Today I attended the most tragic kind of funeral–that of a child, a child who only graced the world with their presence for a mere two months. There are just no words that one can really offer during something like this–just lots of “I’m so sorries,” extra long and tight embraces, some shoulders to cry on, shared tears, and perhaps a tissue or two or three to dry said tears.
This is the scene:
The inexplicable grief is palpable in the air, and the sobs and sniffles are ongoing, although no one’s sobs are quite as loud and lasting as my dear, sweet, Isadora. As we take in the memorabilia surrounding the precious infant, and Gigi and I take turns offering tearful squeezes to each parent, I notice the tears falling from her emphatic eyes. I take her hand and lead her to our seats, anticipating that she would become calm soon. Instead, the tears keep falling, and the sobbing began. I try to comfort her, drying her eyes with the tissues that I had reserved for myself, but eventually, I know I have to take her out of the room, so as to not take away from the grieving parents and other loved ones present.
I park myself on the bench near the front of the funeral home, and pull out my doula slow-deep-breathing skills, as I fear the hyperventilating might lead to vomiting if I don’t get her crying under control. She speaks no words, and the tears and the sobs perpetuate. I am incredibly relieved to see the friendly faces of two of my fellow birth doulas, who had supported this family as this child entered the world, one of whom reassures me, sensing that I am feeling a little embarrassed an my inability to soothe my crying daughter, “Don’t worry–she’s crying for a lot of people right now.” Yes! Of course, my incredibly kind, loving, sensitive child is picking up on all of the repressed emotions in that room, serving as a conduit for everyone who is holding back their own desire to bawl at the gut-wrenching sadness of what has brought us all together in this room. I direct these professional support-givers towards my wife, who now sits with empty seats beside her, knowing that she needs some support during this time.
Eventually, after I have convinced Isadora to close her eyes, and she fully buries her teary face into my chest, the sobs are replaced by exhausted sleep, and the funeral ceremony begins. It is at this moment that I realize I am completely unprepared in the tissue department, having only the two balled up wet ones I had used on Isadora. How am I going to make it through?? There is no way to survive what is about to happen without my own tears falling, and I now have nothing to catch them. I have no tissues.
It is at this moment that I really begin to feel the depth of the living analogy and prediction of my own future set in. See, barring anything that leads me to an earlier-than-expected, tragic death, I will attend the funerals of each of my own children. I will need to pick up the pieces of that “thing no parent should ever have to do,” (i.e. bury their own child) four times over. I will need to be the rock, the pillar of strength, and the light in the darkness, for everyone around me. And who will get a tissue for ME?
Friends of the family read from the Bible. The parents share their memories of the child that was taken from them far too soon. I begin to cry. However, as soon as my tears start, I feel the sleeping child in my arms begin to stir. I fight the tears back, lest I wake her, and disturb the mourning of everyone else. I unfold the two wet, balled-up tissues I had, hoping they could dry somehow so that I would at least have something to catch the fluids coming from my eyes and nose.
Several of the funeral home staff sit about eight feet away from me–people I would assume have some sort of training in supporting those grieving the loss of a loved one. They look at me, tears flowing, arms full of sad and sleeping child, and none of them offer me a tissue. Perhaps that’s what working with death, day in and day out, does that to a person–makes them cold and unfeeling, unable to see what is truly needed, as they exist in the monotony of death.
I pull myself together, realizing that I have no choice–no one is coming to help me. No one is getting me a tissue.
Nope. Gianna stops and gives me a kiss and then blows me a second kiss as she walks away. Okay, very sweet, and incredibly appreciated at this time. Not a tissue, however. Luck gives me a thumbs-up. Yes, I definitely am grateful to know that my other children are doing fine during this time of sadness. Yet, I still need that tissue. I start to realize it even more–when I am saying my final goodbyes to one child, someday, my remaining children will be an amazing beacon of hope, love, and reassurance, but they alone, will not get me by during those sad times. That is too much to expect of a child.
The ceremony ends. A woman sees me and gives me that “head-turned-to-the-side, I-feel-sorry-for-you-but-I-don’t-know-what-to-say” sort of way that I have seen dozens of times since getting the kids’ diagnosis. She offers to get me some water. This is very kind, however, at the moment, I have too many fluids coming out of my face that haven’t been dried, so putting more fluids in my face isn’t really what I need. I need a tissue.
I see my wife. I see that she is sad and is in and out of her own tears. I am not going to trouble her with getting me a tissue–she, herself, needs a tissue. She often worries about losing me in a pit of despair when these kids of mine pass, but I worry a hell of a lot more about her. See, of course they are my biological children and I have a deeper connection and longer history with them than she does, but she loves these children so much, and in a different way. While I love them for a million different reasons, one of them includes “I have to love them because I birthed them.” She loves them out of choice and circumstance, meaning that she has worked hard to love them, and to earn her spot as “Mom,” and losing them runs the risk of being even more devastating due to the effort put into getting them as children in the first place. So, no, I don’t expect her to get me a tissue.
The kids come back, and this time I ask them to get Isadora’s coat, remembering that I stashed some tissues in the pocket, knowing that I was going to need them for this funeral. I check the pockets. Empty. Both of them. Someone else took the tissues because, clearly, they needed them more. This reminds me of all the times since getting the diagnosis, almost eight years ago, that people have refrained from talking to me about the kids’ disease because it was “too hard” and “too much” for them to address. This makes me think of all of the people who will be grieving the loss of my children in the future who I will need to support because this is what I do as the pillar of strength, the rock, the mother.
Eventually my sleeping child wakes up, and I instantly steal the line from my doula friend about her crying for all the people who couldn’t, lest she feel embarrassed. Instead, I make her the hero of the funeral, with her big heart and her big tears. I pick up those overly-used tissues and crumple them up into a ball in my hand. It is time to move on with my day. After all, I need to leave this incredibly sad and devastating event to go back to work and represent my business at an event, in order to be able to continue to put food in the mouths of my children and a roof over our heads.
I talk with my fellow birth professionals, women who have supported me through some huge times in my life. I don’t ask them to get me a tissue. I don’t show them the wet, disintegrated tissues I am hiding in my hand. I am strong. I can handle this all. I can carry the weight of all of this–of this day, of this life, of my children, of my loss, of my grief. They will offer me words of kindness and their love, but they will not offer me a tissue–not because they are unwilling, but because I don’t ask and they don’t know. Because this is how I am.
I will carry on. I will be strong. Life will continue. Nobody will offer me the thing that I need most–a tissue. And I will leave the funeral, get into my car, and I will find the box of tissues that is always there in my center console, they one that I keep there because I know that I will always need a tissue, at some point. I will finally dry my eyes, blow my nose, and feel better, at least a little bit. I will get MYSELF a tissue.