Infant Memorial Garden paves way for grieving families to find hope and joy

The grieving process for those left behind is a difficult journey that is often frightening, painful, overwhelming and sometimes lonely.

Families long for others to acknowledge and remember their baby–regardless of when the loss occurs.

“When a baby is born–no matter how much time has passed–it’s a lifetime experience,” Linda Ellison, perinatal bereavement coordinator at Carle, said.

Ellison has experienced the loss of three infant grandchildren–Aaron, Marin and Celia. She said the engraved pavers in Carle’s infant memorial garden are a permanent way to acknowledge that these babies existed.

“Parents who suffer a loss go home with so little that items and photographs from the hospital become very cherished,” Ellison said.

Mom Leslie Kirby from Philo said the garden paver program is important for parents who want a place to connect with their child because not all parents have a yard or a gravesite to visit.

“You want to feel and see that your child is with you always,” Leslie said.

The Kirby family openly celebrates birthdays and talks about their two daughters, Raley and Aubree.

While they are a physical family of four, they feel like a family of six. The Kirbys' two living daughters Tatum and Cambria will sometimes cry because they miss their sisters. It’s not unusual for the girls to talk to classmates about their sisters.

“We keep it real and fresh. It’s our normal,” Leslie said.

The family purchased a garden paver–in loving memory of Raley and Aubree Kirby.

Located next to The Forum at Carle, the Shining Light Infant Memorial Garden offers a place of healing calm for parents and others who have experienced the loss of a baby. The garden was made possible by donations to Carle Center for Philanthropy from employees and physicians, as well as the Women’s Legacy Circle and other donors.

At the center of the garden stands “Mourning Rachel,” a granite statue letting parents know they are not alone. Surrounding her are garden pavers that can offer a personalized message of remembrance.

These pavers provide a public way to acknowledge the infants forever in our hearts. The garden pavers are available to anyone in the community to purchase to remember an infant regardless of where the loss occurred or how long ago.

“It’s so important to acknowledge their child’s name. We don’t want their baby to be forgotten,” Ellison said. “The pavers are a legacy to children that remains forever, letting families know that we share in their grief.”

One mother says the garden does just that.

“I am grateful for a place to reflect on my children Blaze, Lotti and Lola that is positive and hopeful,” mother Lesa Brandt from Mahomet said.

The Brandt family donated a bench near the garden to benefit other families that have experienced a loss and can benefit from bereavement services.

Brandt says the memorial garden is a special place to remember a child.

“The loss affects aunts, cousins, and friends, too, not just the parents and grandparents,” Brandt said.

Ellison added, “The garden gives parents a peaceful place to contemplate their little ones and to release their emotions.”

To participate in the Shining Light Infant Memorial Garden, contact Carle Center for Philanthropy at (217) 383-3021. If the donation is received prior to July 31, the pavers will be installed prior to the annual Shining Light Memorial for Pregnancy & Infant Loss in October.