burial.
The experience motivated Palladino, a parishioner of Holy Trinity Church in Gainesville, to make the process easier for other grieving parents.
“I didn’t want people to have to suffer needlessly, to have to hear ‘no’, ‘no,’ ‘no’ when they are in such a state,” she said. So the mother of seven — including one deceased child — went to work creating “a m.o.m.s. peace: a ministry for mothers of miscarried and stillborn souls.”
The ministry walks families through the burial process and offers programs to commemorate the young lives. It aligns with Catholic teaching, but individuals of all faiths are welcome, said Palladino. Serving families in central and Northern Virginia, the ministry charges a small fee to cover costs, which are offset by donations.
Through partnerships with local cemeteries, a m.o.m.s. peace helps secure an affordable location to bury a child and helps obtain graveside markers and a casket. The ministry also serves parents who do not have the baby’s remains. Whether a woman loses a baby late-term or miscarries just weeks into the pregnancy, “we are here to embrace her,” Palladino told the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.
Mary McCarthy Hines, who gave birth to her stillborn daughter in September, reached out to a m.o.m.s. peace for help ordering and overseeing the installation of a grave marker. “When grieving, any amount of help you can get to handle those logistical details takes such a load off the effort,” said Hines, a member of St. Raymond of Penafort Church in Springfield.
Drawing upon the Holy Trinity community, the ministry also provides child care and meal support.
“When you have a baby or there is a death, people bring you meals, cards and other great things,” said Palladino. But when both happen on the same day, people are unsure how to proceed, she said.
Along with practical support, a m.o.m.s. peace “is about remembrance,” said Palladino, and providing babies the “respect and love and dignity they deserve.”
The ministry offers an “Acknowledgement of Life” certificate and a virtual and physical “Book of Life.” Parents can include the names of their deceased child online, where they will be remembered and prayed for, or in the “Book of Life” at Holy Trinity Church. When the book is full, it is sent to a monastery or convent where families are prayed for continually.
“Even before I turned to them for help securing a marker, I filled out the form to have my daughter remembered,” said Hines, who is a media relations specialist at The Catholic University of America in Washington. “I was especially touched that my daughter would not only be remembered in the short term, but that she would be prayed for perpetually.”
For families with additional children who may be mourning the loss of their smallest sibling, fellow Holy Trinity parishioner Catherine Cobos started a joint ministry called “a kid’s peace.”
Using games, crafts, discussion time and ceremonial activities, a kid’s peace helps children from 2 years old through the teen years to work through their sadness. The ministry’s website is http://amomspeace.com.
“Children need to be able to process their grief as well,” Palladino said.
Palladino said she’s not aware of anything like a m.o.m.s. peace elsewhere in the country, but she hopes other programs will spring up to meet a great, but often hidden, need.
Those mourning a lost child often feel “in a secret club,” she said, acknowledging that not everyone needs such a ministry to begin healing.
Palladino is quick to say that a m.o.m.s. peace is nothing special, but simply her effort to fulfill one of the corporal works of mercy, which ask the faithful to bury the dead as well as feed the hungry and clothe the naked.
“Kara won’t even accept thanks for the work that she does,” said Hines. “Any time I thanked her she said, ‘No, don’t thank me. I’m doing someone else’s work,’ referring to God working through her.”
When Palladino speaks of the ministry, she does so with a compassion that comes from someone who has felt the pain of losing a child and believes the ministry is a calling.
“The Lord just continues to give me the grace I need,” she said. “I don’t want my sisters in Christ to do this alone; I want to give them as much peace as I can.”
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Scott is a staff writer at the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.