Not the Way it is

June 11, 2013

I don’t remember the sun shining after we lost her. Days still began and ended, but none of my memories withhold any brightness from the sky. Gray darkness rolled in and remained. Even the clouds agreed with our sadness as their underbelly constantly threatened rain or — maybe tears? Their heaviness mimicked my burden. We were supposed to deliver a little baby girl, instead, as we walked out of the hospital, the only things we cradled in our arms were grief, pain, anger and an arduous to-do list.

This is not the way it is.

The Casket.

Nothing could have prepared me for the distressing appearance and disheartening size of the small box on display in the funeral home. We walked into a display room that was decorated with white ribbons and flowers. Folding chairs were lined up in two rows as we made our way down the middle aisle. I stepped towards the tiny box and peered over the edge. I felt my heart literally shift inside of my chest. I was going to put my little girl in a box? Would she be afraid of the dark? If she cried, who would hear her?

This is not the way it is!

The lady showing us around led my wife and I back out of the room. We sat down at a round table , our chairs faced a television screen. The television displayed a looping video that advertised an assortment of caskets, burial plans and headstones.  She was so matter-of-fact. I tried not to let that anger me, but it didn’t work.

She flipped through pages of beautiful caskets. With each turn of the page, she rambled off some of the descriptive selling points. Her words were direct and unpleasant.

She was just doing her job, I reminded myself.

Then she said 11 words that destroyed the little bit of strength I had only recently assembled to maneuver through this impossibly challenging conversation.

“This one is waterproof. It is sealed. Nothing can get in.”

I felt my insides being ripped apart. The pit of my stomach grew nauseous. A ferocious nightmare projected into my mind as I faced the most unsettling imagery I had ever envisioned. My precious little baby girl lying alone in a box as water, mud and bugs found their way into her undeserved home.

I saw her looking for me. Her hair was damp from the night’s rain. She was tucked up into one of the corners doing all she could to avoid the insects . Doing all she could do to escape the disgusting intrusion.

All children are afraid of the dark. All are afraid of crawling things. She would need me. Would she know I put her there? My thoughts raced as tears filled my eyes.

The sound of her fear would be louder than her screaming voice as she begged me to rescue her.

I wouldn’t hear her. I wouldn’t rescue her. Instead I picked a box to put her in and walked away.

The thoughts were so unsettling that I had to lean forward and hold onto the table in front of me. I bit my bottom lip and tried to cut deep into it. It worked.

How can I pick what box she should be placed into? Was there a right choice? I battled the onslaught of paralyzing thoughts. This newly discovered fear of the elements was something, among hundreds of things, I had not considered.

This was not the way it is going to be!

Three days later, I stood inside the church building. Blank faces walked towards me, hugged my neck and rattled off repetitive one-liners of remorse. I paced in the foyer. I looked out the double-glass doors as I awaited the hearse to arrive.

Finally it did. Within it would be the box that we had decided as good enough to hold our precious baby.


Fifteen minutes later, we were ready to begin. I spoke to the sound technician briefly and the notes of the first song rang out over the speakers. I stepped outside and walked towards the vehicle that held my little girl. The white box easily fit into one seat. Aside the thumbnail photo in the catalog where we had chosen it, this was the first time I saw it. Each step that brought me closer seemed to cause it to shrink in size. I took a deep breath, reached down and clasped the ends in my shaking hands.

I noticed the small gold lock and again wondered, would this be enough to keep everything out?

I anticipated weight as I lifted her to my chest but there was none. I vividly remember how light she was. Anger met me as the thought faded. All of the weight of this entire situation had been surgically implanted into my shoulders.

I carried her to the table decorated with flowers and finally accepted, that this is the way it will be

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    Paul De Leon is the father of a baby too beautiful for Earth. In March of 2011, one week before her scheduled delivery, Bella’s heart simply stopped beating. Her cry was never heard. He hopes to carry her story and give her a voice so that all those who will hear it, might find something that may help in their own journey of grief.

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