Angels Are Remembered
Faribault Daily News
By Pauline Schreiber
December 3, 2006

The bell at Shattuck's Chapel of the Good Shepherd will ring later today in remembrance of babies who died in early infancy, as part of a special holiday service organized by Infants Remembered in Silence Inc. (IRIS).

"It's a very nice way to start the holiday season, if you've lost an infant. It provides parents and families a time to remember their lost child, making it easier to handle the holidays after giving the special remembrance to the child missing from the celebration," said Diana Sundwall, executive director of IRIS, an organization that assists families who loose a child in early pregnancy, stillbirth or in early infancy.

The service includes the reading of all of the children's names of parents who attend, plus a few who aren't able to attend but wish their child remembered at the event. Parents are given the opportunity when their child's name(s) are read to come up and light a candle on the altar and place a ribbon with their child's name on it on a wreath of remembrance. They are then given an angel volunteers have made that they can take home with them. Plus, they can purchase ahead of time a special keepsake ornament with their child's name on that is also given to them when they go to the altar, Sundwall said.

Wendy Rysavy of Owatonna found last year's service "very, very comforting." She and her husband lost their second child, Hannah, just 10 days after she was born in August 2005.

"We had no idea anything was wrong. The pregnancy was normal. But after she was born they realized something was wrong. She had a chromosome disorder that was fatal," Rysavy said. "It was helpful, however, to have her alive for 10 days. IRIS was a great help to us in getting through that difficult time. And, the IRIS service last year was a great help to us with the holiday season. It just seems the holidays highlight who is missing in your life, especially if it is a child."

The couple have a 3-year-old daughter, Hailey, and Wendy is pregnant, with a due date in early December.

"Yes, this has been a worrisome pregnancy because of what happened to Hannah. I think, however, going to the service will help calm those worries besides give us time to remember Hannah's short life," Rysavy said. "Whenever you are pregnant, you have dreams about the child and his or her future. So when the baby's life ends so quickly, it is a very painful loss."

Denise Moravec of Faribault and her husband, Joe, came up with the idea for a holiday remembrance services after they lost their son, Nicholas, born Dec. 29, 1991, because of a fatal condition called renal dysphasia.

"We knew he wasn't going to live even before he was born. It was a very hard loss for us. IRIS helped us a great deal so we became volunteers for IRIS," Denise Moravec said. "Because those first holidays were so hard for us, we thought a holiday service of remembrance would help not just us, but anyone who has lost a child in early infancy."

The only IRIS holiday remembrance service she has missed, since helping start the tradition in 1994, was one in which she was in the hospital before her daughter, Nichole, 12, was born. The couple also has an older daughter, Angie, 19, who is a college student.

"It's still very hard. I was out Christmas shopping recently and got to thinking of what I'd be buying Nicholas this year, since he'd be turning 15," Moravec said. "You never forget the loss. And that's another reason why the IRIS holiday service is so great. You can talk with other parents who've suffered a similar loss and understand the ongoing pain."

She added, "People who haven't had such a loss really get uncomfortable about it, and really don't know what to say to you. Sometimes they say, 'Well it's nice you have other children.' While that's true, the child you lost is unique and can never be replaced."

Moravec uses the service, too, "as sort of a birthday celebration for Nicholas. The angels that are given to parents make a great remembrance of the child lost. I have a teddy bear my mom gave me when I was in labor with Nicholas. I have the angels I've received on the teddy bear."

Beth Dienst of Faribault is looking forward to going to the service for the first time today.

"From what I've heard from other parents, it's a very comforting ceremony," Dienst said. "We didn't go last year, but we'll be there this year to remember Lizzy. She was our baby girl, our first child, and we had dreams for her. But I had a miscarriage in May of 2005. We now have a 5-month-old baby girl, Sydney. But we won't ever forget Lizzy."

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd has turned out to be a great place to hold the IRIS holiday service, said Sundwall, whose loss of her son, Derek, in stillbirth, caused her to start the non-profit IRIS organization in 1987 so she could help other parents deal with such a loss.

A plaque in the chapel explains that it was dedicated to Eunice K. Shumway, an infant who died on April 19, 1859, at the age of 13 months and 18 days.

"We weren't aware the chapel was dedicated to an infant who had died. We were just looking for a place to hold a service in the community when we asked if we could use the Shattuck chapel," Sundwall said.

The Rev. Henry Doyle, chaplain for Shattuck-St. Mary's School, helps out with the service, and volunteers decorate the church.

"When people hear the chapel bells Sunday afternoon, they should know they are ringing in remembrance of babies," Sundwall said.

At the first IRIS holiday service, there were 35 people. Last year there were 202 infants remembered at the service and around 225 people in attendance.

"It's open to anyone. We've had one very elderly couple who've been coming almost every year to remember their daughter who died some 60 years ago. The pain of the loss never goes away, but we hope the service helps give comfort to those who need it this holiday season," Sundwall said.