Remembering Luna: A funeral for a baby

After last week’s article, I really wanted to look at my memories of Luna more closely. I have already written about what happened to her in the article titled T.O.P but I wanted to write about her funeral. The anniversary for this is approaching and it’s been on my mind a lot lately. All that we brought home from hospital, that physically represented Luna’s existence, was a memory box. It was filled mostly with things that weren’t anything personal to do with Luna, but the idea behind all of the things in that box is for you to use them to create memories of your baby. A flower seed, a candle, a balloon with a message card on it, a picture frame, etc. The most personal thing we had were Luna’s tiny hand and footprints we made just after she was born and the photo’s we took while we were in hospital. Memory is all we have after someone dies, and we had very little memories of Luna, we needed more. I had no idea how strong that feeling would be, until she was gone.

I can remember the first time we were asked whether we thought about what we wanted to do for Luna “afterwards”. It was while our bereavement midwife, Sally, was explaining what would happen once they began the process to induce me. She asked if we had thought about a funeral, either a cremation or burial. The answer was no, of course we hadn’t thought about this and I didn’t know if I wanted to even entertain the idea. Sally was patient, as always, and explained what would happen if we simply did nothing. Luna would be cremated along with the other babies that had died and a service would be conducted to remember those babies at the hospital, delivered by the Chaplain. The ashes of all these babies would be scattered together in their memorial garden. It would be a ceremony we could attend if we wished to. At the time, it was too much to process. The thought of attending a ceremony or planning a funeral for a baby that I was still carrying was overwhelming, I didn’t think I could do it. Honestly, the idea horrified me. We were in a tangled mess of emotions at this point in time. Guilt, shame, love, bewilderment, anger, resentment, but most of all fear…we couldn’t say what we wanted to do, I really didn’t want to be there at all.

Luckily, Sally didn’t push us for any answers. I think if she had, we may have just left Luna with the hospital. These are big questions, which can’t be answered quickly. There are too many emotions at play, too many things we were being asked to think about, it was a bombardment, it was overwhelming. If we had been pushed, we may have snapped and made a wrong decision. Patience and compassion was what we needed and thankfully, we got it. Even after I had delivered Luna, we still didn’t know what we wanted to do and I still didn’t think I could plan her funeral. I helped plan my dad’s funeral, I single handedly planned my mum’s, but this I couldn’t even begin to fathom. How do you plan a baby’s funeral? All the hospital asked was that we let them know within four weeks what we wished to do. We could take some time to sit with what had happened to us and to grieve for Luna a little bit first, before we had to make any decisions. However, by the time we left the hospital we had shifted subtly from “Don’t ask us these questions, we can’t even handle what is happening right now” to “Maybe we can we can attend the hospital ceremony”. Part of this was the gradual acceptance of what had happened to us. More crucially, it was the need to continue doing things for Luna. We were her parents and we had a duty to look after her still, in whatever way we could.

After the initial feeling of repulsiveness and terror at the idea of a funeral or attending a ceremony, we began to think maybe a burial would be best. Cremation just seemed, well, harsh for a baby. Also, we thought with a burial there would be somewhere to go. To visit. Neither of my parents are buried, they both were cremated and their ashes scattered. I thought it might be a good thing to have a place to go to, to be with Luna. Sally dutifully told us where we would be able to have Luna buried in our borough. There was one cemetery that we could use. Charlie and I went to visit it on a cold, grey February afternoon. It wasn’t right. We could feel it. Both of us had to get out of there as quickly as possible, there was no way we would be leaving Luna there. I think it may have been around this time that I spoke to a woman who had lost her baby girl to Turner’s Syndrome, years ago. She told me how they had cremated their daughter and scattered her ashes and planted a tree, somewhere near where they had lived at the time. They had since moved away and they weren’t able to visit the place very often anymore and this made her sad. This stuck in my head. I didn’t want to leave Luna behind, ever. I was struggling with this concept anyway. I was very conscious that because of the circumstances, it would be very easy for everyone to forget Luna had ever even existed. It was difficult for people to understand (and it probably still is for some) Luna’s place in our family, that she is our daughter and always will be. I suddenly thought: “what if we move away from this place, and she is left here?” and that felt awful. We had to stick together.

We came to see that cremation actually was probably better for us and Luna after all. We could take her ashes with us wherever we went. We were heading towards a private ceremony. Sally had already told us that most funeral directors would not charge for a child’s funeral. Charlie and I went to Mortlake Crematorium to have a look, it felt better. Sad, but better. Near the river, lots of trees and gardens, quiet. Our friend Amanda offered to call funeral directors for us to find out what costs, if any, we needed to pay and to get a feel for who she thought would be a good fit for us. It was an extremely kind thing for her to do, it meant so much to us. She found us Lesley, a quirky, caring woman who took care of everything for us. And no, we wouldn’t be charged for any of it, apart from cremation costs. I say this only because it has been in the news lately and I think it is right that parents shouldn’t have to pay for the funeral of their child. It smacks of heaping insult on top of the deepest of injuries.

Once we had finally decided on a private ceremony, we were nearly at the end of the four week mark the hospital had set for us. I had to call the patient services team and let them know that Lesley would be coming in to collect Luna, which she did fairly quickly. I remember feeling relieved when Lesley told me Luna was with her at the funeral home. I had been contemplating whether to go back to the hospital to visit Luna. In the end, I decided not to. Once Lesley had Luna though, I changed my mind. I could visit with Luna, quietly in a room at the funeral home whenever I wanted and I could stay for as long as I liked. I took advantage of this. More memories to make. I visited Luna several times, taking Benjamin with me once. He drew pictures for her and wanted to leave his satsuma for her to keep. So that’s what we did. We also left a small bear with her, Luna’s bear, Benjamin has one too. This would have been a day or two before the funeral, we were leaving things to go with her in the small casket.

At this point, I’m going to revert to my journal, because I was astute enough to realise I had to write down my memory of Luna’s day, while it was still fresh in my mind. In the few days leading up to her funeral, my journal is strewn with poems and cupcake recipes. We planned, chose poems and I wrote two pieces for her funeral and I decided to bake everything for the tea at our house afterwards. It turned into a bit of a party of sorts after the really hard bit of the funeral was over, we had cake and ice cream, Benjamin had presents to open, there were balloons. It was colourful and light filled. I was determined to make it a special day, not just a sad day. We were trying to build memories that we would want to look back on and remember.

20/04/2017 – Afternoon:

“Watery sunlight. Magnolia in full bloom. Cool, but dry. Busy morning finishing the cupcakes and getting ready. Feeling apprehensive…have I remembered everything? Shit! Luna’s flowers! Charlie polishing his Chelsea boots – the smell is, ugh. Lighting a lavender candle in the kitchen before we leave. The ring at the door, Graham is here with Luna. Charlie puts Benjamin into granny’s car. Granny is nervous, worried about how to get there. It’s not about the directions. We tell her just to follow us, Graham promises to go slow. He helps us into the car, Luna is there on the back seat, between Charlie and I. I ask Graham what we do, when we get there, how do we go in with her? He offers to take her in for us, but equally, we can take her ourselves. Charlie immediately says he will take her in, I’m grateful for this, he asks if this is okay. Of course it is. He tests out the weight of the casket. He nods and says ‘I’ll manage her’. The drive to the crematorium feels long, ages, we are emotional, I feel slightly panicky. There’s a feeling of ‘Stop! Go back, I don’t want to do this’, but we keep going. I have Luna’s flowers on my lap, I move them to the floor, under my feet to get a tissue from my bag. When I try to bring the flowers back up onto my lap, they get stuck (how have they got stuck!), I don’t want to damage them and I spill water on the floor of the car. Never mind, we have arrived. We sort out the flowers, Graham is kind and deals with the water. We drive round, past the doors to the crematorium. We wait in the car while Graham goes to see if everyone has arrived. We are nervous that some people haven’t made it. Charlie’s sister was stuck in traffic, bloody M25! People are coming from all over. Then we see friends, recognise cars, we feel a bit calmer. There are white doves sitting on a bird platform just in front of the car, I’m watching them peck at seeds. There’s a young guy mowing the grass nearby and I think ‘What an ordinary, everyday thing to be doing, while I sit here with my dead baby girl beside me’. Graham comes to get us. We get out of the car, the guy cutting the grass has stopped his mower. He’s watching and waiting for us. It’s an act of respect. I wonder what he is thinking as we walked past him carrying the tiny casket. Everything is quiet, except for the birds. Graham leads us up to the door and we wait there, Charlie carrying Luna. Our friends and family are walking in via another door to our first song playing for Luna: For You Always (Orchestral Variations) by Minor Victories. The man from the crematorium tells us to stand a bit closer, he points to a tealight on top of the platform (I don’t know what you call it!), he’s says we can have it afterwards. Charlie and I discuss where Luna needs to go, in front of the big candle, but behind the tea lights – but this isn’t necessary as Graham leads us in and takes Luna from Charlie when we get to the front of the chapel and places her in the right spot.

We go to sit down, I don’t look at anyone, I know I would most likely collapse if I do. I can feel myself wanting to wail, but somehow manage to hold it in and the feeling subsides. I make a beeline for Benjamin, keeping my eyes focused on him. Our friend, Fiona, comes up to the lectern, Graham begins to fade the first song – which isn’t what we wanted, but it’s okay, no one knows any different. I can see Fiona check herself (she knew what was supposed to happen!). She reads The Wind & The Moon by George MacDonald, brilliantly. Everyone remains standing for it. I am holding and hugging Benjamin. He tells me he wants to go home, I’m probably holding him too tight. I tell him to listen to Fiona, she’s going to tell him a story and that there are presents and cake when we are finished. He seems satisfied. When the poem is finished, I tell everyone to please sit down. Benjamin wants to play, so I get the cars out, he’s looking for more toys, he drives the cars on the edge of the pew. It’s a bit noisy, I try to get him to do it on the padded seat instead – it doesn’t work. I’m worried people can’t hear what Fiona is saying, she’s reading out what I had written for her to say about Luna and us. I’m worried that I’m distracted from the service, from Luna. The second song comes on, Into My Arms by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds . Benjamin’s not too sure about it ‘What’s that noise?’, but I manage to settle him a bit. Someone pats my shoulder from behind me – Great Aunt Jilly?

The song ends and our friend Amanda stands up to do her reading. Benjamin wanders into the aisle and I feel a bit more relieved, it’s better if he’s not contained. He goes to speak to his Great Uncle Gary; ‘My rugby ball.’ we chuckle, it breaks the tension a bit. Amanda begins to read what I’ve written and mentions Benjamin’s name – he perks up ‘Me?’, we laugh again, ‘Yes, you!’ and he sees Luna’s little bear on her casket. He asks me, ‘Is that Luna’s bear? Me have Luna’s bear’, he means the one he also has at home. It’s a nice moment and I can feel the room let out its collective breath. Our last song, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star by Fredrika Stahl comes on, we all listen to it. I am quietly singing to Benjamin, he is listening carefully. As the song ends, Graham begins closing the curtain on Luna. He times it really well, with the curtains coming together just as the song ends. The song begins again, Benjamin wants to go, I gather up our things and Benjamin’s silver star balloon. Charlie picks Benjamin up and Graham comes to lead us out. We walk down the aisle together, as a family, with Benjamin holding onto the balloon, while the upbeat part of the song is playing. It feels good and right.”

What happened next? A couple of days later, I had a sense of “Now what?”. I was pleased we had given Luna a proper memorial and had spent so much time thinking about her and creating something for her, but after it was over it certainly left a wide chasm of nothingness stretching far in front of me. There is this ridiculous idea that a funeral brings closure, which is rubbish, you’re just getting started. This is the time when people begin to drift away from you, get on with the rest of their lives and well, you can feel extremely lonely, isolated and confused. I’m actually coming to believe that there is never closure. Time doesn’t heal, you just learn to live with the pain eventually. You don’t, or at least I don’t think you should, let go. Let go of what exactly? I don’t get it. The pain? Your love? The person? All impossible. I’m convinced that the path to madness lies in the route of trying to ‘let go’. All of my grief and pain and love can stay right where it is, thank you. I’ll learn to live with it. Shine a huge, bright light on it and I’ll grow around it. I want it to stay there as a reminder of what I have lost and the love that I have. It’s my internal memorial. Trust me, I needed the reminder of the love when things started to take a dark turn. Pain and love are so entwined, it can become difficult to take and all of it nearly broke me. Which is why the time, patience and compassion we were given was so, so important. I am convinced that if we weren’t given the time and support to allow the fear to loosen its grip and for us to express our love for Luna in the ways we did, publicly, we may not have survived so well.

We still have Luna’s ashes, in a little woven envelope that sometimes sits on the window sill in our bedroom and sometimes on my bedside table. We haven’t decided just what to do with her yet. I was trying to explain what ashes are to Benjamin the other day. He asks these sorts of things all the time, because we don’t hide Luna from him or what happened to her. He’s amazingly clever and unafraid. As soon as I started to explain that a persons body gets either buried (he knows this already) or turned to ashes in a very hot fire, after they are dead and can’t feel pain anymore (or eat food, or wee, or poo, this always gets big laughs!), he immediately related it to Cinderella, sweeping up the ashes in the fireplaces. Don’t worry, I was quick to say ‘yes, like that, but she is sweeping up ashes from wood, not from people’s bodies’! This sort of conversation is just another one of Luna’s legacies. How many nearly five year old’s do you know have a concept of death that they can talk about? We try our very best to be open and honest with Benjamin, because if we tried to hide it all from him it would become the monster lurking in the corner. His mind is a sponge and if we don’t answer his direct questions with direct answers, he will know we are hiding something and that becomes something to fear. Shine a big, bright, shiny light on that pain so you know where it is at all times, less to fear and more to love that way.

So, at this nearly two year anniversary, I wanted to thank our friends and family who joined us on that day, in helping us to show and share our love for Luna. Thank you to those who couldn’t come, but sent messages of love and support. Thank you to Fiona and Amanda for being our voice, because although I could write the words, I definitely didn’t have the strength to speak them on the day. Thank you to Sally (again!) for her patience, compassion and gentle guidance. Thank you to Lesley, the quirky, caring funeral director and Graham, coachman and lead on the day. Thank you to Charlie for holding my hand and carrying Luna. Thank you to Benjamin for being the best damn little boy and for making me laugh on such a sad day (and who continues to make me laugh, sad day or not). And of course, thank you to Luna. You have taught us so much. I love you and I miss you.

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