Updated: Oct 12
As a Life-Cycle Funeral Celebrant & an Infant & Pregnancy Loss Doula (IPLD), I have forged a pretty close bond with the funeral home in my smallish town. In the beginning of our working relationship, I asked Dane, the senior funeral director, what most challenged/frustrated him in working alongside Celebrants and Clergy/Chaplains. Dane’s answer was simple: what is most challenging? When people don’t “stay in their lane.”
Every professional supporting a bereaved family has a role, responsibilities, and expertise. And when there are unneeded overlaps, inaccurate information disseminated, and unnecessary opinions about things that aren’t in your “job description,” not only does it make things more difficult on all the professionals who are trying to support a family, but it can become confusing for a family who are at their most vulnerable.
An IPLD’s scope of service can include companioning a family during the disposition/funeral arrangement process after a loss of a baby. That service might look different for each IPLD. Companioning families during this task of mourning in my IPLD practice follows a framework of empathic presence, gentle conversation, available space for questions, intuition & decision making, engaging trust…and “staying in my lane.”
If the parents request/require, I have a brief conversation with them about such things as how to prepare for the meeting with the funeral home, holding their baby, memory making & mementos, opportunities for the siblings to participate in the ceremony, etc.
The funeral directors are very professional and have shown the greatest compassion when presenting a family with disposition options. There is a dance of leading and following with gentle encouragement. That is their lane. If I am asked to be present during this meeting, my role is simply to sit in communion with all that unfolds and take notes for the family (if that is what they have requested). Some parents are able to be engaged in the decision-making process and some are mostly disengaged and dissociated. Writing notes for the family allows them to later reprocess the discussion and the options. I am not involved in the dialogue or the presentation of information. I am simply a quiet assuring support. I always hold space with the belief in the capacity of the family’s strength and innate wisdom to make decisions that are best for their baby.
Following the meeting with the funeral home, I make myself available to the parent/s after hours in case they have questions or need to re-process options. If the answer to a question is not in the notes from the meeting, and I can’t answer it with absolute confidence, then we make a list of questions or further information that is required. That is then forwarded to the funeral director. We may share in conversation about such things as what parts of the vigil/end of life ceremony/viewing/crematorium do the parent/s envision to be most distressing and how I can support these anticipatory fears. Maybe the most distressing thing for a mother would be handing over her baby to the funeral director when the vigil is over. “How do I hand over my child for the last time? What if I can’t do it? Will someone take the baby out of my arms if I am not ready?” We talk about dread, expectations, preparing the psyche for this transition, and coping strategies to find that inner strength to do what has to be done. Anything of concern is passed on to the funeral director,(with the parents’ permission) so that the family can be served with collective wisdom and support.
“Staying in my lane” and working from the companioning model is of the utmost importance to me in this particular role as an IPLD. I do not present as an advocate for a family. The English word advocate comes from Latin participle advocatus, meaning “one called to someone's aid.” That comes with a power dynamic. A doula is “the one who serves.” Those are two very different agendas. My role is to be one who is ‘walking with’ and ‘being with’ a bereaved family in open and connecting ways.
Anyone interested in becoming an infant and pregnancy loss doula can register for HHA's IPLD certificate program here. The next available training weekend is November 17-19, 2023.
Kelly Hurley is a HHA graduate and has an infant and pregnancy loss doula (IPLD) practice in British Columbia. You can learn more about her at https://www.withgracepregnancyinfantlossceremonies.com/