Five Days Later
“Life is sorrow, overcome it. Life is a song, sing it. Life is a struggle, accept it. Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it. Life is too precious, do not destroy it. Life is life, fight for it.” (Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta)
This is an area that I often hesitate to enter. It’s because I’m still coming to terms with it. Not sure if I will ever accept it. But sometimes, I revisit it. I revisit what happened five days later...five days after bringing my baby girl silently into the world. Five days later, when we buried her tiny body.
Let me explain what brought me there...
Today, I received a rose. And when I took in its fragrance, I was brought back to that very sad day in the funeral home. Prior to our arrival, I had been trying to breathe through each moment of that dreaded morning. How will I possibly do this? WHO does this? Is this really going to happen? I really didn’t know what to expect, so I just went forward. When we walked into the cold building, my walls of self preservation crumbled, and I felt like I would drop to my knees. I felt so faint. So dizzy. So weak. There was no strength in me. We joined our family and her godparents in the hospitality room, and I melted into every pair of arms that wrapped around my aching body. Then, it was time. Time for the private viewing.
My husband and I went in first with our children. And there it was. A tiny, white casket holding the child I had long awaited. The child robbed from my womb thirteen days too soon. The child I had delivered just five days before—silent, still, but so loved beyond measure. MY CHILD. MY BABY. MY LITTLE GIRL. THEIR SISTER. THEIR GRANDAUGHTER. THEIR NEICE. THEIR GODDAUGHTER. Tiny and beautiful. Dressed in a white gown, adorned with delicate pink stitched roses, and a bonnet on her dark locks. Could she be sleeping? Oh how I wish she only were.
I knelt before her. Oh God, help me breathe. I feel like I’m dying. The pain. It’s at my core. I want to die with her. How could this happen? Am I really staring at my dead baby in a casket? Her siblings reach to comfort me. They cry. I cry. Our sobs are audible. My body shakes. I might bleed out from this wound. It’s too big. Too deep.
I try to pray. I talk to her within my heart. I beg for her help. I want to pick her up and run away with her. But mostly, I inhale. I take in the aroma of the roses surrounding her casket until their scent infuses my memory. I NEED something. I will have NOTHING. I will never smell her hair again. Never smell her skin again. Never smell HER. Never. Never. Never...
Soft pink and brightly hued orange roses. Those were the only flowers for her casket spray. Orange for the color of roses I purchased the day I discovered she had made her home within me—the Feast of St. Therese. (A dear friend also brought me the same type of orange roses while I was in labor.). Pink because she was a GIRL. A little girl... The news that broke and filled our hearts at the same time.
Eventually, we would have to leave that room. I didn’t want to remember her physical appearance from that time, anyway. I wanted to keep within my mind how she had looked five days before. Not five days later. After a time, which could never be enough, and many tears later, we departed and headed to the church for her funeral Mass.
My heart doesn’t allow me to go to that space (of the Mass) too frequently. Mostly, it is a blur. I remember feeling so numb. In such disbelief. But the church was full, and there was a lot of love. I do remember that my tears wouldn’t stop.
We were having a FUNERAL MASS FOR HER. I wouldn’t be holding my baby in my arms on Sundays like I had envisioned. There would be no First Communion. No sacrament of marriage. It would begin and end right there. It was the same church she and I had been together in almost every single day for the past nine months. It was a beautiful liturgy, but it was too much to carry. My mind left my body during that time, and I began to think about what was next.
It was time for the burial.
We traveled back to where we had started our morning, just two miles from our home. Her resting place wouldn’t be on my chest, in my arms, or in the crib by my bed, after all; but rather in a stone box down the road from our house. As we followed the hearse, my mind played out how I thought her ride home from the hospital should have been. But, instead, “her ride home” had become a living nightmare.
We arrived to the burial sight where music and songs of praise were being offered. There were friends. And drenched bodies on that humid May afternoon. Hugs and wailing. Condolences and comfort. And there were prayers. “I lean not on my own understanding. My life is in the hands of the maker of heaven. I give it all to you, God. Trusting that you’ll make something beautiful out of me. ” All who were gathered were singing over us. Praying over us. Carrying us and trying to pick up our broken pieces.
I sat, limply, in one of the chairs set out for our family. This is not a seat of royalty. This is a seat of condemnation. The music continued, “I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open. I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open. There’s nothing I hold onto. Nothing I hold onto...” And simultaneously, she arrives. And ALL I WANT is to HOLD ON TO HER. And I think, “I DON’T WANT TO CLIMB THIS MOUNTAIN.”
I see her casket and the flowers. The wind blows. THE WIND. Come, Holy Spirit. YOU ARE HERE IN THIS PLACE. FIVE DAYS LATER. JUST LIKE FIVE DAYS BEFORE. I smell the roses. I take it all in. And I just break. And completely fall apart. My confusion compounds me, and I try to refuse all of it. Wish it all away. I want to escape. But I can’t. I’m stuck in that chair with the voices, the prayers, the wind, the roses, and her dead body hidden forever from my eyes. At the end, the gold crucifix we chose for her is placed in my hands by our priest, our friend. He is crying, too. Is THIS my GIFT? My reward for burying my child? (That crucifix now hangs on the wall in our living room above our mantle. A stark reminder of the beauty of what we lost that day.)
And the story goes on...
So, now, when I smell roses, I remember her presence and that day. The day I had to say goodbye to her FOREVER. That day that made everything so PERMANANT. So FINAL. The day that made everything real and verified that there was no turning back. This happened. The only choice now was to move forward...to “climb the mountain with hands wide open.” I can’t smell roses without feeling grateful and heart broken at the same time. Because in smelling them, I’m reminded of it all...that she grew within me, left me, and forever changed me. I remember that she existed. I remember that this pain has a purpose. And I acknowledge that one day I will be with her again on the mountain.