Sharing a journey: The importance of a remembrance service for families of children who have died

Continuing our special series on perinatal bereavement and palliative care with examples of initiatives from Ireland and France that aim to improve care for babies and families.

Today, Tyrone Horne, Children’s Outreach Nurse for life-limiting conditions at Cork University Hospital in Ireland, explains how two children’s units collaborated on a special remembrance service for bereaved families following the death of their child.

Tyrone Horne

Tyrone Horne

In January 2015, the Children’s Services at Cork University Hospital (CUH) and Mercy University Hospital (MUH) in Ireland held Cork’s Service of Remembrance for families who had experienced the death of a child. All parents/families and children were warmly invited to attend this special multidenominational service; the first of its kind for the children’s units and other services in CUH and MUH, such as the intensive care units and emergency departments that cared for the children who had died.

The death of a child is devastating for parents and family members. This multi- denominational Service of Remembrance enabled the hospital community to come together with parents and families to remember their children, to offer support and to comfort one another at what was a very gentle and reflective ceremony. Daniel Nuzam (chaplain at CUH) led the service with the support of his colleagues from CUH and MUH. His expertise in bereavement support really ensured that the service provided the appropriate support for parents and families. During the service of readings and music, there was an opportunity for families to present a decorated keepsake (a heart-shaped ornament decorated with the child’s name and, if they wished, a message from the family). They could also light a candle in memory of their child, and write an inscription in the Book of Remembrance. During the evening, families had the opportunity to spend some reflective time with other families who shared the same journey.

The group that organised the service decorated the church, though not overpoweringly, with children’s teddies, toys for all ages, and balloons. Towards the end of the service, hospital staff were invited to light a candle and make a circle around the families. It was amazing to see this large, candlelit group of staff of all disciplines. Families and staff commented positively and said that this was a profound moment of the service. It also showed the families how their children were still remembered and remained in our hearts. Staff from many disciplines and departments attended the service including medical, nursing, administration, porters, teachers, catering, maintenance, volunteers, students, management and other multidisciplinary team members.

Circle of candles at the service

Circle of candles at the service

Following the service, families and staff gathered for refreshments with entertainment for the children, which helped to make it an uplifting experience. We had a sweet shop table (sponsored) and with the support of our hospital play specialist we were lucky enough to have entertainment, games, arts and craft provided by the children’s charity, Barrattstown. All this was achieved while still showing respect for the children that had died. We knew we had got it right when we heard children saying they did not want to go home!

This time gave an opportunity for families to catch up with staff whom they had possibly not seen since their child had died. They got to speak about the times they had been in the hospital, with so many positive experiences being shared. Families got to see that their child was remembered dearly but, as several members of staff expressed afterwards, it was also an uplifting experience for staff, as we got to see what a difference we had made, even during the toughest times in these families’ lives. It helped us to remember why we do what we do, and that all members of staff throughout the hospital make a difference.

Here are some of the comments we received after the service:

“The children [that attended] felt very included in [the] ceremony . . . It was beautiful.”

Another read:

“It was a great celebration of life for all our children . . .  it reminded us that we shared a journey that won’t be forgotten by any of us.”

Talking about staff as their child’s friend one mother wrote:

“We [have] seen in their eyes [staff] how they remembered our gorgeous child and all of the other children [that had died].”

 Other words used were “special”, “wonderful”, “beautiful” and “lovely”.

We are just starting to look at our next service and hope we can achieve the same positive outcome for all again.

The Mercy University Hospital is an official partner in the upcoming 2nd International Children’s Palliative Care Conference (see link below).


  • 2nd International Children’s Palliative Care Conference: Building Bridges – Home, Hospital and Hospice. An Interdisciplinary Conference. 22-23 April 2016, Dublin, Ireland.
  • Barrettstown a charity that offers free, specially designed camps and programmes for children and their families living with a serious illness – supported by 24-hour on-site medical and nursing care. Available to children from Ireland and several other European countries.

Coming up on the EAPC Blog . . .
Next week, in the Perinatal and Palliative Care series we hear from Dr Lucia Hartigan and Dr Keelin O’Donoghue from the Pregnancy Loss Research Group, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University College Cork, Cork University Maternity Hospital, Ireland.  If you missed last week’s post please click here.

News flash – photographic exhibition around perinatal bereavement – Hôpitaux Universitaires Genève, Geneva, Switzerland
Last chance to catch the photographic exhibition around perinatal bereavement that finishes on 23 March 2016. This exhibition is curated by Marie-José Auderset, with the participation of the photographer, Aliénor Held, dancers from la Cie Zevada and Esther Wintsch, consultant in perinatal bereavement.hich  Open every day from 08h00 to 21h00, Salle Opéra, Hôpitaux Universitaires Genève, rue Gabrielle-Perret-Gentil 4, 1205 Genève. More information here.

This entry was posted in BEREAVEMENT, Bereavement, CHILDREN'S PALLIATIVE CARE, PATIENT & FAMILY CARE, perinatal bereavement and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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