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Funeral Planning

And now for the part nobody likes to think about. I urge you to make most of these decisions early, though. After your baby's death, you don't want to be having to make dozens of decisions which will be unalterable should you change your mind later. I urge both parents to discuss the issues with one another before venturing out and gathering facts from the professionals. Preparing for your baby's death wil NOT cause your baby to die. It does not indicate a lack of faith in God. Miracles are wonderful, but we can't plan on them happening, or else they'd be called Commonplaces. All these plans can be undone in an instant if your baby is miraculously cured. But it will take a while to get them in place, and it's better to handle each issue separately while you're clear-headed and have some sort of energy. The preparations will also put your mind at ease once they're completed.


Everyone knows horror stories about how much funerals cost in America. I have no idea what they cost anywhere else in the world, so let that be my caveat. The decisions you make may be affected by money considerations, which is why I lead off with money, prosaic as that might be.

I decided sometime in March that if we were going to be burying a baby in July, and if it was going to cost us thousands of dollars, we needed to know immediately so we could budget for it. Practical, right? What did I learn?

I learned that if I wanted to, I could bury my baby for free. $0.00. At every step of the way, there was a free option available to me if I wanted or needed to take it, and even if I didn't want that option, the various professionals were "willing to work with the parents."

Cremation would have been free. Additionally, the Catholic cemetery would have given us the grave plot for free if we never put a marker on it.

The plots at the cemeteries ranged from $50 to $150 for a baby-size grave on which you could put a small marker. The sizes of the plots ranged from nine square feet (three by three) to a little smaller. There was a cost for opening the grave (some called it a burial cost) and it ranged from $50 to $100. There's also a fee for placing the marker on the site, but I never found out how much that was because the folks who made our stone "forgot" to factor that into the cost.

Caskets for adults generally cost thousands of dollars. For an infant, go down by two orders of magnitude. The average cost for a casket that we saw was $100. The cheapest was $80; the most expensive was $150 (and I have been told that model looks like an Igloo cooler). We ended up paying $120 because we wanted a slightly larger casket that fit both Emily and her too-large Snuffles bear. Baby-caskets currently on the market are mostly self-vaulting, meaning you don't need to pay extra for a concrete vault at the cemetery. A word of warning: infant caskets are impossibly tiny. I opted not to take a look early on because I had been warned not to; the funeral directors were willing to let me see one, but they urged no. I'm glad I didn't. The first casket they wanted to use was the size of a jewelry box. If I had seen that before Emily was born, they'd have had to scrape me off the carpet with a spatula. The second size up was about the size of a microwave oven, and it was bad enough.

Obituaries cost differently from paper to paper. In ours, the obit was free but the death notice cost $45 because it had more information in it. If you choose to have prayer cards or thank-you notes printed up, they'll run about $20 for either. Birth announcements seem to cost as much as wedding invites, if you can believe it, if you have a professional printer run them off. Emily's announcements cost $75 for 50, but then they ran off an extra 20 for us. I guess the printer felt sorry? We had a full funeral for our daughter, although there was a free option available here too if we wanted to just take over one of the daily masses. The presence of the priest was free, but we paid about $200 to rent the church. (Afterward, we had free use of the church hall to feed our guests.) The gravestone was probably our biggest expense, and it ran about $350, but again, there were both cheaper and more expensive options available. The funeral home could have given us a brass plaque with Emily's name slid into it for a lot less cost.

In sum, while you can always spend up to the moon to bury your baby, it would be more reasonable to assume you'll spend anywhere from $750 to nothing at all. Now that you're armed with that info, how do you go about making decisions?

Funeral Home

You'll probably need to work with a funeral home. They'll be able to navigate the paperwork for you, and trust me, when you're dealing with a child's death, you want that paperwork to be in order. (For all that, Emily's death certificate came back with the wrong date on it. Blame the doctor.) They'll also act as your go-between with the cemetery and with the presider at the memorial service (should you want one). It's also good to have someone around to tell you what to do and where to sit and what's happening next.

How to choose? I didn't have the option of asking friends who had buried their family members. Lucky me, I guess I'm the first in my circle. When I asked at our church, I was given the names of just about all the local ones, in no particular order. I chose a very small funeral home that didn't put its ad on every single piece of literature coming out of our church (but was in our bulletin.) They were extremely nice to me, and I got the sense that they were being up-front whenever they explained something. I was only seven months pregnant at the time, so maybe they had more incentive to be nice. They put everything in writing (I think this is required by federal law) and they even showed me the receipt for the baby-casket they would use. I would be charged no more than they had been charged. The home was a family-run operation, and I dealt with the son. The father joined us halfway through, and as the son was running off some photocopies, the father talked very bluntly with me about various options. He looked sad and was very straightforward. He also said, "I don't make any money off babies." I get the impression that not every funeral home is like that, though. So I would advise starting early and not letting anyone bully you. Most cities have more than one funeral home, and if not, the neighboring city probably does.

Funny story: You'd think in this business they'd have to be nice, but my mother told me about a funeral director in Brookyn, New York. When my great-aunt died, my mother needed to phone my brother long distance from the funeral parlor to tell him when the funeral was. The pay-phone ate my mother's change, so she asked the funeral director (a creepy woman) if she could use the office phone. The woman snapped, "Well, make it quick!" My mother was fuming, so when she got a busy signal, she shouted into the phone, "Your mother's dead!" and slammed it down onto the receiver. Then she turned to the funeral director and smiled sweetly. "Was that quick enough?"

Ask them what services they'll charge you for. Ask if they will transport your child's body; if you want to transport your child yourself, ask how they accommodate that. Ask what their role will be during the funeral or memorial service. Ask if they have a "cold room" for storing your child's body so the mother has time to recover between birth and the burial. Make sure you have the option of dressing your baby yourself and watching the casket get sealed so you know everything you put in stays there. If you want embalming, find out how long that will take. Ask if the casket is self-vaulting. If you want to personalize it ahead of time, ask if you can bring it home. Ask about options if you want to transport the casket to a different cemetery in the future. Ask about options for a viewing if that's what you want.


You do not have to embalm your baby. If you choose not to embalm your baby, you may not be allowed to have an open-casket. Check your state laws. However, there is no legal mandate that every person be embalmed, and some religions even forbid it. Some funeral directors want the money, though, and will tell you babies over a certain weight need to be embalmed. Ask to see the book on that, and while they're scrambling to regain composure, find another funeral home.


See the baby-yard. Find out if you are able to have a gravestone and if so, if it can be an upright marker and what size they permit. (Find out for me about that one odd-size market that every cemetery always seems to have! For pete's sake, why do some people get 24" x 24" markers and every other baby could only have half that?) Ask if you're allowed to lay down cut flowers. Ask if you can plant flowers. Ask if you can leave grave goods. Find out if they are open year-round, if they allow burials year-round (in Alaska I think they limit burials to non-winter months because otherwise they'd have to dynamite open the ground) and what their daily visiting hours are. Listen for traffic noises. You may want to visit frequently afterward, so keep that in mind while making decisions. I initially didn't want the cemetery we chose because I would pass it nearly every day. Now I find that's a comfort, because even if I can't stop in, I can still glance as I drive past and make sure things look okay. I find it funny that if someone else is in that part of the cemetery, I feel protective of my daughter.

Let's take a break from the heavy stuff for a moment...

When we pulled up to the funeral home to interview them, I parked right in front of their big sign. My son looked up at it, grinned, and then said, "F-U-N. That spells fun!" I didn't have the heart to tell him no. He also loved when we went to the monument-makers. "Momma, this is a cemetery store!" Okay, break's over.

Cremation Versus Burial

This is a personal decision, to be made in accord with your beliefs and your preferences. (Catholics may be cremated, allowed by changes in church law in the 70s, I believe. The ashes must be laid in a permanent grave in an individual container, though: not scattered, not mixed with others' ashes.) Personally, I like having a safe place to go just to think about Emily. I imagine that if she were in an urn on my mantle, she'd get lost in the clutter. I know others are very comforted by keeping the ashes in the home.


Someone has to take your baby's body to the cemetery or the funeral home. In many states, you can apply for a permit to do this yourself. I know some mothers and fathers have special memories of that one last trip. We would have been the first in our state to apply for this permit, so we didn't do it. When the funeral home transported her to the church, they used a silver minivan, and it looked very nice, for what it's worth. Using my car with cartoon stickers all over the outside and a cartoon-themed vanity plate would have been...bizarre, to say the least.


If you have songs you want to use at the funeral, talk to the presider ahead of time, and talk to the musicians too. Our church musician grandly blew us off and by 9:30 the night before the funeral still hadn't talked to us about which songs we wanted. So much for rehearsal time. Instead, a very good friend from our old church's choir played my guitar, and she did a beautiful job. She played all the songs we wanted instead of forcing us to use her own repertoire, which The Disappearing Vocalist was being stubborn about. When our friend played the refrain from "I Have Loved You" (Weston Priory) as the casket was incensed, everyone around us wept.

The Infamous Black Dress (Applicable to Mothers Only)

You need to decide now what you're going to wear to the funeral. Your normal wardrobe might not fit you three days after childbirth; your maternity wardrobe might not fit you then either. Like everything else, you'll find yourself stuck in a twilight time. To make the situation a bit better, what you wear doesn't have to be a black dress--I know of many mothers who wore pink or yellow to their baby's funeral. However, I wanted black, and I owned no summertime black dresses. I was also eight months pregnant when I finally faced the reality that this problem was not going to solve itself. Remembering shopping with my mother for a dress for my son's baptism at one week postpartum (no offense, Mom) I decided I'd rather never do anything like that ever again. So I bought the dress while eight months pregnant.

There are two major dilemmas to confound the issue. Firstly, a woman's abdomen will still be a bit flabby after giving birth. I've heard from women who couldn't fit into their pre-pregnancy clothes months after giving birth; in both pregnancies, I was in non-maternity clothes in three days. In my case, it's probably because my waist-size has always been a couple of sizes smaller than my hip-size (all the fat headed right for my behind), and I wear baggy clothes anyhow. Secondly, and more importantly, if you have the burial relatively soon after giving birth, your breasts will be massively engorged. Massively. I looked like I'd had 25 implants. Thankfully, it went away quickly, but you need to know you'll be topheavy and possibly leaking while wearing the dress.

Some women wear a maternity dress. This seems like a good idea, though I didn't do it. Maternity dresses are frequently designed in layers and are expandable and contractable without too much hassle. If you think you'll want your maternity clothes burned immediately afterward (I packed mine away the first instant I could zip my largest pair of shorts!) try finding a dress a size up from your prepregnant size, maybe with a jacket, maybe something you can cinch up or leave loose, so there's some "play" in the garment. Leave room for LOTS of breast expansion. You may want to make sure the neckline is fairly high if you are going to be wearing a sports bra after birth to try relieving engorgement. A loose black blazer might be good to keep onhand if you find you're straining the bustline of the dress.

As an adendum to that, buy plenty of disposable nursing pads to put in your bra. You'll be crying during the funeral; you don't need to be leaking milk in addition to that!

Things to Put in the Casket

Some of this is covered in the baby needs section. We put into Emily's casket a teddy-bear, a Mizpah coin, and a letter I wrote to her on the spur of the moment before we went to get her dressed. Right before we closed the casket, I snipped off a lock of my own hair and put it in with her. Emily is wearing a red onesie with lace trim and a white lace bonnet, and she's wrapped in a soft white blanket. On the onesie, we pinned a tiny gold cross and a guardian angel/miraculous medal pin a good friend gave me after the diagnosis. (I thought that was especially sweet since the gift-giver is Jewish.) Other people have told me they put similar things into the casket. Some asked the baby's siblings to contribute items; others asked the grandparents. One thing to keep in mind is that there won't be very much room in the casket, so pack small.

Memorials At The Funeral

If you're really organized, you might be able to put together a program for the funeral. Sadly, I wasn't that organized, so everyone kind of muddled through our service following our cues. However, we did offer "memorial" gifts. I'm not sure what you'd call them. We set up a little display at the church entrance with a tiny photograph album that had my father's pictures on it, plus a trimmed-down photo of Emily and my son in a frame a friend gave us. We had a guest book, and I'd heartily recommend one because there were people there I didn't even realize had come! (Make sure they put in their addresses by having a friend sign first and put all the right info. The guests at my brother's wedding all just put their names.)

We had the funeral home print up prayer cards for us; they had 28 poems and prayers you could choose from for the back, underneath Emily's name and dates. We also offered packets containing wildflower seeds to be planted in Emily's memory. Tree Beginnings usually sells them for weddings, so if you visit their website and see that every single type of packet they offer says "Thank you for attending the start of our new life together," keep in mind that they can print a blank back. We opted to have nothing printed on the front either, just in case the ultrasound techs had guessed wrongly about the gender. When the woman on the phone found out why I was ordering them blank, she was very cordial and put a non-charge rush on them. She told me they'd be ready in two weeks; I had them in five days. There are several varieties of seeds to choose from and several designs for the covers. You can write them at Tree Beginnings, 273 Route 34, Locke NY 13902-3223, or phone at (315) 497-1058.

This is a learn-from-my-failure tip: if you put out the prayer cards and seed packets, or anything else for the funeral guests, state firmly that everybody is to take one. I suspect people were filling their pockets with Emily's seeds, because we had about 35 guests for the funeral (many of them couples), but they helped themselves to at least 60 of the seed packets and even more of the prayer cards! We put the remaining packets and prayer cards in the envelopes with Emily's birth announcements.

Brianna's family composed a special letter to hand out at her funeral, and her parents have been generous enough to share it with us.


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