The Day We Said Goodbye

Avery’s Casket, with my bear, some photos, some flowers.  Casket open.

It was Thursday morning.  I woke after a restless night of sleep of tossing, and turning.  My body was tired and sore, but my head was worse.

It was late and I joined the family in the lounge room.  Quiet chatter buzzed in competition with the fan on the heater.  It was cold and still raining.

There was an air of anticipation amongst the small crowd of us.  Not quite Christmas-morning anticipation, but not far off it.  The TV chatted on aimlessly in the background, while we did mundane things.  Coffee. Breakfast. Showers. Last minute trips to the shops for essentials – razors, guestbook, deodorant, flowers.  Stuff.

I sat. Laughed at jokes.  Talked quietly.  Had a shower.  Got changed.  Ruby put my make up on.  And did my hair.  It was almost like the olden days of school formals and boy-gossip.  This time it was a different kind of boy we were whispering about.  She is one of my oldest friends, and she was there for me.  A testament to friendship.  I love her.

My mum, sister and Ruby left the house early to make their way to Rookwood to set up.  Now it was just Tara, Hubby and I.

The house was too quiet.

I walked from room to room.  Sat on the chair in front of the heater.  The air was haunting. I pulled my Rebozo around me tighter.  And then I smelt him. I caught my breath in my heart and tried not to think about the day at all.  I had to shut my brain down.

Tara calls out.  They are here!  Now my mind races.  All systems go.

The Service Car is in our drive way.  We have to sort out the back seat for Tara’s booster to fit in.  And for me to fit in. 

Next to Avery.

The weather is dismal.  It’s pouring rain.  Not in a screaming thunderstorm kind of way, rather a constant heavy stream of water from the sky.  Like someone had turned a tap on.  Like Mother Nature was crying too.

We sat in the car as he drove, aimless chatter moving back and forward through the car.  Questions about Avery.  Questions about our story.  Questions about music and videos and guests.  The talking was a monotonous droning sound that barely computed in my mind. 

I don’t want to be here.  Let me out of the car.

Tara and I held hands across Avery.  I patted his casket (will I ever be able to say coffin without recoiling?), my hand rubbing it back and forth – just like I did on his chest many times.  Patting him, soothing him.  Soothing me.  We put his embroidered name plate on the front with the toggle buttons.  Makes it feel so much more real and I choke back the tears.

Avery is in there.

The driver asks “Are you having an open casket?”.  Oh god.  Is that actually an option?  They didn’t tell us it was an option.  The driver says to open the casket in the parking lot and see what we think, to see if we want him open or closed. My brain starts racing.

I get to see him again…? I get to see him again…

We get to the Chapel.  There are so many faces I can see in the car park.  All there for Avery.  All there for us. I recognise many.  I don’t recognise others.  The windows of the car are foggy.  My mind is too.  I am in auto-pilot and I am barely computing anything around me.

The rain stops for a brief moment.  So does my heart.  It’s time to open his casket.  Together we all lift off the lid and look at him.  He’s not distorted by the contraction of his neck muscles like he was in hospital.  His face is soft and gentle.  And Orange.  They’ve tried to make him look more life like and less scary.  Why are dead babies scary? I rub my hands on his chest and pat him.  I just want to sweep him up into my arms.  He’s swaddled in a blanket from the hospital.  It’s Pink.  With a touch of blue and green.  I chuckle to myself.  This is the universe laughing at us.  We are a pink-free-household.  We don’t do pink.

Tara and I cry holding hands.  Her baby brother.  My baby son.

It’s decided.  We’ll do it.  We’ll have an open casket.  We will lift off the lid inside.

Ally goes inside to finalise everything in the chapel.  Tara wants to get out of the car to go to Nanna.  I’m alone briefly.  No I am not.  Avery is here.  The lid is closed again, but I continue to pat and rub the wool.  His casket is made of pure wool.  In toddler size because the infant size would be too small.  My super long boy.  It’s cream and natural in colour.  Soft and firm – like an everlasting swaddling blanket.  Not hard and sharp like wood.  A cocoon.  Nurturing.

My doula comes to see me.  She holds my hand.  We talk, pop a mint, hold hands.  We held hands all night when he came into this world.  Now we hold hands as we say goodbye. I thought I wanted to be alone, but I am glad she is there.  Friends come by, noticing the door of the car is open and take their chance to say hello and give love.  I’m not ready to talk to them yet, but accept the hugs and the blessings of strength.  Ally comes back.  My doula hugs me and leaves to go inside.  It’s just Ally and me.

And Avery.

At the last minute I asked Ally if we could carry Avery down together.  Down the chapel aisle.  Through all those people.  Through the cloud of love and pain that hung so heavy through those big doors.  Together we would take our boy on his last journey.  We would carry him as one.

Just Breathe.

I just need to get to the front.  I can’t look at their faces.  A collective room of black all looking at us.  Rhythmically holding their breaths willing us forward to the front.  They all wear green Awareness Ribbons.  I know that Stillbirth Ribbons are pink and blue, but everything about Avery was Green.  So we had green ones lovingly handmade.  We get there after what feels like an eternity and place his casket under the lights.  We straighten him up and position him.  And then together we lift open his lid.  Under the lights he is less orange.  Not quite real, not quite fake.  Like a doll.  I pat him again.  It’s such a natural thing to do – comfort him – in such an un-natural, un-real situation. 

Shhhh sleeping baby.

I sit down by myself in the front pew.  People are in the wrong seats.  But it’s too late to ask them to change.  Tara floats between us all. Her face is solemn.  It’s like the joy has been sucked away.  I guess it has.  She is uncertain and lost.  So am I.  I want to offer her more.  More of me.  More love, more hugs, just more.  I feel like I have robbed her.  I need to listen.  Ally is speaking to everyone in the chapel.  My tears are streaming without effort.  Not fast or fierce.  Slow like Mother Nature’s tears outside.

He speaks so wonderfully – giving thanks to so many people.  To everyone that helped us get to this point in a week.  And then talking about our boy.  Our son.  It was a bit of a surprise to most that Ally knew the sex of Avery before he was born – he found out at the morphology scan.  He’d had 20 weeks to form dreams and hopes and plans of what he wanted to share with his son.  He spoke about all of these.  Magical wishes I did not know about until that moment.  I listen with my ears, with my eyes and with my heart.  I can feel Avery with me. 

My Spirit Baby.

There are moments of laughter.  Moments of joy.  Where the tears are turned off for a moment, and a chuckle escapes.  Where the love outweighs the grief, like helium and air… the joy rises high.  I can feel broad smiles across my face, and the crevices between my eyes relax.  I can’t see properly – my eyes are still puffy, but I can feel the happiness – even when cloaked in all the sadness.

While he speaks a large screen TV above us at the front of the chapel plays a slide show.  With music and photos of the last 7 days.  Of Avery.  Of us.  Of our family.  They are photos of pain.  They are photos of love.  They are our story.

And then it is my time to talk.  Ally checks to see if I still want to go up.  I nod.  My doula asks if I need her to guide me.  I shake my head.  I can do this.  I feel a great calm sweep over me and I inhale.  Just Breathe.  Steadily I walk towards the lectern and my mind repetitively chants.  Just Breathe.

I haven’t planned a speech.  I had only planned to read my poem. I have no idea what to say.  I look at the words on the paper and my mind is blank.  Just breathe mama.  The words are so loud in my head.  Be strong mama. I straighten my shoulders and I look out to all the faces for the first time.  I inhale.  The words start to form in my mind.  I am ready.

“Well, as I have been saying all week…. this is a bit shit.”

Nothing quite like breaking the ice by swearing at your son’s funeral.  Warm laughter fills the air.  The words tumble out as I tell my boy’s story.  I speak of my love for his father.  I speak of the love for my circle of friends.  Of the journey everyone has been on with us – through infertility, miscarriage, pregnancy, hope, joy, pain…  how important everyone in that chapel is to us.  How important they are for me.  I speak for what feels like a brief moment, but in reality, I know its a long time.

I recognise some of the faces. I realise just how many people are there.  The entire chapel is filled – the balcony too.  The side room has people in it, and there are rows of people lined at the back doors.  Standing room only.  They say that the death of a baby affects around 50 people directly.  There’s almost 200 people here.  200 people Avery has touched.

I lovingly replay in words the game I would play with Avery – poking his heel and chasing it around my tummy.  I briefly touch my stomach.  He’s not there.  I falter.

Then I read the poem.  The poem is my heart in words.  It’s is all that really needed to be said, despite the speech that proceeded it.  I slowly start, but the verses one by one get caught in my throat, lost in tears.  I can hear the collective sobs of the chapel get louder.  I need to get through this.  I must remain strong.  There are long pauses between verses – I try to catch my breath to continue on.  The hollow sounds of crying bounce around the chapel.  I can do this.  And I do.  I get through.  I can’t look at anyone any more.  I need to sit down.  Breathe.

Everyone – anyone – is invited to come and say a few words.  Family, work colleagues, friends.  They all take turns to come to the microphone and speak about how important our family is to the.  Many words are spoken about love, and sadness.  About us. About Avery.

I am tired. Details blur.

I remember looking at Tara.  My eyes follow her and my heart lurches. She can sense the heaviness in the room.  She looks like a lost child too scared to ask for help.  Just clutching onto Ally’s leg.  The look on her face makes it feel so much more real.

We move to the front up with the casket.  Ally has to sort out music and the DVD.  To stop it, or pause it.  Something.  I get to look at Avery.  I talk to him.  Touch him.  Hug him and kiss him.  There is no one in the room.  It is just him and me.  I straighten and smooth his blankets. Time is still. And yet it is sped up and speeding past me in a blinding second.

We invite people to come and meet Avery.  Hellos and Goodbyes.  We are not sure who will come up, or if anyone will come up.  Afterall, he’s a dead baby.  People are scared of dead babies. But soon a line forms.  One by one the mourners come and give us love.  They embrace us, hug us, kiss us.  And then they meet Avery.

Would you like to meet Avery?  Come and meet our son.  This is Avery.

I say it over and over.  Prepared for someone to say no, and for me to be OK with that.  But no one says no.  They all want to meet him.  They all want to touch him, coo over him, shower him in love.  They all want to form their own memory of him.  I am touched so deeply by the love that props us up and holds us so close.  Just as the line starts to look a little bit shorter, more people line up.  It keeps going and going.  There are faces I know, faces I don’t.  There are faces that I do not recognise through the grief that has distorted them.

I briefly wonder how distorted my own face has become.

My midwife comes forward. We step quickly to each other, but it feels like slow motion.  Like long lost family being reunited.  The tears can no longer be restrained.  She holds onto me and my body feels limp.  We collapse into each others embrace with grief that had been held at bay for too long.  Pain that had not quite been released.  The wails escape before I can stop them, and our bodies shake with a power that scares me.  The pain is physical.  I feel like I am breaking.  We separate, while still holding hands – strength between us both – an electricity that keeps us still standing – upright.  Come over to Avery.  See my boy.  It’s too fleeting.  Not enough time.  I wish she’d had more time with him too.

No one has enough time.

The line of people comes to an end slowly.  I have hugged and kissed and held so many people.  It’s tiring now.  I feel like I need space and peace.  It’s time to play the final songs from the DVD.  The songs are “Walk through the fire” and “Where do we go from here?” from the Buffy Musical episode.

I touch the fire and it freezes me
I look into it and its black
Why can’t i feel
My skin should crack and peel
I want the fire back

To have touched heaven and come crashing back to earth – to not be able to feel the flames and the pain because everything is numb.  And then the song, “Where do we go..” that is it exactly.  Where DO we go from here?

The songs send pain into my heart.  I touch him, and kiss him.  I hold my husband, and my daughter as waves of pain wash over me. I sing the songs out loud feeling every word.  I remember being on the floor.  I remember the shooting pain to stand again.  I remember hugging the entire casket and whispering to Avery.  I place flowers beside him, and arrange his gifts from our friends and family.  I touch him over and over again, never wanting my fingers to leave him, never wanting to break that connection.  The time is coming to a close.  I let my brain realise it for a brief moment.  I have to say goodbye.  Forever.  There is no more after this.

Holding on, giving each other support.

Hugging my boy.  Blanketing him with love.

Talking to Tara.  Telling her it is time to say our final farewells.

Sharing our pain and our heartbreak…

The love of my 5 year old…

The service finishes.  People leave to go outside.  We have overstayed our time in the chapel by an entire hour.  Soon it is just my husband and I with our little boy.  We need to put the lid back on his casket.  We need to break that connection and watch the final sand through the proverbial hour-glass.  Time is up.  I don’t want to leave.  I just want to hold him forever.  Look at him.  Run my fingers through his hair and hum him Brahm’s Lullaby.  We finally put the lid on, and button it down.  It’s over.

I frantically ask if we got final photos.  One last time.  Of him looking so peaceful and relaxed in the coffin.  With all of his gifts and blessings.  He looks perfect.  I’m assured we did.

We didn’t.

And now I must walk.  One foot, in front of the other, away from my son.

Going…

going…

gone…

The rain is torrential outside.  It echoes my mood.  I walk past all of the black bodies with tissues in their hands and into the Funeral Service Car.  The grief and pain wells up like a volcano and overflows.  I feel the howl rumble from the pit of my stomach and vibrate through my throat.  High pitched and guttural at once.  The sound of an animal dying.  The sound of a mother’s heart breaking apart.  It was released once in hospital. It hurt then.  It hurts now.  I notice Tara is next to me and I choke back on the pain.  I don’t want to scare her.  I need to let it out, but Tara is there.  I swallow hard.  The animal has not been released since.

Ally gets in the car and we drive to the reception.  The driver is heading to the wrong venue. He told some guests the wrong venue, but we don’t know who.  We have no way of telling them.  We eventually get to the right place.  Lots of people are there.  People get drinks for Tara, and organise food.  They ask me what I want.  I have no idea.  I settle for a Baileys and ask for a triple shot.  The barmen don’t oblige.  But I am served doubles for the rest of the night.  A little something to numb the senses.

I forget that it has only been a week since my surgery.  A week since Avery’s birth.  I am forced to sit down.  The pain is nipping slowly at my consciousness.  I don’t get to speak to everyone.  I don’t get to spend time with people I want.  And people I want aren’t there either.  I don’t even know who was at the funeral.  I tell some of Avery’s story to my circle of women.  People are lovely and kind.  I don’t want to go home.  But I don’t want to be there any more.  The crowd is bare and thin.  It is time to go.

We’re driven home.  Still in the rain.  It’s dark and cold.  The air is heavy.  I want to be warm again.  Will I ever be warm again? Inside the house we sit with the heater on full, with varying bottles of alcohol.  I don’t have any, my head is beyond fuzzy as it is.  Ruby has gone to her motel.  Mum goes to bed.  Alice and I sit up.  We talk about Avery.  We talk about how I am feeling.  We talk about misconceptions and fears and history.  We talk about nothing.

It is sometime in the wee hours of the next morning.  Alice needs sleep.  They all leave tomorrow. I fight sleep.  I don’t want to close my eyes.  It means the day is truly over.

I don’t want to go to bed because it really means it is the end of The Day I said Goodbye.

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