How do you plan your child’s funeral?
When I came home from the hospital I still looked pregnant. My bump was still there yet my baby was not. I hadn’t slept, not because my new born was keeping me up crying but because instead of that noise was the defining silence of our empty house, the relentless ache of my empty arms, an empty room which should have been hers.
Our house was full of cards and flowers, not of congratulations but of condolence. There were no ‘it’s a girl’ cards and big helium filled balloons, no sea of baby pink washing over the room. Instead there were white flowers and dull white cards with the inadequate words ‘with sympathy’ written across the front.
We were completely lost yet now we had to start making big decisions. We had to make plans for our daughters final farewell. How can that even be possible?
For many bereaved parents, given their age, this may well be the first experience of planning a funeral. The only funerals I’d ever been to were for old people, people who had led a full life and had many friends and family members left behind to share in the grief of this lost sole.
When your baby dies, often no one has even met them, let alone got to spend time getting to know them. Given this fact, its hard for people to talk about your baby. It’s hard for them to share in memories that they haven’t been involved in. How were we going to make the ‘right choices’?
When the minister arrived I still had no idea what | was going to say. No idea what I was going to ask for. I just had no idea about anything.
She was so kind. She was such a gentle woman who I instantly knew was the right person to choose. She explained that she had been the chaplain at a children’s hospital for many years so sadly, taking funerals for children was not new to her. She came so well prepared. She must have known that we didn’t have a clue what we were doing or what we wanted. She helped us understand what would happen on the day and had put together an order of service that she thought might be appropriate. It was. She chose some music that she thought we might like. We did. She just gently guided us in the decision making process, carefully leading us form one decision to the next without feeling rushed. She was fine with the fact that I cried all the way though. She made this process bearable.
With very little fuss we had made all the decisions necessary. We had made the biggest decision which was that we didn’t want anyone else there. Not because we felt alone, we knew we had people around us that cared but we wanted the only ones who met her to be there at her final goodbye. I honestly couldn’t imagine having anyone there, looking at me or offering their sympathy. I just wanted to be alone with my little family for the last time, undisturbed and peaceful. I will never stop wondering if this was the right choice to make.
I woke early on the 22nd of March 2013, heartbroken all over again that I’d woken and all of this had not been a dream. I looked outside to find that it had been snowing all night. There was a beautiful, clean blanket of white covering everything in sight.
I sat downstairs staring into my coffee, thoughts racing through my mind when it dawned on me, what was I going to wear? Sounds like quite a trivial thing really but at the time it seemed important. I had very little that fit me apart from my maternity clothes. What would be suitable? What should you dress like for a funeral? I opted in the end for my favourite maternity top. It was white lace and seemed smart enough. I didn’t know why I worried so much given the weather would dictate that I never took my coat off. The same white lace top, to this day, is neatly folded and in Isla’s memory box.
As we drove the short distance to the crematorium I remember how quite it was. It was like the whole world had stopped. The snow had muffled the sounds of the traffic and the people going about their day. As we pulled in I remember us being the only people there. We got out of the car and slowly made our way towards the doors. I looked round at the undisturbed snow with only the tiny heads of the spring flowers poking through. It really was a beautiful sight.
We slowly made our way in where the funeral director and the minister were waiting for us. Nothing had prepared me for walking into the chapel. Ahead of me was a long aisle surrounded by hundreds of empty seats. At the end of this isle, in the faint distance was Isla. A tiny white coffin lay alone on the alter. At that point it hit me like a train, I felt myself falling. My husband took one arm and the minister took the other as they carried me down the aisle, closer and closer to this tiny white box.
When I got there I spent time looking at the this beautiful white, lace covered coffin. It looked like the snow outside. I read the engraved silver plaque where it still seemed surprising to read her name.
We had decided against flowers but clutched in my hand was a single yellow rose. I couldn’t come empty handed. I’d chosen this as her dress had a delicate yellow rose knitted onto the front. As I lay it down on this bed of white it looked so beautiful. My last gift to her on this earth. It will never be enough but it’s all I had to give.
My only words of advice to any parent who is faced with this unbelievable, unthinkable horror is that any decisions you make during this time will be the right ones. You make the best decisions you can at the time. Future regret is pointless and self destructive. You made the right choices based on what you felt then. This can never be wrong.