GUEST BLOG: We are thrilled to share today's guest blog by our friend Ashley Opliger. Ashley is the President and Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles 501c3 nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas. Bridget's Cradles donates cradles to over 1,090 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year. She also leads monthly Christ-centered support groups for grieving mothers and organizes remembrance events for bereaved families. In addition, she is the host of the Cradled in Hope Podcast.
Ashley is married to Matt, and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven) and two (rainbow baby) sons, Branton and Brenner. She is a fully-devoted follower of Christ who desires to share the hope of Jesus and Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby.
My name is Ashley, and I’m a mom to three children: two sons on earth and a daughter in Heaven. When my husband and I got married in 2014, we never would have imagined that we would lose a baby and that the journey to growing our family would be filled with so much grief and heartache. Our first child, Bridget Faith, was stillborn at 24 weeks into my first pregnancy, and our family has never been the same.
After we lost Bridget, my husband and I knew that if we were blessed to have living children in the future, we wanted to raise them to know about their big sister in Heaven. We missed her so much and wanted her to be remembered. Fast forward six years, and we now have two little boys (a 4-year old and a 6-month old).
And, it’s so important to us that our boys know that Bridget is their sister and that they have the opportunity to see her one day in Heaven through faith in Jesus. Though they didn’t get the chance to know her on earth (and have no memories of her), we still desire for them to “remember” her and live their lives honoring her as their sibling.
Though this wasn’t the story we would have chosen for our family, this is the story that God has chosen for us. We believe that Bridget is part of our eternal family; therefore we strive to honor her memory in our home and family on earth.
Based on our family experience, I’d like to share with you four ways you can help your Rainbow Baby (or older living sibling) to remember your baby in Heaven:
Talk about Your Baby in Heaven
We talk about Bridget all the time in our family. She is brought up naturally in conversations in our day-to-day lives. When we read Bible stories or talk about Heaven, we acknowledge that Bridget is there. Our oldest son, Branton, asks a lot of questions about Heaven and brings her up when he sees a pretty sunset, a photo of her, or one of her memory keepsakes. He understands that he was mommy’s second baby and that Bridget was born before him. Since he was little, we have told him: “Mommy had a baby (Bridget) in her tummy before you were born, and she went to Heaven to be with Jesus. Then, a few years later, we prayed to God for another baby, and God sent us you.”
Tip: As you talk to your Rainbow Baby about their sibling, it’s important to keep your conversations developmentally appropriate for their age. Keep it simple for babies/toddlers, and as they grow up, you can share more and more details with them, including photos if you feel comfortable.
We visit Bridget’s grave as a family. We hold her weighted “Bridget Bear” (from Molly Bears) when taking family photos to represent her place in our family. We include Bridget’s name on our Christmas cards. We hang a stocking and ornament for her on our Christmas tree. During her birthday month (which is also October Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month), we paint rocks as a family and line her grave with them. On holidays such as Mother’s Day and Easter, we pick out flowers and bring them to her grave. As you honor your baby in Heaven with these family traditions, your Rainbow baby will grow up knowing about their sibling in Heaven.
Tip: Include your Rainbow Baby in the activities and allow them to make choices as much as possible so that they are an active participant in the process. Let them pick out special decorations or toys to bring to their sibling’s grave. Allow them to pick out a flower arrangement or hold their sibling’s stuffed animal during family photos.
Celebrations of Life
Every year on Bridget’s birthday, we have a Heavenly Birthday Party for her with our immediate families. We get a birthday cake and decorate our home with photos of her (from birth and her ultrasounds) and special mementos (e.g., onesies, blankets, books we had bought for her, and her cradle). We sing Happy Birthday and send up prayers to Heaven. This celebration of her life is an annual memory for our boys to remember her and her place in our family.
Tip: It doesn’t have to be a birthday party. It could be a “memorial” event that you hold annually on the date your baby went to Heaven. You could choose to do the same activity every year (e.g., a balloon release, painting rocks, lighting a candle like laurelbox’s Shining Bright Birthday Candle, etc.). This is a special way to involve your Rainbow Baby and have an annual family activity in memory of their sibling in Heaven. As with the family traditions mentioned above, try to involve your Rainbow Baby as much as you can (depending on their age).
Acts of Kindness
Our family leads a nonprofit in Bridget’s memory called Bridget’s Cradles. We donate cradles to over 1,090 hospitals in all 50 states to hold babies who were stillborn in the second trimester of pregnancy. We also host support groups, remembrance events, and a hope-filled podcast. Although our boys are too young to volunteer (yet), the ministry is a big part of their lives as they see their Mommy and Daddy serving each week. They know that it’s important to love and comfort others in Bridget’s memory. So whether it’s that you involve your kids by volunteering, giving, or doing an act of kindness (in memory of your baby in Heaven), I believe it’s essential that they see that their sibling’s life continues to have an impact on this world.
Tip: Create random acts of kindness (RAK) cards with your baby in Heaven’s name. Print them out and give them to friends and family. Then, plan a day (e.g., your baby’s Heaven Day) to involve your Rainbow Baby and carry out random acts of kindness throughout your town (e.g., paying for someone’s groceries or fast food meal, bringing cookies to labor & delivery staff, etc.). You can even include your name and email on the card if you’d like for people to contact you to share stories of being impacted by your RAK!
Bonus: You can visit Bridget’s Cradles blog to find a downloadable list of 50 Random Acts of Kindness you can do in memory of a baby in Heaven, along with a free Canva template to make a personalized RAK card in memory of your baby (see below).
I hope that these ideas will help your Rainbow Babies remember and honor their sibling in Heaven. I have found that raising my boys to remember their sissy in Heaven has given me so much comfort and peace in my own grief journey. And, I pray that it brings you hope and healing as well.
To read more about Bridget's Cradles and the resources we provide, visit www.bridgetscradles.com.