Still Standing

Napping With Her Ashes

For 30 weeks our daughter danced wildly in my belly. When she was born she was immediately laid on my chest. Elliott never left our sight for the 23 hours we spent with her after her birth and subsequent death. When we handed her over to the funeral director, knowing that we’d never see her earthly body again, I started counting the hours until we could pick up her ashes from the funeral home.

No, I don’t have to share this story. A part of me doesn’t even want to tell it at all, but that’s why child loss is so taboo. Every aspect of it is unnatural and uncomfortable. We all secretly think to ourselves that we’re the only one to ever feel this way or think that thought. Maybe one person out there will read this and breathe a heavy sigh of relief, because they thought they were the only one.

When we picked up our baby’s remains, the tiniest bag of pink tinted ashes, I held on to her for hours. It wrenched my heart from my chest to pick up that soft blue velvet bag and realize that the little body that knitted itself together in my belly was in there. Regardless, I felt a heavy weight lift from my soul. For 4 days I had been separated from Elliott for the first time since learning of her existence. The morning that we got the call to come collect her, I threw on whatever clothes I could grab and raced to the car.

I knew we weren’t going to pick up Ellie as we last saw her, but the thought of being reunited in any capacity eased the heaviness I had felt since we parted.

It was an unseasonably cold and rainy day. We arrived at the funeral home and went to the room they had set up for us. We spent a few minutes standing in front of her itty bitty urn and holding each other, allowing reality to settle in. They had nestled her ashes into the soft white blanket we had wrapped her in at the hospital. I lifted the near-weightless bag, swaddled it within the blanket, and walked out of the building as if I was holding a newborn. I didn’t care how crazy I looked; it felt natural to hold her ashes snuggled against my puffy postpartum body.

As we drove home, I found a single sparkle hiding in the blanket; it was proof that she had been there, one single sparkle that had fallen off her pink bow headband.

When we arrived home, the fatigue and grief of the last week caught up with me and I settled into the couch. It was raining outside again and I had nothing on my “to-do” list except rotate through the emotions of grief and plan Ellie’s memorial. I wrapped myself in a fluffy red blanket and curled up into a ball. Where my belly once bulged full of life, I nestled Ellie’s white blanket that curled around her bag of ashes against me and slept. I think that was the best I had slept since giving birth to her.

It may sound strange to those who have not been through this nightmare of child loss, but it just felt so right to hold her close in the only way that I could.

Elliott’s ashes are an important fixture in our home. We went on a vacation two months after she was born, just to escape. My connection to Ellie was so strong that I had to leave her ashes with my in-laws. I couldn’t bear the thought of “her” being alone at home for a week. To those of you who know child loss, you understand. It’s all we have left: an urn to gently touch as you walk by, a headstone to sit and read to, a plaque in a garden to visit. No matter what decision you made regarding your child’s body, it wasn’t an easy one. Planning a funeral for a child is the stuff nightmares are made of.

We say good morning and good night to Ellie everyday. I open the blinds right away in the morning so the sun can shine warmly on her urn. This is one of the few ways I can parent my baby now, and to those of you who have been there, you understand.

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