It was no ordinary Monday, not for our family, and most certainly not for our 4-year-old daughter.

In fact, ordinary had been nowhere to be found for almost two months due to the pandemic. No quick breakfasts and making lunches. No reminders to get dressed, brush teeth, and finally get those shoes on. No rushing out the door to get to school and work. No, we’ve been home for two months. Our routines upended.

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But, this Monday didn’t even fit into our new abnormal. This Monday morning, we actually had somewhere to be. We were leaving the house. My father-in-law had died, and we were having a small, immediate-family only viewing and graveside service.

While nothing prepares us for the death of a loved one, having them die in the middle of a pandemic is exponentially more challenging and painful.

Our daughter and I have visited her Papa almost every week for most of the four years of her life—”Tuesdays with Papa” we always called them. But, she hadn’t seen her Papa in two months. We stayed home to protect him. We called and chatted on the phone, but it wasn’t the same.

There were no ordinary Tuesdays.

And then, a few weeks ago, he was hospitalized. But, because of COVID-19, the hospital didn’t allow any visitors. We called, but he was often too tired to talk long. However, he always perked up when he heard our daughter’s voice. They were always two peas in a pod.

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When it sank in for her that her Papa was in the hospital and she couldn’t visit him, she told me, “I need to make Papa a stuffie for the hospital, so he’s not alone.”

We explained that he wasn’t even allowed to get cards or presents right now. 

“But, I need to make him a purple bunny, so he’s not alone.”

“OK. OK. We can make the bunny, and we’ll wait to give it to him,” I assured her.

We talked briefly about making the bunny the next day, but then she seemed to move on and didn’t mention it again.

That Sunday evening was the last time my husband spoke with his dad. We tried to call several times every day, but his health was failing, and he had little energy for phone calls. As the week went on, his health continued to fail. They moved him to palliative care and told all of us to come in to say goodbye.

But, before any of us could get to the hospital, he drifted away.

When we told our daughter, she cried and said, “But, I never got to give him his purple bunny.”

As we talked with her more throughout the day, she asked lots of questions, eventually asking, “Where did Papa go when he died?”

We explained that when you die, your soul and spirit leave your body, and your body is left behind. We told her Papa’s body would be buried in the ground next to her Nana. She never met her Nana, but she’s been to visit the cemetery with us. 

“Then we can give him his bunny stuffie to go in the ground with him,” she said, astounding me.

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And so, we got permission to bring a stuffie to be buried with Papa. We found a pattern online, and that Sunday morning she picked out felt and buttons and thread. I cut and stitched, then she stuffed the purple bunny. I stitched it closed, and she painted on pink cheeks and a little tongue.

She kissed the heart stitched on the bunny’s belly over and over, each time saying, “I’m filling the bunny with love for Papa.”

stuffed purple bunny

Monday morning, we woke up and got dressed up. She chose her purple Easter dress to wear since Papa didn’t get to see it on Easter. She packed her little backpack with two stuffies for herself, some other little toys, and the purple bunny for Papa. I gathered our family’s masks, and we left the house.

It was no ordinary Monday.

When we arrived at the funeral home, she chose one stuffie to bring with her, along with the purple bunny for Papa. As the funeral home director greeted her, he commented on her stuffed animals. She held out the purple bunny and said, “I made this. I need to give it to my Papa.”

And so, we went to say goodbye.

As we stood in the doorway, she could see her Papa in the casket. She held my hand tight and stopped, then asked me to give Papa the bunny. I asked, “Are you sure?” And she said yes. 

She stayed in the doorway and watched me walk to the casket and place it in his hands. 

It was no ordinary Monday.

Our family gathered, all in masks, all six feet apart, to say our goodbyes.

When it was time to leave, she waved and blew kisses to her Papa and whispered, “I love you, Papa. I hope you like your bunny. I made it for you.” 

It was no ordinary Monday.

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Valerie Meek

Valerie Meek is a writer, mom, artist, and fierce advocate for moms. She is the Operations Director for Pregnancy After Loss Support and also writes at her personal blog, Meek Manor. She lives outside Boston with her husband and daughter, and holds her son, Patrick, in her heart. 

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