The Memorial Service
Life after Dylan's 6 days was numb. I didn't really have time to digest or feel what was going on around me. We got home (on Tuesday) and immediately started planning a memorial (for Thursday, the only day our Priest was available to do the service for another 2 weeks). The turnaround was quick, but we managed to pull everything together. We sent out bulk texts and e-mails, knowing that on 2-days notice, alot of people probably weren't going to make it.
Our NILMDTS photographer and his wife graciously turned around a few pictures for us to use at the memorial. We were e-mailing back-and-forth until after midnight on Wednesday. Justin's brother put together a beautiful slideshow of the pictures that we'd taken at both hospitals to display in the church lobby. Justin and I made memorial cards for the attendees to have. Again, we only had like 40 printed, thinking we'll probably get some of those back. We even chose all the readings for the service. I think keeping busy was also keeping us from getting emotional.
On Thursday morning, we had more running around to do. I bought a new dress to wear to the memorial, but not because I needed one. It reminded me of a scene from Sex and the City, when Miranda's mother died. She said, "I'll probably just buy a lousy black dress that I'll never wear again." I felt the same way. After I wear this dress to my son's memorial, I'll probably never want to wear it again (of course I don't do lousy, so I ended up buying a dress from Banana Republic). And I started thinking about more scenes in my head, like in Steel Magnolias after Shelby's funeral when her mother said, "I realize as a mother how lucky I am. I was there when that beautiful creature drifted into my life, and I was there when [he] drifted out. . . I just want to know why?! . . . No, it's not supposed to happen this way, I'm supposed to go first. I've always been ready to go first." It's always so tragic when parents have to bury their own children. It's not right, it seems like it messes up the whole cosmos of everything.
When we got to the church I made my way inside after greeting a few people in the lobby. I enjoyed that quiet time before people started filing in to just sit and let it all sink in. Up to that point, I hadn't done that yet. I began to sob. What I didn't realize when I sat down was that Justin and I were to be part of the processional when the Priest came in. So after everyone seated themselves, Justin came up to get me. When I turned around, I saw for the first time that the church was almost full (more full than some of our Sunday masses). I was overwhelmed, but I tried to make as little eye contact as I possibly could because I didn't want to lose it before the memorial even started. I think Justin carried my entire weight up the aisle.
The memorial was perfect. I pretty much kept myself from crying the entire time until Justin went up to read. Our Priest told us that if we wanted to, we could prepare something to read but that it wasn't necessary. I knew that I would not be able to carry myself well if I went up there, but Justin was bound and determined to do so. He wrote a beautiful piece, and before he even started reading, I could already hear people crying. Not 1 or 2 words came out of his mouth before his voice started cracking, and I so badly wanted someone to go up there and read it for him. But he continued. His strength of character was so strong and evident at that very moment. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.
After the recessional, we ended up in the lobby just standing there not knowing exactly what to do. All of a sudden, I noticed these lines start forming in front of Justin and I, kind of like the receiving line at a wedding. People were coming up to hug us and say their condolences. There were even people there who we'd never met before, alot of them members of the church. It was fascinating how I'd react to the different people in line. In some cases, the exchange was very casual and I was completely fine. In others, I would bust out crying and just fall into the person's arms. And for some people, they lost it and needed my strength and support to hold them up.
The memorial cards went so fast that some people came up to us and asked if we had any more. I was not prepared for this many people to show up. We felt blessed to have Dylan's life honored by so many people. Alot of our co-workers even made it.
Justin said he could definitely tell the difference between people who came up to him that were parents and those that weren't. There's that level of sympathy that you have from another parent, and that whole underlying, "I don't know how you can go through this" thought.
Justin returned to work a mere 2 weeks after Dylan's death. It was an extremely difficult transition for him because he would still have people visit him at his desk to ask how the baby was, not knowing the entire situation. I, on the other hand, took the full amount of paid-time off I could take (12 weeks total, supported by the rest of my vacation and personal days for the year). During this time, I grappled with returning back to work. I thought about how much easier it would be to just get a new job where no one knew me, where I wouldn't have to face the questions or the sympathetic looks. By the end of August, though, I decided that I needed to just suck it up. Justin had to go back to work, and he survived. Why couldn't I do the same thing?
The first Monday after Labor Day, I went back to work. It was actually much easier than I anticipated. Most people would just "duck and cover" when they saw me, to completely avoid any uncomfortable situations. The more and more people saw that I was fine and would not just break into tears when they came around, the more and more people started treating me like nothing happened (just like the good ole days). See, that's what bothers me, though. It happened. My son died. While I realize that most people don't want to sit down and have in-depth conversations with me about it, I do wish that more people at least acknowledged it.
We attended a perinatal loss support group at one point. I think I would've been fine had the date not been the 11th (Dylan would've been 2 months old). The 11th and the 17th of every month have been dates that are particularly emotional for me. Another emotional one was the 4th of July (my original due date). Anyway, we got into this small room where the chairs were set up in a circle. Each chair had a travel-size package of Kleenex on it. I thought, "Oh, great" and prepared myself for an outpouring of emotions. We went around the room for each couple to share. When it came time for us, Justin had to talk because I was already knee-deep in the Kleenex. It was amazing how everyone's story was so different, but we were all there for the same thing. For the first time, we weren't getting sympathetic "I'm so sorry for you" looks. We were getting empathetic "I know what you mean" nods. I was comforted by the fact that these people actually understood what we were going through and could relate.
Saying Something Wrong
I've read many grief and loss books and pamphlets. I'm amazed when I read the "What Not to Say" passages. Surely, people don't say things like that, right? My Priest forwarned us that we would be angered by some of the things people say, but to give them the benefit of the doubt becuase they're only trying to help. I won't tack on a list of things to not say. What I will do, however, is list the things that helped me, even if they weren't all verbal:
1. "You have handled this with so much grace."
2. "I admire your strength."
3. "We will continue to pray for you, Justin, and Dylan."
4. Sending an e-mail that simply says, "You're on my mind."
5. Sending a card in the mail.
6. Making a donation in Dylan's name to the children's hospital or NILMDTS.
7. Getting a beautiful necklace with Dylan's name engraved on it.
8. Getting me out of the house during my "hiatus" to do lunch.
9. Asking to see the nursery.
10. Sending us a tree (one of the more unique gifts we received), to symbolize the promise of growth and more life.