Conley receives Excellence in Caring award

First-ever award named in his honor
AURORA—Bruce Conley received the first-ever Bruce Conley Excellence in Caring Award from The Alliance of Perinatal Bereavement Support Facilitators—Chicago Region on July 22 at Provena Mercy Center in Aurora.

Nancy Schmitz, a member of the Alliance, said the award was named in Conley’s honor because he embodies the spirit of caring and compassion that they would like to see in all who care for families experiencing this difficult type of loss.

“Conley was recognized for the great appreciation, and respectful, caring way he cares for babies and how parents can have the time that they want to be with their child, no matter his or her size,” Schmitz said at the ceremony. “The life stories (obituaries) that Conley writes come from the hearts of the parents as they talk to Conley about how much this little one meant to them. He has the gift of being able to put into words the heartfelt emotions of this baby’s family, and the result is a beautiful narrative that affirms the life and value of this child.”

Schmitz said when other children and siblings are present and parents are struggling to know how to help them understand this sadness, Conley and his son, Ben, always take the time to explain in a way that the child can understand what has happened, what this thing called death means, and what grief can feel like. Their questions are answered and they have a beginning at understanding this hard life lesson.

Schmitz said Conley’s caring also extends to families, in that he would meet with them in their homes as arrangements need to be made. He built on the legacy of his parents’ work as funeral directors, and developed the aftercare program at Conley Funeral Home and the Conley Outreach program to be a resource for families after their loss.

“It is truly evident that being a funeral director is not just a job for Conley, it is a calling to which he has faithfully and humbly given his best,” said Schmitz.

Conley accepted his award on behalf of his brother, Wayne, who passed away as an infant.

Conley described his brother’s short time with his family when accepting the award.

“Wayne’s brief life in this world has now changed and touched four generations of the Conley family, and the way we choose to care for infants and their families. Wayne was born in 1948 with spina bifida. My mother was kept from him so she would not ‘bond’ with Wayne, and it was believed her grief would thus be lessened. Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth. Both my parents suffered greatly at Wayne’s death a few months after he was born. That suffering wrought a deep conviction that no other infant, no other parents entrusted to our care would ever face the profoundly compounded grief that cultural and religious norms of the day had caused,” he said.

“In order that women like my mother could see and hold their children days after death when they left the hospital (remember this is 1948), my father literally invented ways of embalming and caring for newborns that were unheard of at the time. My mother hand sewed countless tiny infant outfits, complete with lace for the girls and trousers for the boys. The setting for parents’ viewing was, and still is, in a cozy room with a rocking chair and a fireplace and anything else that could make a parent feel ‘at home’ at the very hardest time in their lives,” Conley said. “My parents taught me all of these things, and I endeavored to improve upon them as I was called to meet the challenges of newborn death in my own career.”

Conley concluded by saying, “So as I receive this award in my infant brother’s honor, I say to all of you: for every family with whom you ‘endure weeping for the night,’ may these families and you, yourself find that ‘Joy cometh in the morning,’ for I believe with all of my heart, that there will come a day when you will see them again; and they shall be whole, and healthy and anxious to tell you how grateful they are for the care you gave when they passed through your hands and left footprints on your heart. God bless you all and thank you.”

In the future, The “Bruce Conley Excellence in Caring Award” will continue to be presented by The Alliance to funeral homes in the Chicago region which embody a spirit of caring and compassion as they work with families who experience perinatal loss.

Founded in 1987, The Alliance is an interdisciplinary professional organization of individuals from organizations including hospitals, social service organizations, churches, funeral homes and hospices in the Chicago area who provide education, support and resources for individuals who care for grieving families and their babies. The members are nurses, social workers, chaplains, therapists, funeral directors, photographers and physicians who have a leadership role in their organization’s support program. They work with families who have experienced a perinatal loss—miscarriage, fetal death, stillborn or newborn/infant death.

Photo: (From left) Judy Friedrichs, RN, and Nancy Schmitz, RN, award Bruce Conley the first-ever Bruce Conley Excellence in Caring Award from The Alliance of Perinatal Bereavement Support Facilitators—Chicago Region on July 22. In the future, the award will continue to be presented by The Alliance to funeral homes in the Chicago region which embody a spirit of caring and compassion as they work with families who experience perinatal loss. Photo courtesy of Todd Hochberg