I lay in bed like I did every day, staring blankly at the small white box that held Anna’s ashes. I had placed the box on the table beside the bed so that I could be close to her. I missed her desperately, and couldn’t bear to venture far from her remains.
Ben was moving around the room, getting ready for the day. He gazed into the mirror, tying his tie, then turned to face me.
“I want to have a service,” Ben said.
“For Anna. I want to have a memorial service for her.”
I looked over at Ben. He perched on the end of the bed, not quite looking back at me. This service was something he needed, like when he’d need to start preparing the nursery when I’d been pregnant, and when he’d needed to know what we would do if Anna passed away when she was so sick. I couldn’t deny Ben something he needed so much. He had been so supportive of me while I wallowed in my depression. I needed to pay him back for all that he had done for me. If he needed a service to recognize that Anna was gone, he could have a service.
“Of course,” I said, sitting up and moving beside him. “A memorial service would be great.”
“Do you mean that? Would you actually be able to go to the service?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
I hadn’t really left the bed since Anna had died. I certainly hadn’t left the house. Would I be able to pull myself together and sit through a service dedicated to my daughter’s memory? Would I sit and cry while the people in our lives stared at me, unable to imagine my grief, or would the idea of it mortify me? I already felt like other people didn’t understand the pain we were in. Would I be able to let go of that feeling, and spend some time remembering those wonderful weeks with Anna?
“I don’t know, Ben,” I repeated.
“I really think it would be good for you. To be able to acknowledge that she existed, that your pain is real. I know I need that. I need to validate how I’m feeling right now.”
“You need this, so let’s do it. I’ll do what I can.”
“Do you want to help plan the service?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think I can do that. Will you be able to take care of it on your own?”
“I hate that I’m leaving that to you.”
“It’s something I need, and it’s something that you want to stay as far away from as possible. The two aren’t exactly compatible. You’re compromising. I can compromise too.”
Ben kissed my forehead and headed to work for the day. I thought about lingering a bit longer in bed, but decided to start my day.
I headed downstairs to put fresh cabbage leaves in the one-size-too-small sports bra. I was trying to dry up the milk that I had worked so hard to get to come in. It was worthless now, a constant reminder that my daughter wasn’t here. The two months that we’d had with our daughter were bittersweet. She was gone, and getting from one day to the next felt impossible. But, oh, the joy of those eight weeks. For fifty-nine days we’d had a daughter, and I’d loved every minute of those days.
Now instead of a daughter, we were having a memorial service. It felt so unfair. Why did so many other women get their babies, and this was what we got? What had we done wrong?
The service was held a week later on a Saturday afternoon. It was bright and warm outside, maybe a bit warm for the beginning of June, making the day even harder. When people gathered to mourn, the weather should be cloudy and rainy, not bright and beautiful. This made me think of how many beautiful days Anna would miss.
I clung to Ben’s arm, not sure I could stand on my own strength. Ben had filled the church altar with flowers, but had honored my wish to not display pictures of our daughter. We had so few pictures of Anna, and I wasn’t comfortable sharing them. She looked so delicate in those photos. I didn’t want people to remember her like that. She wasn’t one of those cute pudgy babies, but that’s what people would picture when they thought of her, as long as they didn’t see evidence of something different. No matter how clearly I described her, I knew that people couldn’t wrap their minds around what it really meant to have a child who was born in such dire condition. People couldn’t comprehend what I meant when I said that she only weighed two pounds when she died. I wanted people to think of Anna as a normal baby, not a preemie who had fought for every moment of her short life.
We had missed out on so many moments with our daughter. We had never heard Anna cry, never fed her a bottle, never changed her diaper. We had each only held her a handful of times. That wasn’t the life with our child we had wanted, but it was all that we were alloted.
The memorial service was short, with a few things said about how difficult it is to deal with a life lost so young. She had been so young, so impossibly young. Eight weeks old. How could it be that children were allowed to come into the world, only to be taken from us almost as soon as they had arrived? How was that fair? The minister didn’t try to say that this was God’s plan, or that Anna wasn’t mean to stay with us, for which I was very thankful. But I still couldn’t help but be angry that God had taken her from us, long before we were ready to let her go. Parents aren’t supposed to outlive their children.
After the service adjourned, we moved to the open common area of the church, where coffee and pastries were served. My heart was too heavy with the pain of the service, and I couldn’t eat. Ben filled a cup with coffee and stood at my side, but I never saw him take a sip from the cup. Now was the time to brace ourselves, as people would approach us, trying to impress upon us how sad they were that Anna was gone.
Other than Paige, Julianne, and Greg, there were very few guests at the service who had even met Anna. A couple of the nurses from the NICU were there, a truly wonderful gesture. They had been with Anna every day, had fed her and changed her diaper, and loved her. They’d been her surrogate parents, caring for her because we couldn’t. It seemed the most heartbreaking profession possible. You care for these impossibly small and delicate children, and many are lost. It takes a special kind of person to endure that kind of pain.
Julianne and Paige came over to me after the service. I hugged them both, glad to see them for the first time in so long. I couldn’t bring myself to ask Paige how she was doing, how the pregnancy was progressing, even though I could see her giant belly. I wanted her to be well, but I couldn’t form the words. I couldn’t say that I hoped she would never have to do what we were doing. I couldn’t say that I would give everything to be in her position, no matter how strongly I felt it. I couldn’t ask Julianne how the adoption stuff was going, even though I hoped it was going well. I couldn’t hear their good news today. I hated myself for that.
I thanked them both for coming, but then faltered on what I could say to them.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t know what to say to you anymore.”
I saw tears in Paige’s eyes. “It’s okay.”
“We don’t really know what to say to you either,” Julianne said softly. “We’re all learning together. We’ll figure it out.”
I hugged her again. “Thank you,” I said softly. “I will come back, I promise.”