Trigger warning: Infant loss
“We have to do this for Gabby,” my husband paused on the sidewalk to squeeze my hand and offer those words as we approached the doors to the funeral home.
I had no more tears to cry at that moment, so I stared at him with an emptiness in my eyes I knew he understood.
We walked through the doors, and it felt like we were entering another world–a world where merely existing took every ounce of energy I could bring forth from my brokenness.
A man, wearing a simple grey suit, met us at the door and held it open as we entered. I knew him. I had seen him before when older family members had died. I knew he was a kind man. He had a warm smile and a gentle, soothing tone to his voice. Even his mannerisms were reassuring. I remember thinking how perfect he was for his job, but even his comforting demeanor did not lift the weight my heart carried into that building.
The soft music playing was just enough to interrupt the deafening silence, as the man showed us to the sitting area. Every step I took across the plush carpet was like climbing a never-ending staircase, wearing lead boots.
I did not want to be there. I had only been there before for viewings of family members. I had never been the one there making the arrangements. I just wanted to run out the door and go home. I wanted it to be a dream.
How could this be real? How could she be gone?
Somehow my feet led me to the chair where I sat next to my husband. The man sat down too and began showing us samples of programs for our daughter’s service. We read verses and quotes that could be printed on the programs, and we did our best to choose one that seemed fitting.
My mind wandered as the man discussed the details of the service. I handed him a CD I had brought from home. It was lullaby music we played every night for Gabby. I wanted that to be playing during her viewing even though I knew that might make it harder for us and everyone there. But it just felt right. I asked the man if I needed to put our name on the CD so it could be returned to us after the service, and he said, “No, that’s OK. She’s the only baby we have, so we will know . . .”
With the utterance of those words, my body managed to squeeze out just enough tears to fill my eyes.
The man left the room to attend to something and gave my husband and me a moment alone.
After I had wiped my tears, I sat up straight in my chair and took a slow, deep breath.
I felt a sense of relief, thinking the worst part of our unthinkable task was over. I had managed to hold it together, and I knew my baby girl would have been proud of me for doing so well.
In the confusion that often goes with overwhelming grief, it did not occur to me that we were not done with our visit. The man returned to the room, and I could sense hesitation in his expression. He clasped his hands together and tilted his head in an empathetic gesture, handling the situation with the delicacy of a tight-rope walker.
Reluctance seemed to take control of him as he asked, “Are you ready to see the casket?”
The question startled me. The man’s approach to the question startled me even more. I wondered why he was treating the moment with such objection. I glanced at my husband and then nodded my head to affirm our preparedness.
The man led us around a corner, and as we made the turn, I could see several caskets. I was not fazed. I’d seen my share of those with the death of grandparents, aunts and uncles, and even a couple of teenagers during high school. But nothing–nothing had ever prepared me for seeing that tiny, white casket sitting there in the back corner of that room.
That wasn’t just any casket, after all. That was the casket for my daughter . . . my baby.
There is something disturbingly paradoxical about the sight of a tiny casket. Tears instantly filled my eyes as a crashing wave of panic and disbelief washed over my wavering body. I felt my husband’s arms as he tried to steady me.
From out of nowhere, an arm was outstretched before me–a gentle hand, offering a box of tissues. I could not see him through the tears, but the man’s comforting voice served as a beacon, guiding me back to a state of composure. He gave us a few mundane details about the casket, but I’m quite certain my brain did not process anything he said.
I was there, but I wasn’t.
I went over to the casket and laid my trembling hands on it. The coldness was shocking. The inside was lined with soft, pink velvet. I ran my hands over it, but the softness felt strangely harsh and repulsive. I don’t remember my husband touching it, but it was important to me to examine it carefully.
It seemed futile—like an act of desperation in which I was trying to hold on to whatever little bit of opportunity there was left to be a mother to my daughter.
“It’s beautiful. She would love the pink.”
Those were the only words I could manage to speak as I closed my eyes for a moment to say a silent prayer and then turned around to signify my approval. My husband and I looked at each other, and I think we both had the same thought . . .
She’s really gone.
After we offered a sincere word of thanks to the man, we left the funeral home and headed to the cemetery to look at our daughter’s plot.
Never in my life had I felt the harshness of reality like I did in those moments following our visit to the funeral home.
Any feelings of disbelief I had been having . . . vanished.
I knew my daughter was gone, but I knew God would use my experience that day to strengthen me.
I knew I would not go home that night to hold my baby girl and rock her to sleep like I had done so many nights before.
I knew there would be no lullabies that night—only the sounds of crying amidst the painful silence.
But I also knew she was safe and warm, resting in the arms of Jesus.
And I knew—I knew that was all that really mattered.