Bereaved parents organise nationwide cathedral services to honour their children
A couple who lost five unborn babies will tomorrow (Saturday, September 15 2012) stand shoulder to shoulder with other bereaved parents in the first of a nationwide series of special services to honour their children.
The service at Exeter Cathedral, along with six others confirmed for this year and at least 20 planned for next year, have been organised by Zoe and Andy Clark-Coates, through Saying Goodbye – an organisation they set up to help other grieving mums and dads.
For Zoe and Andy, both 37, now proud parents of two daughters aged three and one, this will be the culmination of months of hard work after the loss of their babies.
They have gathered massive support, from parents, charities and celebrities since going public with their aim of helping people say goodbye as part of a national support network.
And they stress the services are for anyone who has lost a baby at any stage of pregnancy, through stillbirth or in early years.
"People are welcome to attend if their loss was 80 years ago or yesterday," says Zoe.
She adds: "We saw a need for a national set of services - so every doctor, hospital and charity could refer people to one organisation. The aim is to eventually have a service within an hour of everyone's home.
"We wanted to create a service where a person's whole family can come with them, as loss and the effects of grief aren't limited to the parents - grandparents, aunts and uncles are all affected.
"We are using cathedrals as they are considered neutral spaces - used for both secular and religious services. They are also majestic buildings and are so fitting to honour our babies in.
"Of course we know that everyone may not want to attend a service, and we so respect that - but just because everyone may not want to attend, it by no means diminishes the importance for those who do want to."
Zoe believes Saying Goodbye fills a need that is not currently met.While a small number of parents have been able to say goodbye to their babies in hospital, after benefiting from the support of medical staff, many more bereft families have not known where to turn. A very small minority of losses occur in a hospital setting.
"For those who have had a funeral service, they are often conducted in a haze of grief, and for those people we hope the services will be a place to come and remember the baby they have lost," adds Zoe.
Zoe and Andy have gained the backing of major charities as well as celebrities including Jools Oliver and Gabby Logan. Professor Robert Winston has also spoken of his pride at being an ambassador for Saying Goodbye.
"Support has been overwhelming," says Zoe.
"We have spread the news of Saying Goodbye by leaflets going into hospitals, through Twitter and Facebook and our website.
"We are strongly supported by the Association of Early Pregnancy Units and they have sent posters to every hospital unit.
"Our amazing ambassadors have also been pivotal in spreading the message.
"Our partners The Miscarriage Association, Bliss and Tommys have also been crucial in spreading the word. We have also been supported by hundreds of other organisations and charities, who have kindly put us on their website.
"We are both delighted to have the opportunity to support and help so many people."
The remit of Saying Goodbye does not end with the services.
"One of our other aims as an organisation is to change how men and women are treated whilst going through loss and post loss," says Zoe.
Key Saying Goodbye campaigns also include:
• Women suffering the loss of a baby shouldn't be kept on maternity wards
• Dads matter too
• You don't need to have lost to care
* There are now seven confirmed services this year and it's hoped there can be at least 20 in 2013.
As well as Exeter, the following are the planned 2012 services so far:
Edinburgh, Saturday September 22, 3pm
York, Saturday September 29, 1.30pm
Birmingham, Sunday October 28, 1.30pm
Cardiff, Saturday November 3, 3pm
St Paul's London, Saturday November 24, 5pm
Bristol, Saturday December 8, 3.30pm