Little Spirits to be remembered

Garden Memorial to open this fall with help from walk

Ann-Marie Millington (left) was featured in the Little Spirits Garden adverts, after her loss inspired her to join the project.

Ann-Marie Millington (left) was featured in the Little Spirits Garden adverts, after her loss inspired her to join the project.

Garden Memorial to open this fall with help from walk

The day after Ann-Marie and Jim Millington lost their son they heard about Little Spirits Garden memorial at Royal Oak Burial Park.

After years of infertility issues, the two were overjoyed to discover Millington was carrying a child, due on her birthday. Her pregnancy was smooth and uncomplicated until one morning, just shy of 19 weeks, Jim was away on a work trip and Millington didn’t feel well. She went to the emergency room to be safe, but there, specialists told her she was going into labour with a possible blood infection which could end her life and would require her pregnancy to be induced. She pleaded for time and alternatives — the baby’s lungs were still undeveloped, and Jim would miss his chance to say goodbye.

The doctors waited as long as they could while Jim drove through the night. He arrived, as did Gabriel James at less than half a pound.

“He stayed with us for five hours and five minutes, until he could not stay with us anymore and peacefully fell asleep,” says Millington. “That time with Gabriel truly changed our lives forever. We were blessed to even have that time, but our hearts still long for that special, beautiful child we held for such a short time.”

Instead of picking out the colours of Gabriel’s first outfit or choosing who to introduce him to first, Millington remembers the kind social worker in the hospitals’ antepartum ward talking through some of the difficult decisions she and her husband would have to make, such as burial or cremation. It was then she mentioned the Little Spirits project, and the two decided to attend a candlelight vigil in the park. Fresh with grief, they heard Lindsay McCray and others speak, and asked to be part of the project.

“Since April 27, 2012 we have been moving through the stages of grief, and have had so much support and love during the process,” says Millington. “Finding the Little Spirits Garden has helped us to feel we are not alone. That our community has a sacred place, which honours the loss families feel, at no matter what stage the loss of pregnancy happened.”

The idea for the garden launched over a year ago by Royal Oak Burial Park and staff at Victoria General Hospital. McCray, now the mother of “two on earth and one in heaven,” was brought in after she and her husband experienced a miscarriage and realized there was no proper, public way to grieve their loss. McCray and the team at the Saanich Legacy Foundation decided to disturb the often-silent grieving process and vie for a memorial that now marks one of the first of its kind in North America — Little Spirits Garden, a dedicated public space at Royal Oak Burial Park where families can grieve the death of a baby and the community can openly acknowledge miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss.

The Board of Cemetery Trustees of Greater Victoria contributed $50,000 right away, though McCray and the foundation needed to raise $295,000 to see her dreams manifest. To date, the group has pulled in close to $110,000, with $3,750 of that from online crowd-sourcing campaigns. They hope the upcoming fundraising event, A Walk To Remember, will help cinch much of the rest and allow the garden to officially open this fall.

“Miscarriage is just not discussed that often, and there is no formal place for it in our society,” McCray told Monday last September. “So many of my loved ones were great, but a lot of people think you’ve done something wrong, or some well-meaning friends will say ’well, you can always try for another,’ or some just don’t know how to respond at all.”

In Victoria, there are 450 reported miscarriages a year where women experience this loss in the first half of pregnancy. Vital Statistics reported 457 stillbirths in B.C. in 2010, with at least 50 in the Greater Victoria area. Approximately 15 to 20 per cent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.

“Being part of this project has allowed us to share Gabriel’s story and has allowed part of his spirit to live on, which eases the pain of loss,” says Jim. “On April 27 this year, we celebrated what would have been Gabriel’s first birthday by renewing our wedding vows to each other in honor of him and all that he meant, and continues to mean, to us. How this day will look in future years we don’t yet know, but having the Little Spirits Garden as a place to visit will be an important part of it.” M

Join A Walk To Remember, June 22, 11am-4pm at Royal Oak Burial Park (4673 Falaise). To make a donation, or for more information, visit AWalkToRemember.ca.

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