MAYFIELD, Kentucky — Tucked away at the backside of Maplewood Cemetery, past rows and rows of tombstones and markers, is a garden. Flower arrangements adorn spots here and there, but what truly grows in this garden are memories and love.
God’s Little Angels isn’t a place to bury but instead exists more for mothers and families of miscarriage infants to plant seeds of pain and loss, but all the while tending to their place in this garden to eventually produce closure.
“The elderly have cemeteries for closure. There’s not a place for women or any parents to go and grieve,” said Whitney Andrews, the admission director at Clearview Healthcare, which oversees assisted living facilities like Mills and Mayfield Health and Rehab. Andrews shared that she and her husband experienced a miscarriage and understands the loss and hurt.
“Here, you have a place they can go and reflect, and there is something showing that it was a life. You leave the doctor’s office or hospital and just go home to an empty house. There’s no proof this baby ever existed,” she said. “So for a lot of women, having that closure and place to go for the whole family is healing to the community, as well as the family.”
The idea of the memory garden was planted around five years ago when Peggy Morris’s daughter suffered a miscarriage.
“I didn’t know what they would do,” Morris, the environmental manager at Mills, recalled. “When I got to the hospital, they asked if I’d like to hold him and then they asked if we’d like to bury him. They’ve got a little cemetery there in Paducah. I didn’t know anything like this ever existed.”
The experience touched her. Then later at a meeting of the nursing facilities’ spiritual life committee, the topic of community outreach came up and Morris suggested a memorial for miscarriages of babies born before 20 weeks who are not given a birth or death certificate.
“It was our goal to provide a beautiful area with statues and sidewalks for visitation of the families,” she added. “An area for closure with more pleasant memories.”
The area, accessed from the middle entrance into Maplewood Cemetery off Lockridge Street, has a wall with statues and flowers. The city of Mayfield donated the land and maintains it. Donations added the signage and sidewalk.
An iron gate stands in front of the long walkway toward the wall with four small benches with scripture passages on some that surround a statue of Jesus and two children.
In front of the wall are 15 markers with babies’ names, a date, and names of parents with some engraved with a Bible verse.
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”
Psalm 139:13-14 was the scripture Rachel and Jud McClain picked out for their baby’s marker, which was the first at the God’s Little Angels memorial garden. Rachel shared that it was on her birthday five years ago when she learned she had a rare ectopic pregnancy which caused the miscarriage only a couple of weeks after finding out she and her husband were expecting.
Her mother-in-law told her about God’s Little Angels, which was new at the time. They set up a meeting with Morris and officials at Mills Manor, which was overseeing the garden. The ceremony offered much the same as the burial of one at the end of their life — closure and a place to go and remember.
“With an ectopic pregnancy, I didn’t have a baby to lay to rest,” Rachel said. “I remember talking to Peggy and I was crying at the time and I said, ‘I don’t have my child to bury but I need it for a memorial.’ She said it was perfectly fine. That’s been most beneficial thing for us. Without that, we didn’t have anything to remember our baby. I had one pregnancy test and that was it. But by going to this little plot with Baby McClain and a scripture reference, it’s a memory for us.”
The McClains recently welcomed their daughter, Salem, into their family, which also includes 3-year-old big brother Phoenix, whom the couple adopted as an infant.
“We’ve gone there for five years to remember our baby and now we’ve been blessed with another child,” she said. “It serves its purpose for a memory for us.”
Continuing to tend to the memories of infants, Clearview Healthcare is planning a memorial day on Oct. 14 at God’s Little Angles that would be open to the community and especially to women and families who have suffered a miscarriage. Jennifer Rogers, Clearview’s Western Kentucky market manager, noted that October is Infant Loss Awareness Month.
Clearview is also offering assistance to women in Graves County who have had a miscarriage. This program would offer financial help up to $2,000 for living expenses for the month after having a miscarriage, along with Brown Funeral Home of Mayfield and Wingo helping with pre-burial needs and Mills covering tombstone and burial costs.