How do you say goodbye to your child? Well, I will tell you that it’s extremely difficult when you feel like you’ve only just met. That and it felt like we had to say goodbye more than once. The first time was at the hospital and was, by far, the hardest for me. I was so afraid of that moment. I would have stayed in that hospital room forever if it meant that the three of us could’ve stayed together. But I knew that was not reality. We were lucky to have more time with Ry than most parents with stillborn babies do. And, while we had him with us we knew that his appearance was beginning to change. The time to say goodbye was growing near.
There are so many questions and decisions that need to be made when your baby is stillborn. Decisions that require near-immediate answers. Decisions that reflect the good of your child can be hard enough when you are a parent and your child is living. When your child dies, it is even harder. You don’t even have the time to process the loss of your baby, your future as a family, before you need to act. Do you want to have anyone present during the birth? Do you want to see your baby? Hold him? Do you want family to come into the room after and see or hold the baby? Do you want the professional photographer to take photos of him? Of you with your baby? How long do you want to keep him with you? How long do you plan to stay at the hospital? Should you ask anyone to visit the hospital? Then they ask you what your plan is moving forward. Did you pick a funeral home? Do you have their information? Wow. Talk about difficult. Then for the questions that followed after we left the hospital. Are you ready to go home? Do we want to stay with our parents for a few days? Should we have a wake? When? A burial or cremation? A burial. Then where? Do we want a service? Where? With who? What will he wear? Do we want to place anything else in with him? Where do the flowers come from? What should they look like? What about the words on the card that people can take at the funeral home? Should we find a nice poem? Which one? Should we play music? Do we have a pastor or priest at the wake or service? Who? What about after the service? Catered food? What kind and how much? The list goes on and on. Well, below you will find out how my husband and I answered those questions and how we made it through that first week or so.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Chris and I decided to see Rylan. To hold him. To share him with some of the special people in our lives. We took photos and so did the hospital photographer. I’m so glad to have those things now. We kept him with us for about a day and a half. Like I said before, we had a great deal of support from friends and family during our hospital stay and in preparation for the wake and service. My husband and I were terrified to leave Rylan at the hospital, and the word morgue in the same sentence as my baby’s name was horrifying. In the past few years we’ve gotten to know our friend’s brother-in-law, Bobby, through various get-togethers and events. Thank God for him. He is partial owner in a local funeral home and agreed to take care of Rylan for us, and ensured that we could have the services we wanted for him. Bobby personally came to the hospital to take Rylan so that he would never have to go to the morgue and so we wouldn’t have to leave him behind. I don’t know if my husband or I could have done it any other way. He came when we were ready. Our parents were able to hold him one last time. Then Chris and I held him together, once more. We kissed his forehead. We said, “I’ll always love you.” Then, after switching his knit hat out for another one, my husband handed him over to Bobby. I’d be lying to you if I said that was easy to do or to watch, but I will say that handing him to a good person, someone we trusted to take care of him, made it easier than it could have been. My husband and I cried and held each other once he was gone. I was so afraid to leave the hospital after that. After all, we came to the hospital knowing that we would be leaving different people. We were going to be parents, embarking on a new life as three. But we were wrong. We came as two and were going to leave as two. It was heartbreaking. My husband and I both had tears in our eyes as we waited for my dad to bring the car around to pick us up. While I waited with the kind nurse who tried comforting me during this tough transition, my husband stopped in the gift shop to pick up a (very large) stuffed animal that he’d eyed up during our stay. When he brought it over to where I was sitting he apologized for spending so much money on this big, stuffed lion. He said that is just made him feel connected to Rylan. I remember telling him that he could of bought a human being at that gift shop for a million dollars and brought them home if I knew it would make him feel better. We got into my car and my dad drove us home. I can’t thank him enough for taking the baby’s car seat out before we had to make that drive.
We made it home. We walked in the front door to a living room filled with some of the gifts from our shower. The pack-and-play and stroller that Chris and I had put together (just recently) was right there, ready to be used. Our parents stayed for a little bit to make sure that we were okay before leaving. Chris and I decided that the first thing we would do after returning home would be to visit Rylan’s room–together. I thought that his room would be the most difficult place to see in the house. It’s funny, but his room was the one place I felt at peace in the beginning. Maybe it’s because it made me feel close to him.
The whole week that followed is a blur. I remember my husband saying, “just when I think that I’ve made it through the hardest part of this experience, the next thing I have to do seems even harder.” I felt the same way. We decided to have a wake at the funeral home, open to anyone to come see us and/or pay their respects to our son. We worked with a great florist who followed our suggestions beyond our expectations. She created arrangements that were bright and colorful and incorporated child-like elements like stuffed animals, beach pails, and trucks. One thing that most people don’t know is that babies are too small for typical caskets. They are actually placed in these little white boxes. It was really hard to see that box. It was hard to know that our baby boy was in there, just that tiny. In order to make his final resting place more comfortable we had Ry wrapped in a super-soft baby blanket. We included letters we had written to him, photos of our family, and some other things that were special to us. Knowing he had those things made us feel better. We draped two yellow blankets over the small box at the wake and service. We also had two photos printed and framed by a good friend so that we could share our beautiful son with everyone. You could say that Chris and I were on autopilot those days. The wake was nice but I feel that those rituals are really for other people. It is so nice to know that people care for us and for Rylan… but it was also hard because we spent that evening on our feet for hours, consoling the people who visited. So many people have told us that were such strong individuals–but I think in these situations you just don’t have a choice. We had to keep going in order to do the best for our son and to honor him the way we had hoped. It was a way to actively be his parents.
Rylan’s service was very unique. My husband had suggested that we have it at our home. It made sense. And, it would be so nice to have him come home, even if just for an hour or so. For three days before, some of our friends and family spent time trying to get our house in order. They cleaned. They emptied out rooms. They brought food. They brought chairs. They went shopping so that I’d have something to wear. They cut grass and cleaned up the landscape. They even tried to do laundry. They bought groceries, down to table linens and plasticware. We would have never been able to pull that all together without them. It was amazing. We invited close friends and immediate family to the service. We sat in neatly-aligned fold-out chairs in our dining room and front living room. They were arranged to face two windows which opened up to my husbands beautifully-landscaped backyard. Rylan was placed at the front of the room among his flowers. My friend’s dad is a pastor and agreed to conduct the service. He did such a good job. I feel that he really helped to honor our son that day and to support us with his words. In the background you could hear our DMB lullaby CD, the one my friend had given us at the shower just a month before. It was a nice service and everyone came up to say goodbye to Rylan at the end. They filtered outside and gave us a moment alone. It was a dreary day outside with the sky giving all indications that it could rain at any moment. It was because of that fact that I felt even more special when the sun had shone in the window over Ry, just as Chris and I said our goodbye. I like to think that Rylan was saying goodbye to us at that moment, in his own way. Chris carried Rylan out to the car. Boy, that was hard to watch as a mother and wife. There are so many things that I wish I could protect my husband from having to do in his life. That is definitely one.
We got into our cars and followed like a parade to the cemetery which is very close to our home. I wish I could stop time the way we were able to stop traffic for us that day. We regrouped at Rylan’s final resting spot, under a tree and beside my sister’s grave (that story is for another time). The pastor said a few words and we took turns leaving a rose beside our son. Now for the best part of the ceremony. We wanted to do something really special for Rylan and thought that a butterfly release would be great. It was beyond great. A close friend of mine ordered the butterflies for us, including a special box of them for my husband and I to release together. We all stood in a circle and let them go. It was amazing watching them–some of them even hung around in the surrounding grass–and my favorite was one who flew up and sat on a leaf in the tree above Rylan. I felt comforted knowing that one of the butterflies would look after him once we left. Now, every time I see a butterfly, especially a monarch, I think of him. But I guess you could say that every time I breathe I think of Rylan.
After the ceremony we headed back to the house for food and drinks. Our favorite pizza place catered and gave it all to us as a gift. The owner and one of his staff even came to the wake and sent us flowers. We always felt that they were more like friends. It’s amazing to see who shows up for you in your most difficult days. We will never forget all of the things that people have done for us-and that they continue to do. I’m still trying to get my act together enough to send thank you cards. I did buy some–I guess that’s a first step.
The aches and pains during pregnancy were tough. The week that followed also took its toll. Since then I’ve spent a lot of time resting. My job has been very supportive in my taking time off for awhile, to which I’m so thankful. I feel awful that my husband was only able to stay out of work for two weeks. It really only seems like one when you factor in the first week of goodbyes. I know that I can’t stay out of work forever which is difficult. At some point I have to go back to my “normal” way of life. But I don’t feel like the person I was before Rylan died. I can’t even remember who I was before I got pregnant. I think the same goes for Chris. I feel like him and I are back at square one. That we are slowly redefining who we are as we cope with this unbelievable loss. It’s not easy. More than anything I don’t want to lose “us” in all of this… so far we’ve done a great job of leaning on each other. I think it’s so important to run toward your partner when things get difficult. I’m so glad he feels the same way.
Well, that brings us to now. In telling our story so far, I know that I’ve left out a lot of the feelings inside and a lot of experiences that have occurred between then and now. If I included those things, this post would be more of a novel than it already is. I think you’ve had enough to take in for one day. So let’s just promise to keep meeting back here… and I’ll keep sharing for you.