Garden of Little Angels
A sacred space to grieve and heal
Facing loss head on and honoring it is key to the healing process. The inability to mourn in a supportive environment can often lead to more pain for families. This is most heartbreakingly true when losing an infant. Helping families process this kind of loss was Franklin Square Hospital perinatal loss team’s goal—through its Garden of Little Angels. And Nature Sacred helped them make it happen.
The need to grieve
Firesouls Terri Zeman, a nurse who headed the perinatal loss program at the time, and Joan Robertson, the Women and Children’s Services administrative director, had been holding a ceremony honoring lost babies around a spruce tree on hospital grounds for several years. Parents and families gathered by the tree to hang angel ornaments bearing the names of their lost children. As that gathering grew each year, the team saw the need for a bigger, more defined garden of healing. One that centered around the tree and included components to support every family member in finding peace.
As Terri puts it, “We envisioned a defined space for patients to come to and grieve at the time of the loss of their child. A beautiful space for them to remember their beautiful little angels.”
She and Joan realized people have a hard time discussing the death of a baby. In the past, the grieving part of the experience was swept under the rug. But that thinking had begun to change, and hospital guidelines changed to include an educational program for nurses, physicians and hospital staff to improve their ability to respond in a more caring, empathetic way to patients who were experiencing loss.
They knew people grieved in different ways. With a baby’s loss, parents often experience something called disenfranchised grief or silent grief. It occurs when family and friends don’t support their grief. People mistakenly think that because a baby died in the womb or right after birth, there isn’t really a life to grieve. When no one acknowledges the loss, parents suffer in silence.
One of the hardest things about a perinatal loss is the lack of tangible memories from the child’s life. If parents lose a child who’s older, they have photos, toys and clothing they can keep to remember the child. But there’s very little a mother experiencing perinatal loss can hold in her hand to let her know she was a mother. When death is sudden and unexpected, parents are often completely disoriented. They look to the nurses and doctors to guide them in what to do. Sometimes, a couple doesn’t really grieve the loss until a healthy child is born. And grieving continues for years.
For Terri, an important role of healthcare professionals is to make that experience real for parents. And having a physical place for parents to visit as witness to the lost life and return to for remembrance was a strong motivation in creating the Garden of Little Angels.
So she and Joan began to raise funds for their garden. They held raffles, bake sales and other events. They proposed the idea to the administration countless times. But, as in most medical institutions, there were many concerns vying for limited dollars. A new hospital building was being constructed, so a garden was at the bottom of their priority list. That’s when they found Nature Sacred and knew they had a partner that could support their dream of creating a sacred space to honor death and life for their grieving parents and families.
Honoring loss and celebrating life
The Garden of Little Angels is a soothing place for parents, siblings and extended family to sort through their feelings. It quietly sits nestled against the walls of the Women’s Pavilion at the Franklin Square Hospital Center. With a 30-foot waterfall, meandering walkways, a pond filled with lily pads, a children’s area with a miniature labyrinth (hyperlink) and sheltered benches—including a signature Nature Sacred bench and journal, the garden features many places for reflection.
This little book has helped me cry and heal. I sat down in the shadow and now I am in the light of the sun.
—Anonymous Journal Entry
The hospital delivers over 2,600 healthy babies every year. But there are some families who do not go home with their babies. Thanks to the perseverance of several dedicated women, the Garden of Little Angels is Franklin Square Hospital’s sacred space where families can grieve in the moment of loss and return later to remember the child they celebrated if only for a brief instant.