(written yesterday, February 20, 2014)
Today I buried my daughter. Words no parent should ever have to say.
We opted for a private, family graveside service in the cemetery nearest our house. I wanted Mabel to be close so I could visit frequently. Chris, I and our families caravanned over in the morning, with only minor mishaps. It’s only 1.5mi from our house, but we had never been. We entered through the wrong entrance and had to do a five car single file reverse. But we made it with a few minutes to spare.
Neither Chris nor I are particularly religious, but we felt we wanted some sort of service at the graveside. I was raised Catholic, but as an adult did not feel connected to that particular religion. I liked the idea of religion, but had trouble finding the right fit. While pregnant, I had tried a few local churches- two Unitarian Universalist and an Episcopal church- but I didn’t feel connected enough to any of them to bring them to Mabel’s graveside. The funeral director suggested a local Methodist pastor who would perform a non-denominational service. We spoke to Pastor Steve two days beforehand and he seemed nice. It almost felt better to have a stranger lead us in her services. And though the service was more Christian than I thought it would be, it was sweet and I appreciated the structure as we laid our baby to rest.
I had extended an invitation to any family members who wanted to speak at her graveside service and my father responded. He said:
Mabel Cleary Constantino
Your time with us was very brief – too brief – 36 weeks + 6 hours. The impact you have had on our lives is forever. It will endure forever. We knew you through the eyes and actions of your Mom and Dad, Meghan & Chris, the decisions they made during the past 36 weeks of your life to provide you with the best possible environment. We forever admire their respect for life, their love of life, their love of you and their commitment to each other. It is that love that brought us all together on September 22, 2012 and has brought us here today. It has been quite a journey, the Mabel elements of which have been captured and shared with relatives, friends and others. Mabel, you have had more written about you than most people my age. Through such elegant prose, and through the love of your family and that of Meghan & Chris, your memory will endure. You forever will be a bright light. You will be the beacon for us all and our Angel. We love you.
I asked my sister to read an excerpt from Elizabeth McCracken’s “An Exact Replica of a Figment of my Imagination”
After the baby died, I told Edward over and over again that I didn’t want to forget any of it: the happiness was real, as real as the baby himself, and it would be terrible, unforgivable, to forget it. His entire life had turned out to be the forty-one weeks and one day of his gestation, and those days were happy. We couldn’t pretend that they weren’t. It would be like pretending that he himself was a bad thing, something to be regretted, and I didn’t. I would have done the whole thing over again even knowing how it would end.
She followed by saying a few words. She had found out she was expecting shortly after we had found out about Mabel’s Down Syndrome. She thanked me for letting her in at a time when I could have shut her out. She also thanked Chris for being my rock.
My sister has been one of my go-to sounding boards throughout the pregnancy- I’ve been just about as open with her as I have my therapist. And though it’s been hard for me to connect with other pregnant women, especially after the low fluid diagnosis, I was able to still stay connected with her. It gave me some sense that all was not lost- that despite such terrible news and poor prognosis, I was still human and could find that compassion for someone. It may have been only one person; I’ll admit I felt very separate from most other pregnant women- friends, coworkers, patients, but the fact that I could maintain some connection with one person made me hope I could return to myself some day.
After my sister spoke, Chris’s mother mentioned she felt just like my niece did at that moment. My niece had to be taken away howling in that way only 3 year olds know how. Her tears had nothing to do with the burial- she is too young- but her sobs at the injustice of not getting what she wanted were so very appropriate. And my mother-in-law’s comment held a little comic relief.
Then it was my turn:
I had a baby. Her name was Mabel.
I carried her for 8 months with worry and hope. I agonized about doing the right thing for her. Ultimately she made it clear that she was happy inside me. She grew and moved and became a baby. I didn’t want her to be born. I wasn’t ready, but she was. She showed me that she was feisty and would do what she pleased.
She gave me many gifts. She came on her own time, with a quick labor, naturally without any distress. She paved the way for her siblings to come safely. She hung on until she could meet more family. She showed me she knew me, and was happiest on my chest, close to my heart. She was here too short, but she was mine. I made her and I loved her.
I had a baby. Her name was Mabel.
After the pastor finished, we each placed a rose (provided by Chris’s mother) on her tiny tiny casket. And then we left so my tiny tiny daughter could be laid to rest. But I will be back. With flowers and memories. I will give her a headstone so that anyone who passes can see she existed. I want something to mark the grave so that maybe a hundred years from now, someone will see her stone and think, I wonder what Mabel’s story was, what happened to such a little baby who was here only one day.