On Call with Dr. Pepe
The Memory Garden: Where No Child is Forgotten
Catholic Medical Center will celebrate its 44th anniversary this Oct. 22, an occasion that is just one milestone in our 126-year history of Catholic health care in greater Manchester. CMC was forged from two Catholic hospitals: Sacred Heart Hospital, which was established in 1892, and Notre Dame Hospital, which was founded in 1894.
Ours is a treasured legacy as well as a living mission and there is so much that we do daily that expresses our faith. I would like to make you aware of one event in particular that – quietly and reverently – is a special manifestation of our Catholic identity.
Eight years ago, CMC, with the generous support of St. Joseph Cemetery in Bedford, N.H., Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Manchester Memorial Company, established the Memory Garden to honor the dignity of life from its very beginning. The Memory Garden is for families who have experienced pregnancy loss at 20 weeks or less and for all parents who choose not to make private burial arrangements. In their moments of grief, these parents can rest assured that their children will be laid to rest with dignity and respect.
This grief hit home for me this summer when at my college reunion a classmate learned that her granddaughter had died suddenly two weeks after entering this world. I had no words to lessen her pain. But CMC’s Memory Garden may help them bear their grief as they remember Cleo forever in their lives.
On the last Saturday of September, parents are personally invited to a memorial service. Parents who choose to come often bring with them the grandparents and siblings of the babies who died. For many of these families, it is the first time that they can ritualize their loss through prayer and song. The staff of CMC’s The Mom’s Place and Pregnancy Care Center attend to comfort parents just as they did at the time of their pregnancy loss.
CMC’s priest chaplain will offer prayers of Christian burial at St. Joseph Cemetery chapel. Through the reading of Bible verses, the parents are reminded of God’s great love for their children and God’s compassion for them in their time of grief. During the prayer service, the names of the children who have died in the last year are announced, and the community comes to know them by name just as God knows them. At the conclusion of the prayer service in the chapel, we solemnly process to the Memory Garden, led by a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace,” a hymn that has brought comfort to countless mourners throughout the ages. When families arrive at the Memory Garden monument, they each take the time to offer a white rose and their private prayers.
To see the parents, some of whom have brought their older children, reverently offer their prayers reminds us how much the lives of their children mattered and how loved those children still are. These children will never be forgotten and, thanks to the ongoing care and efforts of many, their parents have a place they can go anytime to offer prayers of remembrance.
CMC has a long history of Catholic health care, and on the last Saturday of September, there is nothing more important we can do than support these grieving families and proclaim by our presence the dignity and value of their children who have died. That is what we in Catholic health care should and must do by our words and actions.
Dr. Joseph Pepe is the president and CEO of CMC Healthcare System: Catholic Medical Center, New England Heart & Vascular Institute, and several subsidiaries. He and his wife reside in Manchester.