Jill Davoren and Karen Wilson stand in the shade of a wooded grove on the highest point of Royal Oak Burial Park.
Davoren, a maternity services social worker and Wilson, a chaplain based out of Victoria General Hospital step through the loose dust and rock where a landscape and construction crew have begun to build Little Spirits Garden, Canada’s first public memorial space devoted solely to parents and families who have experienced a miscarriage or a still-born child.
After having proposed the creation of such a remembrance space to the not-for-profit burial park seven years ago, Davoren and Wilson are pleased to finally have somewhere send bereaved families.
“Every single parents asks me how to recognize the loss,” Davoren said. “And because it is very silent and one of the last taboos, it isn’t known. You don’t just ask your girlfriend or your mom or your aunt. You don’t know who to ask. There’s no map of how to do this.”
Plans for the site, located in the northern half of the grounds, include various remembrance options for families: bronze memorial plaques permanently mounted to stone tablets, commemorative polished stones to be placed within the garden, cedar memory flags to hang from surrounding woods, and pre-cast cement ‘spirit houses’ that families are able to take home and personalize before mounting in place.
Though the one-third of and acre site isn’t suitable for interment or remains, there are areas designated for the scattering of ashes. The garden is intended to expand or enhance the traditional burial already offered in park.
“Having something that won’t wash away, or be broken or lost is really critical to these families,” Davoren said, underlining the importance of the memorial plaques for parents who have often spent much time selecting names for their babies that only appear on birth and death certificates.
“It’s a beautiful setting,” Wilson said. “I like that there are alternatives for people to chose from. … There’s a variety of ways for people to express what’s personally helpful to them.”
The Board of Cemetery Trustees of Greater Victoria contributed $50,000 toward developing the plan for garden and partnered with the Saanich Legacy Foundation to generate the $295,000 needed to complete the project. The group aims to collect two-thirds of the funds from provincial and federal sources with the remaining one-third falling in the hands of local donors.
Use of the garden will be made available to every family, regardless of where and when they lost the baby and whether or not they are able to pay for their chosen remembrance option.
When Lindsay McCray, grant-writer with the foundation, heard the project was underway this June, she got behind it 100 per cent. McCray is one of the estimated 450 women who experience miscarriage annually in Greater Victoria.
“I will be able to stand in the middle of the garden and to look at all the cedar flags in memory of other infants lost and know that there are others who share my sadness,” said McCray during the public launch of the fundraising campaign. “There are others who stood where I stand.”
Stephen Olson, executive director of Royal Oak Burial Park said the need for the project is far greater than most people may be aware.
“I cannot recall a time when I’ve been so moved by stories that have been told, stories like Lindsay’s and the reason it’s been so moving is each family has never had a an opportunity to give voice to their story and to tell us how they felt,” he said. “We want to rectify that for these parents and these families.”
In June 2013, when Little Spirits Garden is slated for completion, it will already host 250 spirit houses to account for previous need. In memoriam donations can be made at saanichlegacy.ca. Donors will be able to personalize a cedar remembrance flag to hang in the completed garden.
At 7 p.m. on Oct. 15, worldwide Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, the park will host a community candlelight vigil at the Garden Chapel for families to honour their little spirit.