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Couple turns grief into ministry

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Friday, October 30, 2009

By Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. LAWRENCE DEANERY — Donna and Jim Murphy know too well the pain of pregnancy loss, but have turned their grief into a ministry to help other parents find healing and hope.

The couple, who have seven children ranging in age from 6 to 19 and who foster a 2-month-old infant, have lost three babies to miscarriage over the years. After each loss, they were frustrated and saddened that they were unable to find suitable burial vessels for the babies.

“As you can imagine, when parents are involved in the tragedy of miscarriage, they sometimes don’t have the presence of mind to search for a burial vessel,” Donna Murphy said, noting that the first two babies they lost are buried in baby food jars on their own plots in a Catholic cemetery. “With our third miscarriage at 17 weeks, even after diligently searching, we were unable to find a casket for a baby only eight inches long. We had to settle for a wooden treasure box.”

Heaven’s Gain offers a variety of smal baby caskets and burial products for families suffering the loss of a child through miscarriage or stillbirth. (Courtesy photo)

Jim Murphy felt strongly that they should begin a ministry providing small caskets for families suffering the loss of a child through miscarriage or early stillbirth and brought the idea up to his wife on several occasions.

“Each time, I told him there was no way I could do it,” Donna Murphy admitted. “I was just making it through each day and there was no way I could deal with baby loss on a regular basis. I asked God to help me get through each day. Finally, I asked God to heal me from the pain of loss, and I began to feel better each day from that point.”

In April of 2007, after a conversation with Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, who told her of the need for babies lost in pregnancy to have a proper burial, Donna Murphy knew she was ready to embrace the ministry.

For the next 10 months the couple, members of St. Bernard Parish in Taylor’s Creek, researched and planned. They learned that miscarriage happens in one of five pregnancies, affecting many women. In addition, the Murphys discovered that, according to statistics from the American Pregnancy Association, there are 600,000 miscarriages and 26,000 stillbirths each year nationwide. Many states, including Ohio, now have laws giving families the right to bury their deceased child even from miscarriage (20 weeks gestation), Donna Murphy noted, while in other states parents may be forced to leave their child at the hospital.

“Some hospitals have a semi-annual burial, some cremate the babies and others dispose of the babies in medical waste,” she explained.

“There’s not a big acknowledgment of this as a loss,” Jim Murphy added. “People think you’ve lost a hope or a dream, but you’ve lost a child.”

Recognizing the need for a ministry to help families bury their babies with dignity, the Murphys created Heaven’s Gain. “We chose the name to focus on hope, the hope that Jesus has brought the little ones to heaven,” Donna Murphy said. “There is a lot of hope and healing in that idea.”

Since February of 2008, when their ministry officially began, she estimated they have received an average of four orders a month for the tiny caskets, which will accommodate babies up to 27 weeks gestation. The caskets from are made from plastic or wood. They are lined with a flannel baby blanket or padding and include a clear burial bottle to hold the child’s remains in their natural state of water, glue to seal the casket and a bottle covering to enable families to hold the child or for those who find it difficult to view the infant. Burial vaults are also available to protect the wooden caskets. In addition, gold foil cross labels can be ordered to adorn the outside of the casket. Name labels can also be ordered and affixed to the caskets, as the Murphys have discovered that naming the baby also aids parents in the healing process. Donna Murphy includes a personalized, hand-written note with each order.

Orders have come from across the United States, and the Murphys have also received requests for caskets from the United Kingdom and Australia, but shipping is too expensive and would take too long. Their clients vary, they said. Some women have even called as they are waiting to miscarry and are wondering what to expect. Other families have already lost their child and are seeking a way to give the baby a proper burial. They also hear from families who are just weighing their options.

“I explain that it doesn’t matter if we provide them a casket or not. We are a still there to help,” Donna Murphy said. “Our website has links to lovely songs and beautiful prayers that help in grieving and healing. We also list pregnancy loss support links.”

She added that response to their ministry has been “overwhelmingly positive. People have been so nice, so grateful. We’ve had many people who have viewed the website and have given us feedback,” she said. “Many wish there had been something like this when they had their miscarriage. Families will almost apologetically explain how they didn’t know what to do with their miscarried child, how they wanted to bury their child with dignity, but they just weren’t sure to do it.”

The Murphys say they have truly experienced God’s hand in their ministry, and while they still grieve for the loss of their own babies, reaching out to others has helped to some extent.

Recalling how she initially resisted the idea, Donna Murphy said, “On June 1, the three-year anniversary of our Gabriel being born dead at 17 weeks, I hugged the cross I was to bear and thanked God for this ministry, Heaven’s Gain.”

For more information, visit www.heavensgain.com. 

Eileen Connelly, OSU, can be reached at [email protected].

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