“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
When my second son died, we were given a choice: “Would you like to take your son home with you? For burial on private property?”
Private property. Yes, that’s right. As in…our own backyard.
Like a pet that’s died…I remember thinking, but then immediately shoved that thought away, looked at the nurse in earnest and said, “What?”
The option of burial at home was ours because our son, Gabriel, was born just shy of twenty weeks gestation. In Washington state, any fetus born prior to twenty weeks gestation is not considered “human remains.” Therefore, that fetus can be buried on private property.
“We can take him home?”
“Yes. You can take your son home.”
So, that’s what we did. We took our dead child home. And here, this is where things began to feel…bizarre.
First, we walked out of the hospital with a dead baby. A baby swaddled in a cozy blue blanket, resting in a bassinet–like a child that was alive–except that he wasn’t. He was dead. This was pretty much impossible to explain to the old woman we passed in the hallway who flashed us a large grin as she leaned forward to peer into our bassinet only to see…what she saw.
“Get me out of here,” I remember leaning into my husband.
Then, we got into our car. With our three-year-old son, Julian, buckled into his car seat, my husband at the wheel, and myself in the passenger seat, I placed Gabriel–still in his doll-sized bassinet–onto my lap, and off we drove. Frozen, I waited. I had expected him to smell. He was, after all, dead. But there was no odor, none at all. And I was relieved, because…thank God…he was as pure as he truly seemed.
We went shopping next. It was odd to leave Gabriel in the car all by himself. But we needed to buy a “casket,” something to bury him in, which we quickly found (was its real purpose to be a jewelry box?) in a shop that featured local artists. After the casket, we bought a stone cherub to sit by his grave. And after that, we went to a toy store to buy Julian a gift to…distract. Finally, inevitably, we had to go home, a place we didn’t actually want to go because we knew that once we got there, that we would be required to dig a hole and place our child in the ground.
But, first I had to cook. Not for me–I don’t remember eating–but for Julian who, I pray, had no idea what was going on. Onto my kitchen counter went Gabriel in his bassinet. I can still see his face poking through the blanket, “watching me” as I worked, and I remember wondering if I was going insane. Finally, with the near-dead burying the dead…it was time.
In our side yard, near a flower garden, is where we buried him. When we first went outside to do our task, no one moved. We were frozen, Julian’s hand in mine, a shovel in my husband’s hand. Then, without warning, my husband’s body moved, and the shovel in his hands dug a hole. The digging of the hole wasn’t the worst part. Worse than that was placing him in that hole…then covering him up with dirt.
Stop!!! He can’t breathe!
Approximately three years later, my husband stood by that grave again, the same shovel in his hands. Our last son, Ki-Ki, had just died, and once again, the body was in our home. But this time when he dug the hole, it wasn’t to place a body within the earth, but to instead take a precious baby boy back out.
When Ki-Ki died, we made the difficult decision to dig Gabriel back up so that he and his brother could be cremated together. How strange it was to hear those same digging noises in our back yard, yet after nearly three years of having Gabriel outside in the ground, I finally felt a trickle of peace. I’d never found comfort in having him in the ground. My mourning heart had only been able to focus on the cold and wet outside, the loneliness and abandonment his soul must have felt, and also the imprisonment my family felt in never being able to leave or move from our home because he was out there.
Now, the two boys are together, their ashes resting in our home in a water biodegradable sea turtle urn that is designed for the placement of cremated remains in water. This urn will float briefly before sinking, when we finally decide that it is time, once again, to say…goodbye.
Sleep well, my babies. Momma loves you.
Thank you for “sharing” and “liking” any blog that moves you…♥
Photo credit of first cherub: just.Luc via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA. Photo credit of kissing cherubs: sofi01 via Visualhunt / CC BY-NC. Featured photo via Visual hunt.
Wow…My heart is breaking for your family’s journey, whilst at the same time being so amazed at how you have taken what would have to be one of the hardest things a parent could ever face, and turned it into a healing and positive force. Kudos on a beautifully written blog….not much moves me to tears on WordPress….but your posts have…. Thank you for sharing these intensely private moments. Bless….
Thank you so much. I feel so blessed to have readers who can understand both the pain and the beauty of my experience. I always try to remember that on the other side of grief is love…and hope. One just has to keep moving one foot in front of the other.
Wiser words have never been written…. Much love to you!!