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A large Christmas tree in the lobby of Memorial Hospital of Carbondale looks like any other Christmas tree. While the tree is covered with shiny and sparkling ornaments, angels of lace and white lights, this tree has special meaning to the parents of the babies and children represented by those ornaments. This is a memory tree, dedicated to the memories of babies and children who have died.

For parents who have experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant or child loss, holidays can be difficult. Families gather to celebrate the holidays, but often those gatherings do not offer a chance to remember a child or infant who has died.

I Lost a Child, Tender Mercies Foundation, Share of Southern Illinois and Glory Babies of Southern Illinois, all area support groups, gave grieving parents a chance to gather and remember their children at the dedication of this year’s Memory Tree on Dec. 9.

Anne Mileur, a registered nurse in the obstetrics department at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, said the hospital has had a memory tree since at least 1990. I Lost a Child, which is based at the hospital, started in 1980.

Mileur said it is important for families to have a way to remember their children and say their names. For many grieving parents, that is not part of their daily lives.

“We invite people to come and place an ornament on the tree in memory of their child. If they cannot come to the dedication, they can some at any time through the season,” Mileur said.

Any parent, regardless of the age of his or her child or when the loss occurred, is welcome to place an ornament on the tree. Parents may bring an ornament of their choosing or pick one of the provided ornaments.

Mileur told the parents gathered for the dedication that is it important to give grief a job, to do something productive. That can take the form of helping others who have lost children, volunteering or making a quilt or scrapbook.

Mileur lost her 16-year-old daughter.

“I found my purpose in my heart. God revealed they are not gone, they are waiting,” Mileur said.

Kalyn Waller lost an infant daughter five years ago. She said the memory tree dedication has become a family Christmas tradition to remember baby Esther. She came to the event with her daughter, Kyla, and son, Elijah. Her husband, Adam, was out of town.

“For me it’s really important to have an event where she is talked about and remembered. I find my grief resurfaces around the holidays and to be around others who are grieving helps,” Waller said.

Danielle Spino of Zeigler carefully made an ornament to place on the tree in memory of her baby. Spino, who had a kidney transplant in 2009, developed pre-eclampsia 19 weeks into her pregnancy.

Stephanie Lewis of Glory Babies called child and infant loss a “club no one want to be in.”

“Those memories and those dates stick with you,” she said.

Kasey Fred of Tender Mercies Foundation said sometimes mothers who lost pregnancies don’t feel like they have the right to grieve.

“We are here to love on them and allow them to mourn,” Fred said.

Fred lost twins, one was stillborn and the other died shortly after birth. She said working through Tender Mercies Foundation is what she does to celebrate her daughters. The group also gives tangible gifts so mothers do not have to go home from the hospital empty-handed.

Sometimes memories are painful. What we find is those same memories that are painful now will become treasures because that will be all that you have left,” Mileur said.

To place an ornament on the tree, go to the display in the lobby at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale (near the entrance to the hospital lab). 

For more information on support groups is available as follows: I Lost a Child, 618-549-0721, ext. 64974; Tender Mercies, tendermerciesfoundation.come; Share of Southern Illinois,; Glory Babies,

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Marilyn Halstead is a reporter covering Williamson County.

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