Sometimes my soul longs for the part of itself that died when I lost her.
I used to feel uncomfortable walking into cemeteries, until I laid my own daughter to rest in ours. Now I have an inner, unspoken bond with the lost lives in every cemetery I walk into. I make myself at home in their places of burial as if I have known them forever. I feel the pain of and gravity of their death in my own chest.
I analyze every graveyard I see and ask myself where I would bury own daughter if I had the choice. I look for the biggest, wisest trees that would surely cradle their roots around her. I look for the quiet nooks that would give her peace and solace. I pay attention to the way the light streams through the foliage and lands on the earth she would be buried under, and I look wistfully into my own bank of memories as I recall…
Cemeteries always bring me back to burying my daughter. I remember tossing a Restoration Baby and Child catalog in the trash, along with all of the dreams I had dreamed between the pages. I traded in daydreaming and shopping for bunny bedding and a vintage style cane back crib for picking out a casket. I remember walking into the funeral home to pick her forever bed. The funeral director took me to a room with an entire wall covered in the kind of old school blinds that would cover your sliding patio doors off the kitchen. But, when he pulled the cord, there was no light and no grassy refuge on the other side. Instead, he pulled the cord and I felt like I got punched in the stomach. It winded me to see all of the tiny little baby caskets on shelves on the wall. I could hardly force myself to look at them and when I did a part of myself died right there in that room. I didn’t want to choose. My soul revolted at the thought. I could not accept the reality that was presented to me. I looked at the caskets and none of them were good enough to be the only bed my daughter would ever sleep in. Not one. The fabrics were not soft enough. The care and attention to detail was not in any of them, and I hated, with every fiber in my being, that I was forced to choose one for her.
I can still see my husband carrying the wee little casket I did not want to choose, with my baby daughter’s body resting inside, and setting it next to me in the backseat of the car to take her to the cemetery. I can still see him collecting her out of the backseat and carrying her to her burial site and dropping to his knees with her in his arms in front of the six foot hole that was dug and waiting for her, with tears pouring out of his eyes, streaming down his cheeks, and collecting in his sweater. It was the first time I had ever seen a grown man completely broken. I can still hear his voice cracking under the weight of his grief as he said, “Look at all the babies”, while he turned to look around the baby section of the cemetery, shaking his head in disbelief as he took in the site of pinwheels and teddy bears, trucks and cherubs, and piles of flowers carefully placed on little graves. I could feel him mourning deeply, not just for the loss of our own daughter, but for all of the parents that were forced to walk the same path that he did that day and all of the days after.
If I could have chosen, I would have had her casket lined in the softest, warmest, tightly woven organic ivory Swiss flannel, with hand embroidery around all the edges, meticulously and lovingly embroidered by all of the women who would have helped raise her up. Her casket would have been hand carved by a master woodworker who has seen the whole world and could hand carve all of the flora she would never get to smell from every country she would never get to visit, intermixed with the texture of bark she would never get to feel, and moss she would never get to squish between her toes. He would do it with a sparkle in his eyes and an unparalleled care in his touch. The baby ruffle on the outside of her casket would have been sewn from the most delicate hand woven cotton gauze, trimmed in handmade maline lace. The kind that allows the light to shine through. I would have placed her in the most beautiful stone mausoleum with big lead glass windows, like the ones in Argentina, so I could sit inches from her body when I need to feel close to her and she would always be bathed in light. I would plant a sequoia seed next to her burial site, so a mother tree would grow from the soil around her and children could come and play in her branches, surrounded by a carpet of bluebells and tulips.
I had to bury her. I needed something physical to hold onto. I needed the whole world to know she was here and she was/is so loved. I needed a place to go that was mine and hers.
We buried her in a spot with no trees, no flowers, and no streams of sunlight sparkling through foliage; not surprisingly, not by choice. A few weeks later, we snuck away to Victoria B.C to breathe. When I returned home and visited her grave after our trip, the jagged pile of earth over her casket had all been smoothed over and grass seeds planted that were starting to sprout. I felt so betrayed. It felt as though everyone had moved on without me, including Mother Earth herself. Each day felt like the first day I had to learn to live without her, but her grave told a different story. The one place that was supposed to be mine and hers felt foreign to me. With no broken earth there to say, “I feel it too”, I felt even more alone and disenfranchised in my grief. I wasn’t given a choice. The earth just moved on the way she does, always propelling forward.
Of course, if I could have chosen, I would not have walked this path at all. If I could have chosen, my daughter would be cuddled into my lap today and I would be marvelling at how much she had grown in 11 short years.
I walked the path and I have made it through the first eleven years. I am not afraid of my sorrow anymore. We have learned how to love and respect one another and live in harmony. My sorrow makes room for my joy and gratitude to move in and my joy and gratitude walk with my sorrow and allow it to be seen, felt and understood. The path I am on has no end, but it has some incredible views and I learned that I could choose to stop and soak them in. I learned that I could choose to stop and smell the flowers, run my hands down the bark of the trees, whisper to their branches, and squish my toes into the soft moss. I learned that I don’t need a beautiful mausoleum to tell the world that my daughter was here and she is loved to infinity and beyond. I am her mausoleum and she rests in me.
Some parts of the walk are easier than others. Every now and again, I walk back to the very beginning and visit so I can tell you what it feels like. It is never an easy walk back, but I do it with the hope that it will help you help the next mother and father that are forced to experience the unthinkable so they don’t have to walk it alone.
The walk is harder and steeper today. My little Ava Maria would have been 11 years old. Would you walk with me for a little while?
Photo of my rainbow baby, who has been a ball of wonder since she first opened her eyes, and a healing salve for my heart.