Sunday, August 31, 2008

The rest of August 1998: Aftermath

Dh went to church the morning after we got home from the hospital (Sunday, August 9th). I wasn't up to it, but he, Mom & I went the following Sunday (August 16th). I was jolted when the parishoners were asked to pray for those who had died, including "Baby Kathleen," in the intercessions. Later, we had barely arrived home, when one of the parishoners arrived at our door with the flowers from the altar, & saying they were sorry for our loss.

Later on the afternoon of the 9th, FIL & stepMIL arrived, with Mom's suitcase. FIL had been so happy about this pregnancy. He would greet me by patting my belly and, with a huge grin, ask "How's my baby??" As he came up the steps now, with an expression of sorrow on his face, I put my arms around him & started sobbing again.

We also picked up the wallpaper border we had ordered from Sears. I put it, unopened, into the closet. It remained unopened for five years. I joked that they had probably gotten the order wrong. I decided to finally open it on the five-year "anniversary" date. It was the right one. ; )

Flowers were starting to arrive. The very first bouquet -- a dozen pink roses in a vase, from my godmother (my mother's closest cousin) -- had actually been delivered next door while we were still at the hospital. The neighbours, who had just moved in that February, and whom we barely knew, then sent us a bouquet of their own. I called my laywer/college roommate girlfriend -- Dr. Ob-gyn had delivered her son -- to tell her what had happened, and she also sent a beautiful bouquet of all-white flowers.

One day, a florist's truck stopped, and the delivery guy carried an absolutely humungous bouquet. "Only a bunch of guys could send something so big & ugly," dh said (meaning the guys he worked with!) and he was right! I didn't think it was that ugly, but trust a bunch of guys to go for the big gesture. ; )

One day, early on, a courier truck pulled up & handed me a big brown package from my office. I couldn't believe it -- they were sending me work??? Then I opened the package. Knowing my love of reading (& that I'd probably be off work for awhile), they had chipped in & sent me a selection of books instead of flowers. I was touched. The only thing that bothered me was the card was simply signed with the name of my department, instead of having everyone add their signature & message, as I knew I had done with other sympathy cards, when people's parents had passed away. It was as if nobody knew what to say in this situation, so they went for a generic signature.

The calls continued to flow in. My aunts & uncles called, as well as dh's. Cards & notes started arriving too. The very first one I received was from the secretary to the CEO of the bank I worked for. She had previously worked as the secretary to an executive whose office was adjacent to my department, so all of us knew her, & someone must have told her. To say I was touched is an understatement. I also received a card from the HR vice-president I had been working with on a project just before I left, and from a member of my lunch hour Toastmasters club. All totally unexpected.

The mother of my three best friends from childhood -- sisters who lived across the street from us -- called. Her youngest daughter had had a twin, stillborn at birth. Back in the early 1960s, it was not common to see your dead baby, but another neighbour had encouraged her to do so, and she spoke about how glad she was that she had. I knew that my friend had had a twin -- had visited her grave in the local cemetery -- but had never heard her mother speak about the experience. A few days later, the middle daughter (the one closest in age to me, now the mother of two adopted children) called. At first I didn't recognize her voice, but when I realized who it was, I felt a wave of relief wash over me. I knew she would listen to me, just as she had during so many late-night slumber parties growing up, and she did. "Oh, it's so SAD!!" I sobbed into the phone.

And I started encountering people I knew who had to be told what had happened. My mom needed a trim, so I made her an appointment with my hairdresser at the mall. As we walked in, she started to exclaim over my belly, which was larger than when she'd last seen me -- but I sadly shook my head & told her what had happened, and her expression changed to one of shock and then sadness. She told me she had had a miscarriage at five months, a few years before her daughter was born. She took an unusually long time at the end of the appointment, spraying & teasing my mother's hair -- until the shampoo girl arrived, bearing a bouquet of flowers for me. She'd slipped her some money & stalled until she brought them back.

On Monday, August 10th, the assistant curate from our church came to visit us. Reverend E. was a good-humoured woman around the same age as dh & myself. We talked about what had happened, about how she had become a minister, and what sort of a service we would like to have. I can't remember exactly when we decided on the date, but we eventually setttled on Wednesday, August 19th, which would give time for my father to arrive.

On Tuesday, August 11th, we went to a local funeral home to make arrangements. We had decided to have her cremated. The man we talked to spoke very softly and kept referring to "Kathleen." That was her proper name, but to us, she was "Katie," & it felt very weird to hear her referred to in that way. He asked whether we would like to see her again (we said no -- now, of course, I wish we had). Would we like her dressed in a specific outfit or wrapped in a special blanket? We said no. I had nothing to dress her in (what would fit a baby so small, anyway?). I was not about to give up the little white crocheted outfit the hospital had given us either -- I had so little that was HERS.

Then it was time to pick out a container. He asked whether we'd like to go downstairs to where they kept the caskets & urns. I paused and looked at my mother, & she asked whether they could bring some urns up for us to look at. So they did. I remember one that was shaped like a fish!! OK, fine, if you're a big hunter/fisherman, but...!!?? My mother cleared her throat and said, "Umm, don't you have anything that would be more suitable for a baby??" They finally brought up a pink marble urn. I knew it would probably be way too large for the few ashes that our 4 oz. daughter would amount to, but it seemed the best choice. He asked whether we'd like anything engraved on it. I asked for an angel, and her name & the date. I also asked whether the urn would be tightly sealed, and he assured me it would be. I had nightmarish visions of every sitcom I'd ever seen where Aunt Gertrude's ashes got spilled all over the living room & then vacuumed up.

As for where to put the ashes, they directed us to a cemetery a few miles up the road. Cremation did not bother me; having my daughter's ashes flung to the four winds, with no marker to show that she existed, did. The genealogist in me appreciates cemeteries & having graves to visit. ; )

The funeral home called ahead, & a "counsellor" (salesman) was waiting for us when we got there. He pumped our hands & said, "My condolences," in a matter of fact way. I had the bizarre sense that I was talking to a used car salesman. He showed us some of the options. First, there was a section of the cemetery known as "The Garden of Angels," specifically reserved for infants. Dh & I looked at each other. It just seemed way too sad a place to put our daughter.

There was also a section of plots, close together, specifically for cremation urns and, close to that, a cluster of columbaria (sp?) -- granite walls with niches to hold up to two urns each. This was where we decided Katie's ashes would rest. The cemetery was relatively new, but located along a ravine, and full of trees. Dh & I knew it would be a beautiful place to come visit our daughter.

We went back to the office to deal with the paperwork and to receive our FREE estate planning booklet -- as many as we'd like! Take one more for your friends & family!! The salesman pumped our hands again as we left. Once we were safely in the car, we all looked at each other & burst out laughing. What a totally bizarre experience. Then I my gasps of laughter turned to sobs. My mother reached up from the back seat & patted my shoulder. "What an awful, awful thing to have to do," she said -- meaning having to make funeral arrangements for your baby. Thank you, Mom. (He was still there when we went back recently to purchase a niche for ourselves!!)

My dad finally arrived -- as originally planned, pre-loss -- on Tuesday, August 18th. The night before, I remember sitting quietly at the dinner table, and my mother asking if something was bothering me about my father coming, because I was so silent. I started crying & whispered, "It wasn't supposed to be this way."

Katie's funeral was at 2 o'clock the day after Dad arrived, Wednesday, August 19th, at the beautiful little Anglican church dh & I attended. I wore one of my maternity dresses (navy gingham, small check). It was just me, dh, my mom & dad, FIL & stepMIL, BIL, SIL & our two nephews, then aged 6 & 9. The funeral home had offered to send a limousine, but we said we'd drive ourselves. (I've always wanted to ride in a limo -- but that wasn't quite the way I had pictured it...)

We walked into the church. The pink marble urn we had selected was sitting in the middle of a pedestal, with a wreath of pink roses surrounding it, and two sprays of pink and white flowers on either side (which we left for the church to use at the next service or to take to a shut-in). There were two large bouquets on the organ nearby, sent by dh's partner at work (who had lost a little girl five years earlier) & an associate he had never met but spoke with on the phone nearly every day. I walked up to the urn, fingered it & admired the flowers. The engraving of the little angel, name & date, was perfect. "It's beautiful, thank you," I said to the funeral director.

I heard one of our nephews whisper to his mom, "The baby's in there??" I think they envisioned us stuffing the body inside, lol. I watched them during the service. The younger one's feet barely touched the floor, & he swung them back and forth. I thought how awful it was for someone so little to learn about death in this way.

The service was very short. We sat in a semi-circle of chairs near the front, near the urn. A few readings, a few prayers, a few words from Rev. E. Then it was time to make the trip to the cemetery. I remember dh carrying the urn out of the church. We may have taken it in the car with us, but I don't remember.

At the cemetery, the niche was open. Rev. E said a few more prayers, & dh put the urn inside. Then he reached into his pocket & pulled out a toddler's board book, and put it into the niche beside the urn." It was Classic Pooh, in keeping with the theme of her nursery: "Pooh and Some Bees." "After all, he said to me when he bought it a few days earlier, "she would have grown up in a house full of books." I slipped in a letter in a sealed envelope that I had written a half-hour before we left. The funeral director handed each of us a pink rose, broken off the wreath that had surrounded the urn at the church, and each of us placed one inside.

My dad's shoulders heaved with sobs, which broke my heart.

Rev. E hugged me. "I'll stay and watch them close up. You go on back to the house, I'll come later."

Back at the house, we had a couple of sandwich and veggie trays we had ordered, and some angel food cake with berries. Our nephews wrestled for the Nintendo controls while the adults chatted. A sense of semi-normalcy once again prevailed. We went out for dinner that night, too tired to cook.

Not one to sit around the house, my dad immediately started in on a few projects: painting the backyard shed and putting up new wallpaper in our bathroom. To thank my parents, we decided to take them on an overnight jaunt about a 60-90 minute drive away, where a native band had recently opened a new casino. My parents love casinos. Dh hates them, & was in a sulky mood the whole trip. We argued in our hotel room. I felt like I was living in a nightmare. In retrospect, a family excursion to such a frivolous place that he didn't appreciate at the best of times probably wasn't the best idea when we were both newly grieving.

Back home, our parish priest, recently returned from the conference in England, dropped by to visit, as did cousin/neighbour & family, recently returned from spending several weeks with the wife's sister and her new baby boy, born the day after I delivered.

Mom & Dad left to return home, as originally planned, on Friday, August 28th. I plunged into writing thank you notes to everyone who had sent us flowers & cards, or helped us in some way over the past month. It was therapeutic to be able to write the words, "our daughter."

On Monday, August 31st, dh returned to work. I was on my own.


  1. I remember the day I was on my own, and DH had to return to work. It was one of the worst days of my life.

  2. Just wanted to let you know I'm here, and reading.....and wishing you comfort in your recollection.

  3. I don't know if I commented on your other memorial pieces, but I wanted to say that I've been reading all of them. I am so moved by your writing, and the way you honor your daughter's memory with these posts.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. You are in my thoughts.

  4. Oh Loribeth. My heart just broke for you when I read this post. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it must have been for you to have had to arrange your daughter's funeral.

    You and Katie are much in my thoughts.

  5. oh Loribeth, I totally bawled....
    ((hugs)) to you!! I hope writing this series had been cathartic and healing for you. My heart is with you and Katie.

  6. "It wasn't supposed to be this way."

    No, it wasn't. I wish it wasn't.

    Aunt Gertrude - you make me laugh even in the middle of turning me into a torrential downpour of tears.

    I don't recall hearing about the book before - I can't think of anything more fitting. That bit gave me shivers - because I have to admit, in past years when I have thought of our respective angels and we had commented about them "playing" together, I nearly almost always had a mental image of your Katie reading to my angels.

    Peace my friend.

  7. I'm so sorry I'm so late to this.

    so much of this touched me: the hairdresser, the ugly big bunch of flowers, the books, reading Pooh. All of it is just so perfectly lovely, and so gut-wrenchingly awful.

    I'm really so sorry. Missing K tonight, very much.