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the visitation January 10, 2007

Posted by guinever in death, grief, loss.
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This is what I wrote in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep after my daughter’s funeral. It remains raw and un-edited.

I walked into the room. It was beautiful. Beautiful paintings. Watercolors. Appropriate. I liked it. Nothing chintzy. Funeral homes are usually chintzy. Nothing over the top. Somber. I quickly scanned the room, searching for the casket, wondering where it was. I saw it and looked away. It was on the other side of the room. Close, yet far away. The flowers. Oh, the flowers. The scent filled me. I circled the room, reading the cards to see who sent the pretty flowers. So many. So many churches that we have been a part of over the years or who know our parents. Todd’s coworkers. Family. Couples from my class. Names I don’t recognize. Everywhere.

Someone offered to take Mary from me. I held her tighter and closer and said, no I need to hold my baby who is still alive. Pink and yellow and more pink and a little purple. Babies’ breath and roses and carnations. Lilies and daffodils and hyacinths. Oh, so many colors to plant in the yard. Then I came to the box. I still couldn’t look. She was orange. I turned away until I was past it and continued my trip around the room. More flowers. The funeral directors were still bringing in vases and baskets of flowers. Abby liked flowers. “Pretty”, she said. The daffodils are blooming in our yard and she brought me one a few days ago. I wish I hadn’t already thrown it away. I was back in the place I had started by the door and I just kept reading the cards, overwhelmed by everyone’s generosity.

I cried. Todd came to me. He had already been close to her. I asked him if she was still swollen. I asked him if they had fixed her. He said yes, but she was still a little puffy around the eyes. I kept reading the cards. Couldn’t believe all these flowers. I came to the casket again. I glanced, and turned away. I needed to be far away when I looked. I walked away and then faced the box once again. I looked and I walked slowly towards her. But it wasn’t her. It was an orange shell, painted to resemble my baby. Plaster, clay, fake. A dummy. She wore my baby’s clothes, but my baby wasn’t there. It wasn’t Abby anymore. Pastey. Yucky. Orange makeup. The purse was in the crook of her arm, like she carried it. Just like I told the man to do it. Her hair was curly. I told them not to make it curly. I told them her hair had been wispy. I told them to just wash it and let it be wispy. But they had made it curly. They hadn’t listened. I said, “This isn’t Abby.” I don’t want people to see her like this. It isn’t her. She’s gone. It’s just an empty orange and ugly shell. I was shaking and I closed the box, messing up the roses that Amy had picked out. Todd went to tell the funeral director. The man said he would close the box the proper way. The man came and told everyone to turn away. He tucked everything in and fixed the flowers. When he was done, he said he left the purse in there and he would get it later for me. He remembered that I wanted it back. At least he remembered something.

Mary was fussy. I chose one of the couches and sat down and rocked and nursed my little Mary. Oh Mary, my baby, my comfort. Todd brought me a little card. I asked him what it was. It had a teddy bear on the front of it. Cheesy. Too cute. I didn’t like it. It had the funeral info inside and Abby’s birthday and death. I asked him again what it was. Todd said it was for people to take, a remembrance. Where did it come from? A dumb, cutesy, wrong poem about children dying being angels. I asked him what they were for. He told me to relax and that it was OK. It wasn’t OK. I should’ve come. I should’ve come and picked out the cards. People will think I wrote this, or that this is what we want to say. I can’t give this to people. It should have Scripture on it. Or be plain. A teddy bear holding a bunny? Stupid. Dumb. Why didn’t I come to the funeral home to make the arrangements? Details. I hadn’t done any of the details. Everyone else was handling the details. Todd said he’d take care of it. He took the cards away. Then I asked about the guest book. What guest book did they get? I had seen a list of guest book choices on the order form Todd had brought home. I wanted to know what guest book they chose. Todd said he didn’t know anything about a guest book. His dad said he guessed they got the default. They brought the guest book in. When I looked at it many hours later when the visitation was over, it had the same dumb teddy bear on the front with the same stupid poem in it. Oh well. The details.

My dad brought me water and he tried to take the handkerchief from my hand. He said I had been using it long enough and it was time for a new tissue. I opened my hand and told him it wasn’t a tissue. I asked him if I had told him about the handkerchief. He said no. So I told him that Jan gave it to me. She had used it at Petros’ funeral. My dad choked up, did a quick 180 and left the room.

Take a deep breath. I called to Todd and he turned to me. I patted the seat next to me, indicating he should sit beside me. He came to me. We opened the doors and people were already waiting. Chris was the first to come to me. Chris and Natalie. She said she was going to leave but later, I saw her across the room from me nursing Natalie. Jodie sat next to me nursing Rebekah. Ah, the milk was flowing and it was comforting to still have a baby in my arms when my other baby was in a box across the room, but not really in the box because it wasn’t her anymore. The handkerchief wasn’t in my hand. Where did it go? Oh there it is. People kept coming to me and hugging me, disturbing Mary. I was gracious. God gave me strength. People came to me with tears and I was strong. I was comforting them.

Dr. Campbell came. I knew she would. I had called the office to cancel the girls’ checkups and asked for Dr. Campbell to call me back. I wanted her to know. The nurse had asked me what it was about and I blurted it out. She was shocked. I told her no need to have Dr. Campbell call me afterall–she could tell her. Now Jackie is here. She said she couldn’t believe I had the presence of mind to call the office. I said I wanted her to know because I knew she loved Abby. Always said “abba dabba do” when we went to the office. Always commented how beautiful she was. Abby never had the stranger anxiety with her like most babies. Jackie asked me how the boys were. I told her Alex was having a hard time. She said that she could tell.

Amy came and asked me what flowers I wanted to leave at the church after the funeral. What flowers I wanted at the dinner. The funeral director wanted to know. I looked around me, overwhelmed. I couldn’t decide. I told Amy to choose. I didn’t care. Just something big and beautiful.

Then I saw the three men in uniform. I recognized one of them. He approached me, awkwardly. Someone introduced them to me. I wasn’t paying attention to the names. I choked up. I was remembering. I was remembering the details. The awful scene. I was sitting on the steps rocking back and forth repeatedly crying in a voice not my own, “my baby my baby.” Abby was limp in my arms, her face turning blue. Puffy and swollen. Her hair matted with blood. I didn’t know what to do. I wondered if I did the wrong thing in picking her up. Should I have left her there on the pavement? I couldn’t do that. I hoped I didn’t make it worse by moving her. The firetruck pulled up first. The sirens blaring and loud. Then the police car, wheels screeching as the car turned to block the road. Where was the ambulance? We need the ambulance. We need to get to the hospital right away. Back to the present. The room went silent and everyone turned towards me sitting on the couch looking up at the men in uniform. I asked him if he was the one who took Abby from me. He said yes. I told him I didn’t want to give her to him, that he had to take her. He said he knew. Said that he was sorry. So nice of him to come. I cried and I thanked him. I asked him if they were policemen or paramedics. He said they were fireman. Oh. Then they were gone.

More people came. My dad brought me water. Todd had left me long ago, standing near the door. He was surrounded by reporters and editors and photographers. I was surrounded by women and babies. I could see my mom on the couch across from me. I didn’t know we had so many people who cared. Strange. All of our worlds colliding together. My family. Todd’s family. Herald Leader staff. Friends from all the churches we’ve been a part of. Doulas and midwives and couples with their babies. And strangers who had lost their babies too.

Then I saw Pastor Sabella. And I remembered. He had been the one who had baptized Abby. Right? I wasn’t certain. I should be certain. When he and Fran came to me, I said, you baptized Abby, right? And he said yes. And again, I cried. Not many people made me cry. And then I saw Coral. And I cried again. I was hoping she wouldn’t come, hoping she would just stay home for Spring break. She desperately needed the rest and she had been looking forward to getting away from school and back to her family. Yet, I had wanted her to come. She had just left us and would be back in a couple weeks. It was such a long drive. Her mother had brought her to me and I was thankful. Coral sat at my feet. I was glad she was there. Many people thought she was my sister. No, Lizzie was to my left a little, standing with other family.

I was sitting on the couch, nursing Mary. Switching sides. Burping and rocking and nursing. Mary cried and cried. So I went outside. Lizzie followed me. I’m glad. I didn’t want to be alone. Then I saw Sara. Still wearing her white coat. She was sorry. I know. I told her I was sad she was leaving UK. Women need midwives. Midwives care. Stupid doctors. Why did they have to drive her away? She hugged me and we walked back to that room together. More visitors. More babies. Mary was fussy again so we went outside again. This time Anne arrived and came to me. We were alone. That was good. Anne had been with me in birth and now she was with me in death. She told me Beth couldn’t come. Really wanted to be here. Had gotten a pass to leave the hospital, but her leg was swollen and she couldn’t come. She left me and went inside. I waited a couple more minutes, enjoying the fresh air.

The doorman was half asleep and didn’t notice I was coming back in. Todd was still surrounded by people I didn’t know. People he worked with, who cared about him and us. Andy and Nate came over and wanted to know if it was alright if they took the boys back to the hotel to go swimming. Yes and no. I know that was the plan. But I was afraid of letting them out of my sight. I didn’t want one of them to drown. I didn’t want to lose another child. I said yes. I had to let go and trust Andy and Nate to take care of my boys. And I needed to trust God. To let him be God. Please don’t take another one of my babies, Lord.

Occasionally, Todd would introduce me to one of his co-workers. What can I say? Certainly not, “Nice to meet you.” This occasion is terrible and I wouldn’t be shaking your hand if it weren’t for that. This isn’t a party. I can’t have fun and mingle and meet new people.

Burping and rocking and nursing and moving the pillow from side to side. I couldn’t find the handkerchief. Where was it? I kept dropping it when I moved Mary around. There it was under the burp rag. Take a deep breath. It was a constant struggle to keep Mary happy, to soothe her. More people offered to take her. Strangers wanted to hold my Mary. I always said, “No thanks. I need to hold her right now.” I had to go outside again. For Mary. For me too. Mary needed to get out of the room. She knew. She always stopped crying when we got out of the crowd of people. This time Katie came to me. Rae was with her. Timing. God was making Mary cry when my midwives and doulas were arriving at the funeral home and He was giving me precious minutes alone with the women I needed. Katie was with me in birth and now death just like Anne had been. Abby had been the little midwife at Mary’s birth. Katie told me she was worried when she came to me in labor and Abby was there. Toddlers don’t usually do well at a birth. But Abby was present and helpful and quiet and attentive. A little midwife. I had asked Katie the last time I had talked with her when Abby could start as her apprentice. I turned to go back inside and Katie and Rae followed.

My dad brought me water. I was grateful. Every 20-30 minutes or so he brought me water. A task. I think he was glad to have a task. Helpful. He wanted to be helpful. And he was. I glanced at my watch. Good. Five hours down, one more to go. Take a deep breath. Mary is fussing. She just really finds this room oppressive. She is inconsolable. We leave and go outside. But she doesn’t stop crying like she had the first 3 times. I go to the family lounge. Annetta is there and I thank her for bringing Coral to me. I change Mary’s diaper. We have to stay awhile. She just doesn’t want to stop crying. Gas? Maybe. Finally, she’s quiet. Todd comes looking for me. Hopes I’m OK. We walk together back to the room. I ask him to please stop introducing me to his co-workers. I don’t want to be sociable with strangers. He tells me they had asked to be introduced. Oh. OK. I guess that’s alright. I thought he was just introducing me for the heck of it. We walk through the doorway and immediately Mary starts to cry. Todd notices. She really doesn’t like this room. I pace with her. There aren’t so many people here now and I feel comfortable, not so vulnerable. I can stand rather than sit. It’s almost over. Yet it’s just beginning. The rest of my life without Abby. Time stopped. Weird. Cruel and unusual.

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Comments»

1. Angie - January 11, 2007

The tears still fall…
Thank you for sharing this – I don’t think you did at the time, I don’t remember reading this one. It still makes me cringe with pain and sorrow to imagine what you went through – what you still do.
I remember Abby – I love her and love the memories that she left the few short times I got to see her, and the memories that you are so generous to share.

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2. Deanna - January 16, 2007

What you’ve written is important and good. So many people who’ve lost a child or any other loved one and will find it, your careful thorough description, and know either what to expect, or validation for what they also went through.

I’m glad you put it here.

Take care.

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3. guinever - January 16, 2007

Thank you for your encouragement, Deanna.

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4. Richard respect - April 4, 2007

Thanks for sharing your memories. My cousin also just passed away. I would like to help her to give her a place to grief and share with others.
Take care
Richard

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