Content warning: this article includes information and images relating to stillbirth.

Hayley lost her son Ollie on 15th October, 4 days after his due date. Here, she shares how she planned a small and dignified funeral service, as well as advice for bereaved parents and those who want to support them.

“My son died on 15th October 2021. He passed away at home almost instantly after a placental 
abruption and haemorrhage. I almost died too, it felt like I had died along with him when we left the hospital without our much loved, much wanted baby. Life has never been the same since. When a child dies it’s a different event to when an adult dies. We had a nursery for Ollie. We were planning on bringing him home. Instead of making decisions about wallpaper or formula, we were making decisions about funeral songs and readings. It’s a huge shock that no-one can possibly prepare you for. 

“I didn’t even realise when Ollie passed away that we would have a funeral for him. The UK 
classification is 24 weeks for stillbirth, but in some countries the ‘threshold’ is much lower. 24 weeks gestation during pregnancy means a pregnancy is ‘viable’ and baby has a chance of surviving if born early. Ollie was full term. Some people have funerals for their babies if they lose them at an earlier stage of gestation, however you don’t have to reach full term to have a funeral; it’s all baby loss of some form. The funeral can be arranged after registering the stillbirth, which will provide a certificate for burial or cremation. There is no legal time limit for the funeral, but most happen within 2 to 3 weeks, but this is not a legal requirement. 

“Some bereaved parents have an unattended burial or cremation. Remember it’s okay if you want to do this – you don’t have to attend. You can remember your baby in your own way. There should never be any expectation on anyone to do anything that they feel uncomfortable with when it comes to their own child. But we did decide to have a funeral for Ollie.

Remember your baby in your own way. There should never be any expectation on anyone to do anything they feel uncomfortable with when it comes to their own child.

“We opted for a post-mortem because although we knew it was a placental abruption, but our consultant advised us to have a post-mortem to identify anything that could impact future pregnancy. He was taken for a post-mortem and returned to the Chapel of Rest. Our local area has a Snowdrop Chapel specifically dedicated to babies’ funerals, which is where Ollie’s funeral was held. On the 15th December 2021, was Ollie’s funeral. We were offered the option to carry him, but we decided we couldn’t do that, our legs simply would not have carried us, and the undertakers carried him in.

“We didn’t have his funeral until the 15th December. He was in the chapel of rest for 3 weeks  because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And that’s okay. I wish I’d have known about the  amount of time you can take. We felt quite under pressure that we needed to make decisions really quickly after he passed away. But that’s not the case. You have more time than you think.

Ollie Hand
I wish I’d have known about the amount of time you can take. We felt quite under pressure that we needed to make decisions really quickly after he passed away. But that’s not the case. You have more time than you think.

“I think it’s really important to stress that every single bereaved parent is so different in what they want their baby’s funeral to be like. Speaking to other bereaved parents makes you realise everything is so different. We decided that we didn’t want to have a big funeral for Ollie. I wanted it to be small, quiet, dignified and respectful.

It’s really important to stress that every single bereaved parent is so different in what they want their baby’s funeral to be like.

“Our hospital trust covered the cost of Ollie’s funeral for us, as per their own protocol. They had their own undertaker and funeral director who was assigned to the trust in the hospital where I had Ollie. We put money towards some specific things we wanted, but the hospital paid the main costs –the funeral, the celebrant. Thankfully financial constraints weren’t an issue for us, but families should be aware that help is there.”

The funeral

“I kept the funeral quite short because I knew that it was going to be one of the most traumatic experiences of our lives. I only wanted immediate family there too. We didn’t want a large group of people to celebrate his life, because he was taken from us and was never given that chance. I felt that it could be incredibly traumatic for people to attend. I asked that people didn’t dress in black. I didn’t want it to be a sombre occasion. It was important for me that people were dressed normally. I know black is a mark of respect, but that felt like something for adults rather than a child. So I asked people to attend in their normal clothing.

“We kept everything simple and non-traditional. No hymns or prayers. We didn’t want a religious ceremony because we’re not religious as a family. And there are non-religious options. I naively thought it’d have to be a priest leading the funeral, or whatever form of religion the chapel was. But we were able to have a celebrant instead. That was the best choice for us. There’ll always be someone out there who can do what you want. You just need to search for them. We had two readings and two songs. Modern songs.

There’ll always be someone out there who can do what you want. You just need to search for them.

“Ollie had a wicker basket too. I knew I didn’t want him in a coffin. It didn’t seem right. It seemed macabre and I didn’t like the thought of a tiny white casket. But it’s things like this where it’s important for people to know that there are different options available. There are a variety of options a baby can be carried in. The wicker basket was the best option for us.

“We didn’t want any flowers. It was family flowers only, we had a beautiful spray of lilies on his  coffin tied with a white ribbon. We asked for donations to a baby loss charity called SANDS instead. I know a lot of bereaved families opt for that too. We didn’t know what to do. But I knew that I didn’t want the whole place inundated with flowers because it was a small venue. A lot of parents want to raise funds for bereavement suites at the hospital where their baby passed away. Or cold cots. That’s a little tiny cot that’s kept at a certain temperature to preserve the baby. They’re in much too short supply and they’re expensive. But it’s important because they give you the chance to spend time with your baby before they deteriorate further.”

After the funeral

“We didn’t want a wake or any form of gathering afterwards. It didn’t seem right to have any form of celebration or gathering of people to talk about him, we wanted to remember him quietly and privately. 

“Everyone went their separate ways afterwards. Me and my partner Reece just wanted to be alone. I can speak as a bereaved parent when I say the funeral is one of the worst parts. It’s the finality of it. Everything leads up to this day, then everyone goes home. It’s like the door closes and it can feel like you’re expected to get yourself together and move on. To return to life as normal. But it’s not something you can ever really accept.

“If you know someone who’s lost a child, you should know that there’s usually still a lot going on behind the scenes before the funeral. Coroner’s inquests, post-mortems, and investigations. We often don’t get a cause of death for a long time after stillbirth. Post-mortem results for babies can take six months to a year, so you lack closure. It’s important to know that just because the funeral is over, doesn’t mean everything’s done. There’s a lot ongoing.

“As a parent, it’s important to know that once the funeral is over, you don’t have to feel a certain way. Relief is okay. I felt relieved that the funeral was over. You can feel worse after the funeral and that’s okay. Give yourself time to process what happened. Nobody should have to have a funeral for their child. It’s an unnatural event. It should never ever happen, but it does all too often.

It’s important to know that once the funeral is over, you don’t have to feel a certain way… Nobody should have to have a funeral for their child.

“In terms of resting places, we had Ollie cremated. But 2 and half years later we have Ollie’s ashes in our living room because we don’t know what we want to do with them. But that’s okay. When we collected his ashes, we thought we had to scatter them or do something with them. But you don’t. You can hold onto them for as long as you want. Take your time. It’s a whirlwind of decision you never expected you had to make.”

Hayley’s advice

“The most important thing to know is that it’s your baby and your decision. Do whatever you need to do and don’t feel under pressure from outsiders. Do what’s right for you and your baby. It’s important that you take time to think too. You do have time, much more time than you would have than planning a funeral for an adult. And you don’t have to attend if you don’t want to. Listen to yourself and honour how you feel. And your baby will always be remembered, they lived and they matter.”

To thank Hayley for sharing her story, we’ve made a contribution to Tommy’s Pregnancy and Baby Loss Charity in memory of Ollie.

HAYLEY AND REECE CROPPED

Hayley aims to raise awareness of stillbirth and break the stigma surrounding with baby loss. If you know someone who’s lost a child and want to support them, you can read her advice on “What a bereaved parent wants you to know” here.