Day 11: Altar

After Mabel’s wake, we invited people back to our house.  I took the photos we had displayed at the funeral home and placed them around our dining room- a central part of our home.  Those photos remain to this day and I’ve added trinkets and mementos that are of Mabel.  I’ve saved every single card I’ve been sent regarding her and they are stuffed into the wine cubicles on the server.  I often joke to those who I”m showing around the house.  “Here’s the kitchen, and this is the dining room, and this is my shrine…”  Most people don’t know whether to laugh or sigh.  I feel the need to admit to visitors that I understand that my alter to my daughter may be a lot for a newcomer and they might not know how to respond.  I try to add levity, but realize that is often lost on those who are not in the babyloss club.

Someday, I will move her photos to the shelves that contain all the other family photos, but I feel like moving them now sends some sort of message- to others, to Mabel and I’m not quite ready to send that message yet.


photo 2 (23) photo 1 (25)



Mabel’s wake

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?”

My chance to show her off

The wake was harder for others than it was for me.  In a way I had been looking forward to it for days.


Chris and I arrived early with our family, for set up and some time alone with Mabel.   We had asked if we could see her before they closed the casket.   Chris and I went to see her first.  As we walked the hallway to her room, I broke down.  The tears were a mix of some sort of happiness that I could see her again and sadness that this would be the last time I’d see her in person.  I know I shouldn’t have been, but I was surprised how small the casket was.  And then there she was- she was perfect.  Just how she was when we said goodbye in the hospital..  Her little pouty lips.  She was swimming in her carrot outfit, like I knew she would be.  She had her little hat with bunny ears on and her cute little feet were in little bunny booties.  I could she just a patch of skin on her ankle and it made my happy.  Chris’s mother had given her a few things to take with her- two little bunnies, one super soft and the other handmade holding a carrot.  And my cousin gave her a little carrot baby.  We thought about taking some pictures (she did look so lovely lying there), but decided we were happier remembering her with the photos we had.


Carrot Baby


After our time alone with Mabel, our family had the chance to visit with her.  Some had seen her before, like my mother and father, and some were seeing her for the first time in person.  It was lovely to watch.  I think it made it more real for them which made it more real for me.  My 3 year old niece jumped the line, because she wanted to see baby Mabel.  And then after everyone was done, she wanted to go back and see her again.  I loved her for that.


Chris and I spent the remaining time before calling hours began just visiting with her.  I told her lots of things.  How wanted she was. How much I loved her. How glad I was she came. How much all her family loved her.  How I would do it again for those six hours.


We opted for a closed casket for the calling hours, which was a good decision.  The pictures alone were enough to melt people, let alone the sight of such a small casket.  We laid the carrot baby in front of her casket.  We had brought several large photos of her, hand and footprints and a scrapbook of photos.  My mother-in-law, my sister and I had put together the scrapbook the day before, laying out photos to tell her story- from labor to her passing.  I am so thankful for their help in putting her story on pages, so people could see and know her.


As our friends and extended family came through, there were many tears.  My heart warmed watching so many people look at her photos and the tears that they brought.  I was touched by how emotional my family was.  I think the calling hours were actually easiest on me.  I was happy.  It was my chance to show her off.  So few people had a chance to actually meet Mabel or really see her face.  So this was my time to share her with my world.  See, she existed.  She really was here.  And look at how beautiful she was.  Know her.


Everyone came.  Those who could not, emailed or called or texted.  They were there too.  High school friends who lived close and far came.  Family friends traveled hours through a snowstorm to come.  So many nurses from the hospital came.  Just about my entire office staff came (and I work in four different offices).  The doctors and midwives in my practice came.  Midwives from other practices came.  My genetic counselor came.  Some of my close patients came.  Chris’s work friends came.  My dad’s work friends came.  Family came.  My own midwives and doctor came.


And they all saw her, my beautiful Mabel.