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Caskets for Stillborns

1/11/2019

By Andrew Fowler

It’s three in the morning, and Leo Grossman cannot fall asleep. Instead of squirming in bed and waking his wife, Joan, he decides to get up and go to the basement. There, he has a wood-working bench where he builds. What he is making is not simply a hobby. It’s not a gift for his wife. It’s not something for himself.

He is building 12 by 8 by 4 inch oak caskets for stillborn and miscarried babies.

Grossman is a member of the Harvey (N.D.) Council 5217, and a parishioner of St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church. Several religious sisters live in the parish, including Sister Mary Agnes Huber, who works in pastoral care at St. Aloisius Medical Center in town.

Sister Mary Agnes told Grossman of the hospital’s need for caskets for stillborn and miscarried babies. She asked the retired Grossman for his help knowing wood-working was his hobby and having seen his “Living Rosary” display in the parish’s social center. The rosary is made out of 4 by 4 inch blocks and over 100 feet long.

“When she saw that, she wondered if I could make these caskets and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it. I’ll see what they look like,’” said Grossman.

After he built a sample, Sister Mary Agnes was impressed and asked for 10 more. At that point, Grossman turned to his council for some assistance.

“I approached our council and asked if they would be interested in paying for the supplies to make them, because it takes about $30 worth of supplies to make one, and they said by all means, that’s what we’ll do,” said Grossman.

The council raised the funds through breakfasts and private donations. Since Sister Mary Agnes’ first appeal in the fall of 2017, they have been able to cover the cost of more than 20 caskets. Now, Grossman is building caskets for parishes throughout North Dakota and one in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Because of the council’s fundraising, parents who lost a baby do not have to worry about payment. Grossman and the council donate the caskets.

“It makes you feel good because I didn’t know there was a need for it,” said Grossman. “And once I found out there was, it just feels good to help people and especially when you can you do it for nothing.”

Grossman has been approached by several parents who told him funeral homes suggested they bury their stillborn and miscarried babies in a plastic container or cooler.

“I had no idea there was this kind of call for this, there were people who called me and said, ‘If only we had had this when my daughter had a miscarriage,’” said Grossman.

The Grossmans understand what these parents are going through. The couple lost their only child, David, when he was killed in a car accident at the age of 15 more than 30 years ago. Grossman now feels that through his work he can help parents through the grieving process.

“My wife and I grieved for a long time, and we always felt that if we could ever help people through this that would be a good feeling,” said Grossman. “That’s the reason, I guess, I’m doing this is that — to help other people.”

Grossman’s work to give babies a dignified burial is just one way that Knights of Columbus show their commitment to helping others understand, value and cultivate respect for the human person, both in life and after death. He often attends the services at the local cemetery, where there is a row of graves, with small headstones, etched with “Baby” and their surname.

“We are put on this earth to bury our dead,” said Grossman. “We’ve got to prove our point too, life starts at conception.”

To learn more about the Knights, click here.

To share your story, email Andrew.Fowler@kofc.org