After Loss, Bereavement Keepsakes Wrap NICU Families in Love and Support

Since 2013, Mayo Clinic NICU colleagues have sewn bereavement blankets and bags to help comfort families through some of the hardest times of their lives.

The Fourth of July is supposed to be a time for celebration. But one particular Fourth of July weekend inside the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester, Saint Marys Campus, it was not. "It was an awful weekend," says NICU nurse Laura Coons, of the weekend they say two families lost their tiny newborns.

It was a difficult time not just for the grieving families of those babies, but also for Coons and everyone in the NICU who'd tried to save them. "We realized we didn't have anything in the unit to give them other than our support to help them grieve the loss of their children," Coons says. "We wanted to give them something to remember their babies by. Leaving the hospital without a baby is crushing enough, but then to have nothing to memorialize your baby or to acknowledge their life existed hit home with several of us nurses."

So Coons and her NICU nursing colleagues did what they do best: they took action. "As our conversations grew, we looked into a bereavement gown that we could offer to families, and it just sort of took off from there," she says.

Today, in addition to bereavement gowns, Coons and her NICU colleagues also sew bereavement blankets and bags to help comfort families through some of the hardest times of their lives. "We made the first ones at my house in 2013," Coons says. The team sews sets of matching blankets: a small one for the baby and a slightly larger one for the families to keep. "Families have something to take home that's identical to what their baby was wearing in the NICU," she says. "We also make bags so parents don't have to carry their baby's precious items out of the hospital in a standard patient bag."

Done outside of work on their own time and at their own expense, the blankets and bags, Coons says, in true Mayo Clinic fashion, are a team effort. "We encourage everyone to help whether they know how to sew or not," she tells us. "We also need people to cut fabric, to iron, to bring snacks and beverages, and to help keep up our morale while we're turning these blankets out. Everybody in the NICU has a role in making them, and our gatherings are a super-fun way for us to get together outside of work and do something really great for our NICU families."

Most importantly, says fellow NICU nurse Amie Benson, they're a way to show families that she, Coons and everyone else in the NICU cares. "As nurses, we always just want to fix everything, but sometimes we can't," Benson says. "These blankets and bags are one way that we can let families know we're here for them and thinking of them after the loss of their child. It's something they can take home and hold on to as a memory of their baby."

Show us you care by sharing your comments below. You can use the handy social media tools atop the page to share this story with others.