In this series, Women and Men for Others, I’ve invited people I’ve met over the years to share what God has made known to them about how to use their gifts and life experiences for the good of others, truly putting their prayer into action and living the Ignatian principle of being a person for and with others. The series starts with my dear friend and colleague, Kathy Powell, sharing how the losses of her babies gone much too soon to Heaven have inspired her work with the ministry All Embrace, serving families who have lost children due to miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death. Kathy embodies the spirit of being a woman for others not only in this ministry, but also in her marriage, motherhood, friendships, and other ministry work.
In 2012, I interviewed Embrace founder Nicole Hartman for work I was doing with the Archdiocese of Atlanta. At the time, she had recently started Embrace, a ministry serving families who have lost a child due to miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death. As we sat across from each other, each sharing our own stories of loss, she said, “God had this plan for my pain, for my crisis. Embrace won’t end that, but I can help other families.”
In the years since that conversation, Embrace has become an independent 501c3 organization, All Embrace, Inc. I responded immediately to Nicole’s request to serve as a founding board member in 2014. I have not looked back since, continuing to grow my involvement to being a staff member. I feel God placed me on this path of loss and grief to better know what others around me are facing and join them on their grief journey.
Nicole and I often thank our babies – Cara, Lea & Caine Hartman and Francis & Clare Powell – that their short lives opened a fount of compassion within us. They awakened a deep desire within each of us to fill the gap we see between the high occurrence of loss (thought to be 1 in 4 pregnancies) and the quite low availability of resources, support, and understanding of these losses, especially in faith settings.
Choosing to use my pain to serve others is a choice I continue to choose. It is not always easy to talk openly about my babies in Heaven, especially when you know responding to a simple question like, “What do you do?” will instantly suck the air from the room and make most people very uncomfortable. It is hard to take calls from devastated parents and grandparents. It is hard to bring infant caskets and burial boxes to families and explain the options and processes of what now. It is hard to talk about God in the midst of crushing grief and how to turn to prayer when you are angry and lost. It is hard to advocate for these young lives to be treated as lives – to not be hidden or talked about in hushed tones before 12 weeks, to be allowed proper burial, to be celebrated as children of God no matter how long their life. It is hard to answer the call to shift the focus of All Embrace away from direct service to be able to do more education and resource creation. As my own journey of understanding God’s call out of my own grief continues, we continue to discern how God is inviting us to respond to the needs we see and to be a ministry for others.
It is all hard work, but it is made possible through the quiet but steady urging of God from within me, that this is work that I personally have been called to carry out. It is affirmed through the hundreds of families served by this ministry, through the unexpected blessings that enable us to continue the work, and through the people that love me and love all of my children.
As we currently sit in the month of May, a month dedicated to our Mother Mary, and face the upcoming weekend of Mother’s Day, I want to speak to all those who are walking with this grief and who are struggling with what being a parent to babies in Heaven looks like. Know that you are not alone. If this grief has robbed you of your ability to speak with God, know that you will pray again. Know that God’s plan was not for your babies to die, but in His mercy and goodness, God may use your grief in beautiful ways you don’t expect. But most of all, know that you are fully loved, that your babies are loved, and that their lives matter.
If you feel touched by Kathy’s story and her and Nicole’s ministry as much as I am, please consider offering not only your prayer support but also your monetary support to All Embrace. Donate here. Please look through the links below and follow All Embrace on Facebook or visit their website for more information.
- Honor the life of a baby gone too soon: Request a frame-worthy Certificate of Life, signed by Archbishop Wilton Gregory, with the child and parents’ names, to honor and remember a child’s short life.
- Parents: We are so sorry for your loss, nothing can take away your pain but know that All Embrace was created for you so you wouldn’t have to walk this journey alone. Visit the All Embrace Parents page here.
- Friends and Family: What do you say and NOT say? Visit the All Embrace family & friends page here.
- Ministers and Clergy: How do you serve families carrying this specific grief? Guidance for ministers and clergy here.
- Looking for resources? Here are some recommendations of books, remembrance items, etc.
- Watch All Embrace founder Nicole Hartman share her personal story of infertility and loss and her path to founding Embrace.
- More about people for others: Watch this video from Loyola Press explaining more about this Ignatian principle and Pedro Arrupe, SJ, who coined the term.
- Be a part of the Women and Men for Others series. Share with us about a person who is an example to you of what being a person for others means via this simple Google form. Watch for us to share submissions on social media!
Cultivating Space for God Together:
- I’m in Canada soon! On May 15 I’ll be at the Calgary Catholic Leadership Retreat.
- Will you be at the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership on May 20? Come see me! I’ll be facilitating a Retreat Day.
- Lake Tahoe! I’m doing two events in the beautiful Lake Tahoe area June 14-15.
- On June 29 I’m leading the SJA Parent and Alumnae Retreat on Making Hope Real at St Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge.
- I’ll be in Atlanta on August 17 for the Atlanta Catechist Conference.