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Memorials, and Afterward


After the birth and death of your baby comes the longest part of the process. I am not an expert on grieving, but those who are say it takes two years to fully come to terms with the death of a baby. I have come to believe the key to a proper acceptance of the death is learning to remember our babies and incorporate them into our souls now that we can't incorporate them into our daily lives. Everyone will accomplish this differently, and everyone will make various steps at his or her own pace. I merely share some of what I did in the hopes that it will give you ideas for memorializing your own child.

Obituary

This will be the first memorial for your baby, and unfortunately obituaries for babies are short and don't say much. Longer-lived persons will have their interests and possibly their cause of death listed, but in many communities the obituary for a baby says little more than "infant son of" and a list of surviving relatives. It pays to think in advance about whether you want a cause of death listed. We didn't consider it until afterward, and I regret that. They also put only her middle initial in the heading rather than writing out her full name. Since many newspapers print obituaries for free, you may not have much bargaining room, but if something is important to include, ask that it be included. They may agree to do it.

Birth Announcements

We had professional birth announcements printed by a company which also does engraved wedding invitations. It's a sweet little announcement, and if I ever get a scanner I'll make sure to post a copy here. It has a subdued image of a ribbon-heart in a mother-of-pearl color with baby footprints in the middle. The copy (lavender) reads the names of myself, my husband, and my son, and adds that we are "both proud and sad to announce the birth and death of Emily Rose." We give her time of birth and time of death, and at the bottom the name and address of the charity to which memorial donations may be made in her name. In this announcement we included for out-of-towners the prayer cards and seed packets not snapped up by the other mourners at her funeral.

Photographs

If you were able to get photographs of your baby, this is the most basic memorial you will have at your disposal. The photos may be very painful to you at first. I was able to pinpoint exactly when Emily died in the procession of photographs because that's when her bear was moved onto my lap with her.

I found it helpful to put all the photos of Emily and Emily's funeral into one photograph album. We chose one of those albums that's no larger than the size of the photos and holds approximately a hundred photos. There's a space on the metal front cover for a photo there, as well. It looks very nice, and it can stay on display. There were some photos that didn't fit in this album, and they're in another album of the same type without the metal frame on the front. I put an angel sticker on that album and keep it with the first. I dislike how this isolates her photos from the rest of the family's photos, but on the other hand, if I want to look just at her, it's easier to do it.

I made copies of every single photograph for all of Emily's grandparents. This gives them some measure of inclusion in her memory, and it also gives me peace of mind: four entire houses would have to burn to the ground simultaneously before all those photos were destroyed. When all you have as a memory is photos, the prospect of their loss becomes vaguely paralyzing. Before we got the copies made, I insisted on bringing Emily's photos with us on long trips just in case something happened to the house.

We made enlargements of some of the photos, framed them, and put them up on the living room wall and mantle beside the rest of our framed photographs. Emily is a part of our family, and I feel better including her there.

Video

The video of Emily's life is too painful for me to watch right now. I keep the SVHS tapes in her memory box, and I have one VHS copy in SP mode which I'll eventually make other copies of. In the meantime, I wait. I'm not ready to do anything with it yet, even capturing the nicer screenshots from the video. She's realer in video than in photography, and it feels as though I'm with her there. It doesn't help that the tape runs out on almost exactly the minute she dies.

Scrapbook

This is an extension of photography. Originally I had intended to make duplicates of all Emily's photos and create a scrapbook the way the proficient crafters can. Mine would be neither proficient nor crafty, but I imagined I could use photo-corners, stickers, craft paper, etc, to tell her story in more attractive fashion than just a procession of photos in an album. I've reached the conclusion that I will not do this at any time in the future.

There isn't any limit to what you could conceivably put in one of these albums. Your child's hospital bracelet, the birth and death certificates or certificate of fetal death, cards from any flowers you received after your announcement of being pregnant or after your child's death, the prayer card from the funeral, a baptismal certificate, congratulations cards and condolence cards from either end of the pregnancy, and if you happen to have it, your pregnancy test. Your doctor may still have the records of the lab tests which confirmed the pregnancy, if you had one. Ribbons from the casket or extra baby socks you never got to use, gifts from friends, a scrap of baby's blanket--they can all go in. Poems or prose pieces that you associate with the grief process can help give structure to your scrapbook. Virtually anything that's flat and reminds you of your child can make a good addition!

My husband has compiled a scrapbook for his youngest brother, however, since his death three months after Emily's. He said he found the process therapeutic, and he feels good having many memories of Christopher all in one place.

Flowers

We didn't get very many flowers because others knew we didn't especially want them. However, those we did receive I made sure to dry before they wilted. Drying flowers is very easy (you probably guessed that, since I was able to do it!) When they begin to wilt but before they fall to pieces, pull them from the vase and suspend them upside-down in a cool, dry, dark location. This will help the stems to dry straight. I tie a thread around the stem and hang it from a nail in my kitchen, since I don't have any cool, dry, dark locations in my house, and that works as well. Craft stores sell something like flower hair-spray which helps the flower retain its shape. Craft stores also sell a gel that can be added to the water in the vase while the flowers are still hale and beautiful, and that will help them retain their color and shape. I have never tried this. I did save the ribbons and cards that came with the flowers as well.

Once the flowers dry, someone with good craft-instincts, a grape-vine wreath, and a glue-gun can create a flower-wreath out of the dried funeral flowers. Craft stores will have all the necessary materials and may teach classes on the subject.

Some of Emily's flowers were varieties that do not dry well at all. Those I stripped the petals from and used as potpourri. Then I put the final result into one of the ubiquitous (and useless) crystal bowls we received for our wedding. I keep it now in our china cabinet.

I have heard of an organization which will take rose petals prior to drying and turn them into rosary beads. When I get more information about them, I'll add their address here. I like the idea, but unfortunately I didn't get the information in time for my daughter's or brother-in-law's flowers.

Cards

We saved every single card we received, plus all the emailed messages and all the flower-cards. Someone making a scrapbook might include them. I'm still not sure what I want to do with them all. They take up a lot more space than I anticipated, and it seemed they kept arriving for weeks. The worst part, however, was the first day no more cards arrived. Intellectually I knew it didn't mean Emily was already forgotten. But emotionally, it was hard to cope.

Donations

After asking othes, I've learned that it is within proper etiquette to select a charity for memorial donations and to mention it in both the birth announcement and the obituary. When an adult or a child dies, generally the benefitting charity is one either relating to the cause of death or to a cause the deceased loved. Our babies won't have had causes they loved. I've heard of many different types of memorial donations, the most memorable being the family which had donations in their baby's name sent to the children's section of their community library. Every so often they still find books with book-plates naming their son as the memorial donor. We chose Birthright of Ithaca, a crisis pregnancy center for which we both worked during college, as the beneficiary. The woman in charge is the sweetest person alive: if I had a pregnant teenage daughter, this is the woman I'd want her talking to. We knew they frequently had no money to spare, and they were small enough to really benefit from the few extra dollars that might come in, whereas The March of Dimes might not even notice. They sent us a list of names as people donated (but not dollar amounts) and we sent them thank-you notes in addition to the official ones from Birthright.

If you wish to keep it private, you can still make a donation in your own child's name to a cause you feel worthy of being associated with your little one.

Gardens

My father and I both have memorial gardens, although mine is the kind that comes in a bag with its own fertilizer and a preselected set of wild flowers. My father's is very elaborate, with flowers and shrubs carefully selected for various reasons. By a string of wild coincidences, he found an Emily Rose aucuba bush, for example, and now he has two of those in his garden. Both he and I will try to get ahold of an Emily rose bush next spring, as well. My father's garden has a birdbath statue of an angel. (Again, once I get a scanner, I'll include a photo.)

Corner Shelf

I jokingly refer to it as The Shrine, but in actuality, it's only a corner shelf devoted to Emily's memoribilia. I had purchased the shelf shortly after we moved into our house, but only after Emily died did my husband finally install the thing. It's near our wall of photos so that when more photos are added, it will seem like an extension of the family photos. On the shelf we have two small photos of Emily, a teddy-bear that arrived in one of her flower arrangements and an angel from another one, a crystal cross from one of Emily's grandmothers, the crucifix laid on her casket during the funeral, and two silk daisies from our church's candlelighting memorial service for all the deceased. Above the shelf on the wall we have a framed copy of Emily's footprints (with a lock of her hair), a framed birth announcement, a ceramic cross from my brother and his wife, and the ceramic mold of Emily's feet. It helps me to have many of Emily's mementos in one location. While I joke about The Shrine, I feel the corner shelf is a means of carving out a space for my daughter among the clutter of our daily lives.

Memory Boxes

We have three memory boxes, and they're all full. The first is a sewing box with a pretty pattern on the outside. This is something I bought before her birth to keep all her outfits in until they were needed. Currently it has the remaining outfits sealed in plastic bags, a silk envelope containing a lock of her hair, several smaller gifts from relatives (like a pin and a rosary bracelet) and one of her hospital blankets (again, sealed in a plastic bag.) I have three other blankets that don't fit in this box.

The second is a handsome, dark-wood jewelry box with an engraved nameplate. In this I keep paper mementos, such as her birth and death certificates, obituaries, church bulletins with her name in it, and my pregnancy journal.

The third is a hand-painted wooden box from the hospital, donated for bereaved mothers by a local crafter who herself suffered a neonatal loss. In this I keep some of Emily's things from the hospital: the hats she wore, still with her blood on them (also in plastic bags), the socks she never got to wear, her hospital bracelets and mine, and the SVHS tapes.

Looking through the memory boxes is hard; looking at the items she actually wore or touched is hardest of all.

The Cemetery

If you've chosen burial or to bury your baby's ashes, you will have a special place to go for remembering, in addition to any space you may carve out as a memorial spot in your home or garden. If your cemetery permits you to keep long-term decorations at the site, you will have another way to remember your child. In addition to laying down cut flowers at the grave (carnations last longest, incidentally) we have left pinwheels, planted flowers and ivy, left a scarecrow, and placed two kevlar helium balloons-on-a-stick. The balloons are an interesting conundrum, by the way, because many places no longer carry small balloons in a solid color: they have to have a message or a character shape on them. Some of the most wildly inappropriate messages we've found were "Get Well Soon," "Congratulations!" and "Glad You're Here." The first balloon we found was a subdued pink with a teddy bear and the words, "Lovely Baby Girl." I affixed that balloon on very tightly and stuck it hard into the ground. When we returned, the stick remained but the balloon was gone. I believe Emily took it and it's on a mantlepiece in heaven. (Don't laugh--I've had something else taken under circumstances that make my hair stand on end.) The next time we found a balloon, it was Winnie The Pooh, and this remained all summer until we took it home at the beginning of leaf-blowing season. For Christmas, we planted a "living tree" from the grocery store (to be uprooted in January. Living Tree is a misnomer. These trees always die anyhow.) We have a flower-fairy garden statue currently. This sounds like a lot, and if it were all on the grave simultaneously it would look like a carnival sideshow. We try to keep it to three mementos at the grave at a time.

Emily's next-door neighbor has a display of silk flowers, a votive light with a candle that can burn for a week at a time, and a Matchbox car (he would have been four now.) Both that grave and a neighboring grave have stone angel statues. Two others have only annual flowering plants beside the stone, and the remaining three have nothing at all. Any level of decoration is fine (provided it doesn't look like my above-mentioned carnival, I suppose). It depends on you and your preferences, and how you feel most comfortable remembering your baby.

In the beginning, I visited Emily's grave five times a week. As time goes on, I visit less frequently (winter cold has something to do with this, as well as progression towards a state of acceptance.) I used to visit with my coffee in the morning and linger a long time talking to her. I've heard from mothers in which the opposite was true: at first they did not want to visit the grave at all, and later they could only as they progressed in their grieving. As in many other cases, whatever level is comfortable to you is fine, even if you never visit. Some families travel to the gravesite on special occasions and spend a couple of hours having a picnic. I think this is a nice idea, and perhaps someday I'll do that.

There are more memorials, but I've placed them on another page.

 

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