Losing a child is a difficult experience, especially when it dies before it is born.
While people may express condolences, closure is more difficult when there is no body to bury.
Only the mother knows what it was like to feel the presence of life, and then it was suddenly gone.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) Amy Lantz of Altoona lights a candle while Pastor Mike Rhyne watches at Newry Lutheran Church. The church will hold a a children’s memorial service to help parents whose children have died. Both Lantz and Rhyne have lost children. Parents will have an opportunity to talk to other parents or counselors at a reception after the service.
For other parents, it's the pain of knowing that a child they nurtured and loved was snuffed out before his or her time. Dreams and hopes for that child are gone.
A children's memorial service is being held for families who have lost children at 7 p.m. Oct. 18 at Newry Lutheran Church, 1040 Shamrock Lane, Newry.
The Rev. Mike Rhyne, pastor of Geeseytown/Newry Lutheran Parishes, said the prayer service is for those who suffered the loss of a child recently or years ago no matter what the circumstances, whether it be through an accident, health issue, violence or a prenatal or stillborn experience.
If you go
When: 7 p.m. Oct. 18
Where: Newry Lutheran Church, 1040 Shamrock Lane, Newry.
Note: A reception will be held after the service, and counselors from Grief Share and the Crisis Center at UPMC Altoona will be available.
The service also is open to people of all faiths and those who have no faith affiliation. Pastors from various faith traditions, including Lutheran, Baptist and Brethren, will take part in the service by reading Scripture or praying. Traditional hymns will be sung, and each family will light a candle in remembrance of its lost child.
"It's a Christian service, and we want everybody to feel welcome," Rhyne said.
Among those lighting candles will be Rhyne and his wife, Karen, who lost two children to miscarriages and Scott and Amy Lantz of Altoona, who also lost a child to a miscarriage.
Karen said the first loss occurred about six years ago when they lived in South Carolina where Mike was attending seminary. At the time, Karen worked and took care of their oldest daughter, Lillian.
A year later, she was pregnant again. After the first disappointment, they waited until almost the second trimester to tell family and friends about the pregnancy.
Thinking their miscarriage days were behind them, they bought a "I'm going to be a big sister" T-shirt for 5-year-old Lillian to wear for a weekend visit to Mike's parents' home as a way to announce the good news.
After the visit, Karen began not feeling well on the way home. She miscarried the next day.
Mike, who was a teaching assistant in his final year of seminary, was leading a small group of first-year students on the topic of pastoral care when he got the message that his wife was losing the baby.
Word spread quickly to his professors, fellow students and friends. For him, their knowing about his loss was a help.
"I was surrounded by people who were praying and expressing their condolences. They were reaching out and saying they were sorry."
For Karen, the public knowledge of their loss was difficult. Only family and a few friends had known about the first miscarriage. She avoided the campus for several weeks because she did not want to face people who might bring up the loss.
After both miscarriages, she consoled herself by turning to the Internet.
Both times she had joined a due date club that also had a forum that included a site for mothers who had suffered losses.
"I could share what happened to me and learn about what other people had been through, too. That helped me work through it," she said. "I couldn't just push it away."
For Mike and Karen, the most difficult moment was telling Lillian. A book written for children on the subject helped to guide them. Karen said Lillian named the baby, Rose Dandelion.
The three of them also held a memorial service at a private family grave site, helping them to have closure.
For Amy, closure was more difficult.
She was 14 weeks pregnant when doctors determined the baby had died five weeks earlier and believed it was in her best interest to end the pregnancy.
Amy will never forget the day. It was March 24, 2004.
"I kept thinking, 'what if they were wrong,'" she said, explaining that she thought maybe the baby could be alive.
Although she requested the image from her child's sonogram to substantiate the baby's life, she was not given one.
"I wanted a sonogram [picture]. I wanted something to know it was real. [Even though] it was real to me," she said.
Amy left the hospital without any sign that she lost a child.
"It was horrible," she said. "It was all intangible. I didn't see or touch my baby."
At home, she cared for their 2-year-old daughter and received comfort from Scott, who was grieving, too.
Yet, Amy was barely getting through her days and was having trouble sleeping. She remembers snapping at well-meaning people at church who gave her books on grief.
Then, one evening the tears flowed for hours, Amy said. She searched the Internet, reading stories from other women who had miscarried. When she was done, it was the middle of the night. She expressed her feelings in a poem and felt better, she said.
But perhaps her greatest breakthrough came a day earlier from her 6-year-old cousin.
Amy said the little girl did not understand what family members meant when they said Amy had lost the baby.
"Where did they put it?" she would ask.
Amy told her the baby's soul went to be with God.
Then, the little girl did something that surprised her. She gave the baby a name - Sparkle Lantz.
"She wasn't pretending that I didn't have it," she said.
For Phyllis Heaton, coordinator of the Altoona Chapter of Compassionate Friends, the loss of her daughter came after she was raised.
Susan Heaton died after surgery to remove a malignant growth at the base of her brain in 1984. She had just graduated from high school and was to attend Penn State where she would pursue a career in the medical field.
"It took me five years to stop crying," Heaton said. "I worked, and as soon as I left work, the tears would start."
Heaton believes the loss has such a deep impact because, "it's part of you that died."
Mike believes many people still carry pain from their loss.
He said the prayer service "won't fix everything, but allows people to come together to pray and to know that they are not alone."