When Abigail Jorgensen was growing up, her mother often brought her and her siblings to funerals at their parish. Her mom saw this as an important way to ensure that every person had someone to grieve along with them. This had a huge impact on how she viewed death, and she came to see the beauty of how the Catholic Church memorializes a person’s life and honors them in death. Jorgensen said, “This experience taught me that the gift of being present when someone has died is a gift that is beautiful in and of itself.”
It was from these experiences as a young child that led Jorgensen to become a bereavement doula as an adult. A bereavement doula is someone who walks with parents experiencing a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss. As a young adult, she had been around many families who experienced pregnancy loss and tried to help in whatever way she could but felt that she was in over her head. So, she sought out training on grief support, specifically spiritual support for those suffering loss. Through seeking out these resources, she learned about the ministry of bereavement doulas and felt called to pursue it.
Now Jorgensen works with a diverse population of clients, including Catholics and non-Catholics, people who have suffered a recent loss and those who suffered a loss decades ago. What being a bereavement doula entails can look different from person to person as well. Jorgensen will accompany them to the hospital and be with them through medical procedures such as D&Cs when the baby died in utero or labor and delivery in the cases where a baby is only expected to live for a short time after birth. Jorgensen is also trained as a labor doula, and these skills can be useful in those difficult situations as well. Sometimes her work as a bereavement doula means helping someone mourn a loss, no matter how long ago that loss occurred. Jorgensen said, “Having a ritual to memorialize the loss, even decades later, can be so meaningful and beautiful and help you walk with your loss, even after so much time has passed.”
Ashley Johnson met Jorgensen shortly after she found out that she was projected to miscarry in her pregnancy. Ashley said, “Abby came into my husband’s and my life at one of the hardest seasons of our lives as a bereavement doula. I had no idea such a ministry existed.”
Johnson went on to say that when they discovered their baby had died in-utero, “We were devastated, lost and confused. She provided many resources and literature pertaining to our Catholic faith that brought me comfort and a deeper understanding of this traumatic time in our life. Abby even brought us a meal and lovingly did a load of laundry for us.”
Johnson shared that she and her husband decided to name their baby Ezra Ley, and she felt a great comfort when Jorgensen would refer to Ezra by name. She said that Jorgensen was “an invaluable part of my husband’s and my journey. We appreciate her love, compassion and ministry.”
“If I could just make one person feel less alone in that process of saying hello and goodbye so quickly, that would make all this worth it. The power that presence can have is really just amazing,” Jorgensen commented.
Jorgensen greatly encourages her fellow Catholics to not be afraid to try to reach out to those suffering a pregnancy loss. She said, “I feel like fear of saying the wrong thing holds people back from trying but having the courage to overcome this fear and trying to help in any way is something that I would really encourage more Catholics to try.”
Jorgensen has also seen a particular need for priests to receive this sort of training and advocates for spiritual leaders to equip themselves to be able to minister to those undergoing this type of loss. She noted that when she has given talks to priests in the past, she always encourages them to have a conversation with a woman who has undergone a pregnancy loss to better understand what this experience can be like.
For anyone interested in learning more about supporting someone through a miscarriage, stillbirth or infant loss, Jorgensen maintains a website at abbythesociologistdoula.com/services/trainings/holding-space-for-pregnancy-loss/.
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