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  • Jordan D. Smith

New Foundation Serves Grieving Parents

Portlanders Pat and Carolyn Heckman were overjoyed to learn that they were expecting another child. Like most expectant parents, they eagerly followed the growth of their baby at regular OB appointments and made preparations like buying a crib. They decided early on to name their son Jacob Daniel Heckman. “I remember the relief we felt when the doctor declared us "safe" from the threat of miscarriage,” said Heckman, “after all, we were reassured, most losses occur early. We had felt our son move and heard his heartbeat.” At about 20 weeks of development though their hopes for the future new member of their family came to a sudden end when their son died. The Heckman’s are part of the 1 in 4 couples who have lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth, or death in infancy.

“I had always thought that I could relate to those who had suffered miscarriage or stillbirth just because I was a woman and a mother, but we were totally unprepared for the experience,” said Heckman. The family received support from their health care providers, funeral director, friends, and family in the days and weeks following the stillbirth of their son. “Still, there was an unmet need. We needed someone who had been there, who could really understand and who could help mentor us...from a parent's point of view,” says Heckman.

In response to that need, the Heckman’s founded the Jacob’s Ladder Foundation (JLF) named to honor the memory of their son. The JLF is a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of miscarriage, stillbirth and infant loss, and supporting families affected by such losses. In their first major project, the JLF is partnering with the City of Portland to build a columbarium at the Portland Cemetary for the burial of infant remains. A columbarium is a large stone memorial with vaults on the exterior of the structure to hold human remains or cremains. “It was important to us that no family be excluded from that opportunity because of financial reasons,” Heckman told the Beacon. Therefore, the place for burial will be offered without charge to any family suffering the loss of a child through miscarriage, stillbirth, or during infancy. In addition the JLF will provide funerary items like coffins, burial gowns, and engraving of the child’s name or family name on the memorial without charge.

The building of the columbarium and maintenance of services is projected to cost $30,000 over five years and will be completely funded by donations to the JLF. The planned columbarium will have space for as many as 500 remains. “Pat and I want to honor the brief life of our son and the great love we have for him. There is not a single day that we don't think of him. Our children still pray for him every night. However, this project doesn't just honor him, it is a memorial to all the lost children of our community. We wanted to create something that will serve our community for years to come,” Heckman said. “Once the project is complete, those who have had losses, even if they were long ago or [who] no remains to bury, can have their child's name engraved on the memorial and a place to go for remembrance and healing,” Heckman told the Beacon.

The JLF hopes to have funds raised in the coming months so that the project can be started by October 15th, which is the National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. To kick off this fundraising effort, the JLF is partnering with the Catholic Order of Foresters to hold a spaghetti dinner Saturday, February 8th from 5-8 pm. The fundraiser is being held at the Knights of Columbus Hall at 619 Maynard Rd in Portland. The menu includes, spaghetti, salad, bread, and dessert. The cost for adults is $10, children 5-12 are $5, and children 5 and under free. Donations toward the project are also accepted. The JLF is a 501c3 registered non-profit organization and all donations are tax-deductible. Donations can be made to: Jacob's Ladder Foundation, 5455 Goodwin Rd, Lyons MI 48851.

For more information readers can visit, follow the Jacob’s Ladder Foundation on Facebook, or contact Carolyn at 734-368-6446 or

PHOTO: Courtesy of Jacob’s Ladder Foundation.

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