Funeral for a child

Have you ever pictured your child’s funeral? Of course not. No one–no one–wants to think about their child dying. For almost five years, when I referred to our three-year-old son’s funeral, I said ‘service.’ I could not bear to admit that we planned, attended, and welcomed friends and family to gather because my son had died.

But, before we lost him, I will admit, I did think about it. I think my heart knew well before the day he went to Heaven, that his journey on Earth would come to an end well before any of us were ready. He was born 16 weeks prematurely, his kidneys were failing, and his liver was covered in cancer. While I smiled for him, and was optimistic in conversation, as a mother, I knew.

His funeral was beautiful. We arranged the chairs in a circular form around the pastor’s podium. His little box of ashes sat among toys, photos, and memories. All our friends and family gathered and visited. We cried. A lot. But that was just the beginning of my life without my son. Tears are streaming down my face right now, remembering.

There was an outpouring of love. We even laughed at times. My husband and I split as we welcomed co-workers, friends from afar, and neighbors we barely saw. We hugged everyone. And whether or not they said anything, we knew everyone there would be affected for the rest of their lives because of our son.

My girlfriends decorated the room with minion balloons, we played his favorite song ‘Happy,’ and all blew bubbles in his honor. The pastor, who we’d met at the children’s hospital during treatment, told stories of his unique personality and how he always remained smiling. Even after five months of chemotherapy, he was always smiling.

A member of the funeral home attempted to write an obituary. Being a writer, I edited the entire page. I needed to express the beauty of that child, for those who knew him and those who didn’t. It felt like my only chance to give the world some idea of the gift that was my perfect son.

We celebrated his life. And I said goodbye to mine. I would never be the same. I wondered if I were still a mother, having my only child in Heaven. I wondered how I would feel when I looked at my nieces and nephews, my friends’ children, any children. My entire life, for the three years prior, had been about my son. And he was gone. And so was I.

His ashes still sleep in that box, on a shelf in our room. We had to choose a vessel for our child’s body. We had to write an obituary. We had to choose pictures to view on the funeral home’s television. We had to leave the funeral home with a box containing the remains of our child. We placed it in his carseat on the way home. It took several months to remove the carseat.

Planning a funeral for a child is unfathomable. But we did it. And I knew that we would. What I didn’t know was if I would survive, when my son did not. It’s been five years, and I am still here. But I am not the same. Planning a funeral for a child–my child–is something I never even thought about when we finally decided to become parents. But that is our reality. No one wants to plan a funeral for a child. But some of us do.

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