Saying Hello And Goodbye One Last Time

February 24, 2017

By Sanda Rathamone

We dreaded making any decisions on cremation or burial. What parent would find it easy to do so, especially after only a brief encounter with your child? Visiting the mortuary was another tough thing we had to do. 

We visited to the mortuary a few times.

The first time was to decide what to do with our baby's body. (We took awhile to decide on what to do after the hospital.) We decided cremation would be the best and affordable option. Who knew that mortuaries feed off of the bereaved... It was worse enough that we were going through a loss and then to top it off, it was expensive to cremate our 20 week baby (I will not use the term 'fetus' because he is my child). However, the people who helped us were respectful and kind and I thank them for giving us the opportunity to make decisions as parents and to hear ourselves being called the mother and father of our son. It was nice though that we would receive the urn for free, however, the cost of the cremation emptied our pockets.

Being there felt surreal and I wasn't sure how to act. With maturity, I'm sure I handled the whole signing and paper-filling process well. But, inside, I felt so empty and wasn't really sure why I was there... I should be at home, safe in bed with my son in my pregnant belly and my partner beside me, kissing me and talking to our baby...

Paper work felt like it was going to take forever to complete. I just wanted this to be over. They offered us snacks, coffee, and tea, but that didn't comfort nor made me feel any better. The room we were in felt cold, dank, and dark. Lights flickering. The table was way too big for the size of the room, the chairs made things feel too formal, emotionless. The decor made me feel as though the walls were closing in on me. The woman who helped us tried her best to offer warmth and cheerfulness, but I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to pretend to smile at their kindness and formality, but I did so anyway. It felt like we were making a simple business transaction with false smiles, cold handshakes, and awkward hugs. We also didn't get to see our son, since he was still at the hospital and the mortuary needed our permission to transfer him.

In the second visit, we were there to see Elijah, say our goodbyes, and finalize papers and payment.

When we got there, we waited in the waiting area. It seemed like awhile until we were met with an older man who wore an interesting, "happy" shirt. I was sitting on a chair and the first thing he did was walk up to me and kneel. He commented on my necklace. (It was a companion to smaller portion of the necklace in the shape of hearts). He thought it was precious that I was wearing the outer half of the necklace while Elijah was wearing the inner half. He then led us into the room.

As we entered, the room was dimly lit and soft music flowed above us. Elijah was on top of what looked like a wheeled table in a small tray covered with a dark blue heavy cloth underneath and a sheer, glittery veil on top of him. Elijah's teddy bear was also there next to him, it was with him since the hospital as well. He asked if we wanted him to unveil Elijah, we complied. Ever so gently and silently, he uncovered our son. Afterwards, he gave us some privacy.

Seeing him in this way was a tough sight. It was difficult seeing how his body had deteriorated and sunken. It was like the first day that I saw and held him all over again, I was afraid to touch him. Here lies our son, tiny, short-lived, innocent and lifeless. He didn't deserve this. We didn't hold him. All there was left was to gently stroke his tiny head. His nose was still a precious little thing... Silent tears flowed from my eyes and I still felt the need to apologize for everything that had happened. I was his mother and I was supposed to protect him from something like this. I was supposed to keep him safe.

We covered him back up, sat on the couch and grieved silently for awhile. We talked a little bit of what could or would have been. We were a family, only our son was here, but also not here.

The man who met us earlier returned with water bottles and mentioned that some like to cut off a piece of their hair and tie it to their loved ones; in that way, a piece of them would be part of the ashes. I wasn't sure it was an idea that made any sense, since Elijah was already a part of the both of us. But, we did so anyway. We cut a chunk of the ends of my hair and tied it around Elijah's teeny tiny hand. I'm glad we decided to do it, it gave me a small sense of closure and peace. We then decided to take home his necklace and teddy bear and then were transferred to another room to finalize some papers and payment. It would be weeks later that his ashes were ready.

The third and last time we were there went by quicker.

We were met with another man who handled the ashes. It was a change of scenery, walking to a different part of the mortuary. He asked who's ashes we were picking up. When we mentioned it was our son, he commented on how hard that would be, since he was a father himself. We entered a small room with a desk and urns behind a glass door. He pulled out a small, wooden urn along with a cloth bag. We signed more papers. He gave us his card in case we ever needed to contact him and asked if we were going to "try again." Sure, we were and he said, "Alright, that's a way to go."

Saying 'thank you' to him was a bit confusing, what were we thanking him for? Maybe for his professionalism and condolences...

Going through this process was another heavy thing on our shoulders. But, what we didn't realize was that this was not the last time we were going to see our son. We see and feel him everywhere.

Death was not an ending, just a transformation of one form to the next.

* Read the full story about Elijah:

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