The funeral home director is a man seemingly in his thirties- younger than I would expect. He is appropriately somber and a little too easy with a smile at the same time. He goes through what is involved in burying a baby. There is one type of casket, white and plastic, made at cost. It is some sort of makeshift holiday- president’s day, I think, so it’s unknown if we’ll be able to get the casket in the next day or not. Do we want a graveside service? Here is a minister that comes highly recommended. Will we have an obituary? We want all the names of our siblings, her aunts and uncles, included. Yes, there are a lot of them and yes, we wanted them all listed. What do you want on the prayer card? We flip through the book and my eyes well up as I read ones clearly made for babies.
The funeral director is not there the day of the wake. We enter the building with photos and a scrapbook in hand, greeted by strangers.
As Chris and I are led down the hallway towards the large room that holds my daughter in her casket, I try with little success to stifle the sobs that start to surface. Chris holds my arm as we enter the room to spend our last moments with our baby. There she is, in an eternal slumber. Eyes closed, face peaceful, she is dressed in her soft white bunny outfit- the first time I’ve seen her in it. Now that it is just Chris, Mabel and I, I let the tears come. I cry and I cry, seeing my beautiful newborn daughter. I want to touch her, but I don’t want to feel the coldness of her skin, so I refrain. “She looks good.” I say to Chris. And she does. She looks just how we had left her. She shows no marks of her journey from my embrace to the nurse’s arms to the morgue’s table to the funeral home. There is no evidence of the cuts we allowed for the autopsy to help us determine just why her kidneys didn’t develop. She is angelic; she is my baby. After I feel like I can’t cry any more tears, Chris tells the funeral home employee that we are ready for our family. They line up silently, each waiting their turn to kneel by Mabel’s casket. They go in pairs, some seeing her again, like my parents and cousin, some seeing her for the first time, like Chris’s parents and our siblings. I watch my Dad cry- something I don’t ever remember seeing him do. I watch as my sister brings my three year-old niece up. After everyone has a turn, my niece runs back up, saying, “I want to see baby Mabel again.” The sincerity in curiosity make her words play over and over again in my head.
I take note of all the flower arrangements, from our family, friends and workplaces. Some still sit in our house today.
As the clock nears four, the starting time of the calling hours, Chris and I spend our last moments kneeling in front of our daughter. This is the last time, the last time I will see her face. Disbelief takes over. The funeral home employee returns to the periphery and we nod in his direction. He comes and closes the casket, placing a large flower arrangement on its lid. Slowly friends, family and coworkers trickle in. They sign her guestbook and stop at the table of photos. As they flip through the scrapbook I made, I can see them point at certain pictures and make cooing comments to each other. When they finish, most head directly to us, missing the tiny casket on their left. They don’t even realize there is a baby in the room with them. She is right there. Some see the kneeler and realize they can be right beside her for a moment. They all make their way to us, a receiving line in shades of black. Chris and I welcome their tear stained faces. I smile at them, motioning back to the photos, and say “Did you see her? Did you see my Mabel?”