It started with a quick, mid-January phone call to her home church. Lt. Col. and R.N. Helen “Penny” LaQuay, who is stationed at Womack Army Medical Center in North Carolina, called Grace United Methodist Church asking for a favor.
“I knew that church was making prayer shawls because they had made one for me when I was deployed in Alaska,” LaQuay said. “And I said, ‘would you guys like to do something similar for people who lose babies, especially the earlier, littler ones? … and they said ‘yes, we would.’”
LaQuay has long since used hand-knit blankets to wrap the bodies of premature, lifeless babies when doctors handed them back to their parents. Once stationed in Killeen, she said it’s a practice that several military medical bases do, including Fort Hood. Knitted with prayers from church members, the blankets act as a physical permanent marker for a baby who was very real.
“It’s something very precious (to parents),” she said. “Some keep it forever because it’s the only link they have to that child.”
Becky Simpson, who heads Grace United Methodist Church’s new blanket initiative, said LaQuay has guided mothers through child loss for eight years, even going as far as picking up the deceased baby from the morgue.
“It’s kind of left on the shoulders of the nursing staff to help through the grieving process,” LaQuay said. “So (the parents) can say hello, so they can say goodbye.”
She admitted though that not everyone is cut out to deal directly with so much sadness. That’s why she thought enlisting the women of Grace United Methodist Church this way was a good idea, even though the women themselves seem to view their work with the same amount of compassion.
“Someone asked me if it was hard to do this for the babies,” said Susan Murphy, one of the church’s blanket makers. “I think you have to go past that. You have to go to the point where there’s the parents and they are in need.”
Now a community-wide effort, Grace United Methodist Church holds “knitting classes” for those who want to knit blankets or prayer shawls at 6:30 p.m. on church grounds Wednesday nights. Led by church member Becky Simpson, the knitted, crocheted, hand- or machine-sewn blankets range from 15 to 36 inches square or rectangle and more than 10 women are already busy making them.