The grieving parents stepped up one by one, tying a card to the remembrance tree at the front of the church filled with nearly a hundred names. Each card had the name of a baby they loved and lost.
As the tree was blessed and holy water splashed against the name of her deceased son Wyatt, Bliss Boisvert broke down in tears.
“I just got this sense of peacefulness that I know my son is OK,” she said. “To know they’re being blessed, that they go straight to heaven because they’re so pure. That’s when I started to cry. It’s a comfort to know my son is safe and he’s in God’s arms.”
Since 2007, Our Lady of Perpetual Help church in Sherwood Park has hosted a memorial Mass for infants who died due to miscarriages, abortions, stillbirths or an early death. This year, more than 100 parents, grandparents and children gathered at the Nov. 21 Mass, placing the names of babies they lost on the remembrance tree. A similar Mass was celebrated at St. Anthony’s Parish in Lloydminster on Nov. 23.
Boisvert first attended the Infant Memorial Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help – her home parish – four years ago. She had just lost Wyatt, who was stillborn after a 36-week pregnancy.
“When I came four years ago… I was like this,” Boisvert said, wiping away her tears and clearing her voice. “I felt that my heart had been torn out. I was terrified and I missed my child. It’s a journey where you sometimes feel completely alone.
“But just to know that I could come here and nobody would judge you or look at you because you’re crying. We were all here for the same reason – we lost our child. I felt a great comfort.”
That comfort has been a blessing to both Boisvert and her family. At this year’s Mass, Boisvert was accompanied by her aunt Margo, who also lost a child 30 years ago due to an ectopic pregnancy where her baby began to grow outside the uterus. Margo lost the child only a few weeks into her pregnancy.
“I had lost a child but had never really looked at it or dealt with it until I came to this Mass,” said Margo, who has attended the infant memorial Mass since 2013.
“It brought to light what happened 30 years ago. I realized that what I had was a child of God. I was carrying a very important little being, no matter how long that baby lived. I was overcome. It was then I started to love this baby.”
This year’s Infant Memorial Mass coincided with Feast Day of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary – a coincidence that Rev. Jim Corrigan considers a providential message.
“When I think about the love of God, the closest thing I can compare that to is the love of a mother for her child,” said Corrigan, the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish. “As we celebrate the feast day of our Blessed Mother, who experienced the death of her child under very painful and excruciating circumstances, we think of the pain that one feels for the loss of a child.
“I don’t know if there’s a greater pain than that. But know we’re very comforted by our Blessed Mother, who experienced that same loss in her life.”
It was a message that resonated with Jude and Judy Oraa. The Edmonton couple came to honour their son Emmanuel who died five years ago.
“He was born premature and he fought for six months in the hospital. But we never got the chance to bring him home,” said Judy. “Since he passed we have done something special to remember him and include him in our traditions in every way.
“You will always live with your loss, your grief and your pain. But things like this, especially the remembrance tree, it makes it better.”
After the Infant Memorial Mass the couple prayed at the remembrance tree. It’s an experience, they say, gave them both peace and closure.
“We always remember him every day, but this is a special time to remember our son and the loss we experienced,” Jude said, holding his one-year-old son Samuel. “It’s reassuring to know that our loved ones are being taken care of by our Lord.”
This reassurance was at the heart of Father Corrigan’s homily.
“Death is the door that you and I and our loved ones must go through in order to achieve God’s eternal plan – for all of us to be with him forever,” he said. “Jesus said, ‘Unless you accept the kingdom like these little ones, you will not enter it.’ Why did he say that? Because the little ones are perfect. As we remember our little ones, the reality is there’s no time in the penalty box for them.
“What a beautiful thing to ponder – that flesh and blood that came from us as a mom or a dad is perfect.
I may anticipate quite a stay in the penalty box of purgatory before I get to heaven. But the little ones will never have that thought. There’s no question about that.”
This article was corrected on November 27, 2019, to include a reference to the Infant Memorial Mass in Lloydminster.