June 2, 2014, was the morning we buried her. The night before consisted of ironing little J’s white shirt, deciding it was okay for him to wear his sneakers to the funeral, shopping for myself to find clothes to wear to my daughter’s funeral. Ann Taylor Loft is my trusty go-to not even a mile away from my home. I try on several black and white and cream colored clothing, only to be staring back at a woman who is still in udder shock. Nothing fit. I am praying the entire time that I will not make eye-contact with a sales associate who will ask me if I’m finding what I am looking for. I so want to blurt out that I wish I wasn’t shopping for an outfit for my daughter’s funeral, tomorrow.
I leave the venue with a pair of earrings and sunglasses since aren’t your eyes supposed to be hidden from everyone else’s?
I scramble back home to find a friend dropping off dinner and dessert and other friends who happened to drop in while I was away. They ask, “So, did you find something?” to which I say, “Not really.”
We eat pasta and watch a cartoon on Netflix with our son that evening and I cannot remember the rest except that night going up the staircase realizing for the first time how eerily quiet it is in the house.
The walls of this house were supposed to be echoing cries from a baby after coming home from the NICU.
Somehow, I sleep through the night and I immediately report my son’s absence from school in the morning. In the ‘Reason’ box, I type in, sister’s funeral.
It was as if I was calling out to the school to show my boy love when he returned. I wanted his teacher and the secretaries to brainstorm ideas on how to make him not feel alone at school. But, really, he’s probably the only first grader who has had to go to his dead baby sister’s funeral.
We have breakfast and J asks questions, we assure him that everyone in attendance will know he is the brother and there will be a different feeling around the circle of close family and friends. There will be crying, there will be sad people, there will be his sister in a cream-colored box.
We grab flowers that were ordered from the florist to place atop her casket. Purples, pinks, whites, baby’s breath.
We drive to the cemetery alone in our freshly-washed white sedan (apparently a tradition). Just like I never planned my wedding as a child, or thought about mothering before marriage at all, I never planned on burying the dead- let alone my own daughter.
A black luxury sedan in front of us pulls into the cemetery at the same time we do. It stops at the gate. A man, with sunglasses on, gets out and heads toward our car. My husband gets out and soon it is apparent to me they know one another. The man pats my husband on the shoulder and they exchange a few words before both return to their vehicles.
We follow Ken. The man that carried my baby in her casket in his car that morning. As we arrive on scene, I’m shocked at the number of cars already parked beside ‘Babyland’ – a small sized lot dedicated to infants and small children.
As I greeted others, my husband went to that black sedan and took our daughter out of the car. I had no idea it was happening until later. How could I not know she was actually in that car? I felt ill-advised. Like the day of our wedding I accidentally gave my husband my right hand to put the ring on.
Was she in the trunk? Was she in the backseat? Was she secured? Was she dressed? Was she treated with dignity? Did they ever leave her alone?
In hindsight, I saw myself numb to the fact that I was never going to see her again. I laughed, cried minimally, spoke loudly- things someone does when they aren’t in their right mind. Oh- did everyone else know it was a sad day except for this baby’s mother. How could she be appearing happy and not sullen and weepy?
Did I really memorize her features? Why did I not hold her long enough? Why didn’t I peek in the casket? How could I have denied my son his baby sister by not holding her?
After the funeral, we ran into Ken a few times around town. I barely recognized the man in street clothes, but I knew it was him as soon as he spoke; his eyes soft, his tone respectful and attentive, the hand he always used to pat my husband’s shoulder, the care in the questions he asked about how we were doing.
Ken. If you ask me, that must be the hardest job in the world; burying infants, children, teens, adults in the midst of tragic accidents, suicides, murder… Thank you for our interactions last year that always left us a little more settled afterward. I have no doubt you treated Lea with dignity with the same soft touch and with the gentleness in your eyes. You played an integral role last year, as did most every other provider I came in contact with. These memories, I think, make or break the loss’s impact. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for just being you and for treating our family with great care and patience.