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By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

When a child passes away in a hospital, a health professional known as a spiritual care practitioner is brought in to console parents and guide them through the long and arduous grieving process.

The loss of child is one of the most difficult experiences in life, Patrick Dupuis, a spiritual care practitioner for the CIUSSS de l’Estrie - CHUS, said in an interview. It’s important to create a space to commemorate and honour the passing of the child, he explained.

Dupuis and the rest of the Granby staff have delivered special services to grief-stricken families for a long time. But it is often an unstructured process. It was only recently that he decided to strengthen the hospital’s offerings.

“It’s not a religious ritual; it’s absent of any religious affiliations or what not, and basically what we do is we light up a little lamp in the form of a star,” said Dupuis. “We light up the star in memory of the child that has passed.”

The hospital launched its Shooting Star Project on Monday. It’s a mourning ritual created by Dupuis with full support from the Eastern Townships local health authority and financed by the Fondation du Centre hospitalier de Granby (CHG).

When a death occurs for children between 0 and 17 years old, parents and medical staff are asked to place a star near the child as a final tribute. This is followed by a moment of silence, instrumental music, and testimonies.

“The music helps people to just stop what they’re doing and realize that even though this child was only with us for a few months or a few years, they have their dignity and we need to honour that life that has passed,” Dupuis said.

But it doesn’t end there. The hospital partnered with International Star Registry, a star registration system based in Canada. Parents can choose a star from the Little Dipper and name it after their child.

“It’s one of the only constellations that’s visible in North America year-round, so imagine a parent who’s going through their grieving process for the loss of a child and they walk outside and they look up to see a star that’s been symbolically named after their child,” he said.

According to Dupuis, astronomers will continue to use the star’s scientific code, but through the registry the name of the child will last forever. Parents are handed a certificate and a framed photo of the location of their child’s star at the end of the service.

Dupuis said the key to the project is to show empathy and compassion. The ritual takes about 15 minutes, he added, but the message is to show the hospital cares about their situation. Medical teams don’t claim to have walked in their shoes, Dupuis said, they just want to help.

The long-time spiritual care practitioner was driven to change the process after the death of a baby named Léonard in Granby Hospital’s emergency room last September. The medical staff at the time placed little hearts beside Léonard in a display of unity.

He said they brought the family back to the hospital in November, however, to give them the first star of their new project. He spent some time with Léonard’s parents to talk to them about how their son was the inspiration behind the project.

Dupuis said without support from Fondation du CHG they would never have been able to get the initiative off the ground. The plan is to implement the Shooting Star Project throughout all hospitals based in the Townships.

“I would like to see it in the rest of the hospitals in the CIUSSS de l’Estrie-CHUS and I am going to ask that it be considered,” said Dupuis. “In the long run I think it will be, but it’s just a question of time before it finds its way into the other hospitals.”

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