When I entered the church I was hit with the scent of my childhood Sunday mornings. The familiar incense, only found in catholic churches, surrounded me. It was a small building, about twelve rows of wooden benches lined each side of a center aisle leading to a marble altar placed centrally on the pulpit. I slipped into a pew a few rows from the back, nearest the exit so that I could escape easily if I needed to. The last time I had been in a church was for a friend’s wedding; this time I was surrounded by strangers, dressed in dark and demure clothing, appropriate for a memorial mass for a baby.
I was worried about how I would feel going to the service. Would I cry? I thought as I drove to the church. Would I seem emotionless and heartless? I found those original thoughts laughable as tears stung my eyes, the moment the first note of the organ music began. Now I worried I would seem overly dramatic as the tears continued to flow, before any words were even said. I’m not a quiet crier, with a snotty nose that needs constant blowing. I paced my breathing trying to keep my emotion discreet, telling myself I could always step out to the foyer if I needed to.
I pictured myself grabbing my purse and finding refuge in the entryway. The woman who had greeted me on the way in would look up and ask what was wrong. I would apologize for my theatrics, saying how I too had lost a baby and this was simply bringing up too much emotion.
I did not escape to the foyer. Instead I looked up and saw a few rows ahead of me a woman, about fifteen years my senior, holding a tissue to her face. She was crying almost as hard as I was. Seeing this woman unabashedly letting her tears flow reminded me that I was at a funeral! It’s okay to be sad! A baby died! Having a partner in overt sadness gave me the strength I needed to be present through the rest of the mass. I’m unsure who this woman was- I imagined her as an aunt, maybe one without kids of her own, who treated the bereaved mom like she was her own child. Or perhaps she was simply someone who felt deeply, had a particularly strong sense of empathy. She did me a favor that day: her tears gave me permission to shed my own openly.
I listened to the familiar chants and prayers of a Catholic mass, cautiously looking around, eying those surrounding me. Up ahead was a set of three young women- college friends of the mom, I imagined. They were dressed nicely in black dresses with colorful sweaters, a combination that seemed appropriate for a dark service on a bright sunny day. Their hair was carefully arranged and makeup done nicely- their attention to their appearance made me think how much they respected and cared for the parents. The woman in the pew ahead of me had placed her purse next to her on the bench. It sat with the top open, exposing its contents. My eyes were drawn to the keys, which had a small key chain with the faded school photo of a nine year-old girl. I became fixated on that key chain photo, thinking how the bereaved mom would not have one of those for her baby, how I would not have one of those for Mabel.
I was at that service to remember the little girl who entered this world silently a few days before, but I couldn’t be there without thinking of Mabel too. Had I remained loyal to the Catholic faith, this is the kind of service we would have had for my baby. I could see the mom in the front pew and watched her emotions through the mass. I was transported back to the first days after Mabel died- the anticipation of her wake and burial, the family surrounding me at all hours, the engorged breasts announcing to the world that there had been a baby. It was hard.
The priest gave a nice sermon about death and mercy- explaining that we were not asking for mercy in the forgiveness of sins sense for the deceased, but instead we were asking for mercy for ourselves, asking for compassion as we mourned what we lost.
After the mass was over the crowd, which was sizeable for a weekday morning, slowly filed out behind the grieving family, ending in a receiving line. As I waited my turn, I watched a few women who were dressed in scrubs. The bereaved mom was a clinician in a local medical clinic and I could tell these were women who worked with her. It warmed my heart to see them present and wiping away tears. I wanted to approach them and tell them a tiny bit of my story- that I’m a provider who lost a baby too and that returning to work was hard. I wanted to tell them that I thought it was so wonderful they were here and to please, please continue to watch out for the mom. Don’t let her return to work to soon. And when she’s ready, protect her. She’ll look better than she feels. Even months out, her baby will be on her mind and she’ll face constant reminders with her patients. Don’t forget. I played these words in my mind, but never got the nerve to say something. I didn’t want to bring my story into her day. But I know that her coworkers were there for her that day and by that alone, I know they’ll be there for her later on too.
While waiting in line, a woman asked if I were a friend of the mom’s or the dad’s. I said I knew the mom. She introduced herself as the mom’s aunt and asked how I knew the mom. This was a bit awkward for me as I met the mom through this blog and to explain it felt a little clumsy.
“We’re sort of internet friends,” I said inelegantly. “I lost a baby too and I write a blog about it. We found each other that way. I’m a nurse midwife, so we’re both in the field.” My voice was shaky, betraying the nervousness I felt bringing my baby’s story into another baby’s special day.
“I’m a nurse too,” she said and noted how she knew the baby’s whole story from the beginning. We nodded at each other, sharing the understanding that fellow nurses have.
When I finally made it to the receiving line, I met the dad, who had his daughter’s little hat tucked into his pocket, creating a very special striped accent to his dark suit. The mom and I exchanged hugs and all I could think about was her poor chest- all that hugging when milk is trying to come in. At the end of the line I spoke with her mom. My standard introduction was “Hi, I’m Meghan. I’m a new friend of the mom’s. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Her mom grabbed me by the arms and said, “Meghan? The blog Meghan?”
I smiled and nodded.
“Oh I am so glad to meet you. And I’m so sorry about your loss too. I saw the page you wrote about Clara, it was lovely.” I suggested she look at the comments because there was a whole lot of love coming to her family from all over. “I am just so happy you guys have found each other- wait, no. I mean, I’m so sorry you both lost your babies, but…”
And I interrupted her, reassuring “Yes, me too.” There should be a word for the weird sense of camaraderie the babylost have- we are so happy to have each other, but wish we never knew one another, that none of us ever gained membership to this awful and special club, that our babies had lived.
I left the church feeling strangely good. It was a weird day- it seemed too sunny and warm for a funeral mass. Perhaps I was colored by my own story, having buried Mabel in the cold snow, but it just seemed so surreal that I spent the past hour sobbing in the dim church only to leave with the bright sun warming my bare arms through the bright green leaves on the trees.
Have you been to a funeral since your lost? What was it like for you?