Elizabeth Grace, Senior Corporate Partnerships Fundraiser at Sands, attended the Sands Garden Day and Remembrance Event for the first time on 11 June 2016. Here she gives an account of the day and what it means to parents and families of babies who have died.
This was the 16th annual Sands Garden Day and Remembrance Event at the National Memorial Arboretum. The first part of the service took place in a large marquee with rows of seats for the service and a more informal area at the back, where families could sit before the service began and eat their picnics. Apparently, when the Garden event first started, families would sit and eat picnics in the memorial garden then hold a service in the chapel; this is a nod to that tradition.
Families started arriving at about 12:30pm and were invited to take a small stone as they entered the marquee and take time to write their baby's name and a message to them. People had the opportunity to browse the merchandise on sale and socialise with each other and also write a message to hang on the trees at the front of the marquee.
The service itself began at 2pm with the lighting of a candle followed by a collection of readings, poems and songs. The mood was very emotional but also quite uplifting with a real sense of togetherness. I had expected the atmosphere to be sombre, but it wasn't at all, as people obviously felt very safe and supportive of each other. There were also a lot of children present too and Julie, Fundraising Officer at Sands, made sure to let everyone know at the start of the service that it was perfectly alright if they cried, and parents should not feel that they would have to leave if their children made any noise. This was great because it added to the family friendly feel to the day. Julie also provided colouring pencils, books and teddies for the children.
Readings included an extract from Winnie the Pooh, The Snowdrop and Life is Like a Butterfly and songs by Celine Dion and Mariah Carey were played. Throughout the service, many cried or were visibly emotional. The memorial trees were stood on either side of the microphone and stand and looked really striking with all the tags hanging on the branches. We also opened the windows behind the trees so the tags fluttered in the breeze.
When the service ended, people had half an hour to make their way to the Sands Garden and lay their stones. Once everyone was gathered, Judith Abela, Acting Chief Executive at Sands, thanked everyone and gave a short speech just summarising the day and saying how each and every baby will always be loved.
The weather was good and it didn't start raining until about half an hour after the service had finished. This made the walk over the garden and the time spent laying pebbles even more special as people could take time to look at all the different pebbles and quietly reflect.
At the end, each family was given a special memorial teddy with a special label attached with forget-me-not seeds inside. We enough so that people could take teddies for friends who couldn't attend on the day.
One bereaved mum told me how important events like the Garden Day are in helping her to come to terms with the death of her baby as she feels that she is doing something special. She said that she finds it really comforting to be with other families whose babies have died and to share the experience with them.
Overall it was a really special and memorable day. Even though there were lots of tears and sadness, there was also a lot of laughter, love and support. It made me and my husband (yes, I roped him into coming to help but he thanked me in the end) feel very proud to be part of it and also reinforced just how important and necessary this event is.