Another of the things people shouldn't have to do at the ages of 27 and 30, is decide where they will be buried. We are way too young to have to choose that type of thing, however we talked about it and agreed that the MacGregor cemetery was a good place for us. Partly because I grew up there, most of my family is still there, and also largely because there were spots available right next my Grandpa. Even though we live in Winnipeg (which, for our international readers, is one and half hours away) we didn't want to bury our son in a big crowded cemetery in the city full of strangers. No matter what happens to us and where we end up, I know there will always people people who know us and love us in MacGregor, and they'll check on Donovan's grave if we aren't able to. So we bought 2 plots and convinced my parents to buy the two next to it. This way when our descendents come and visit us, we'll be nice and organized in one central location. : )
So with "final resting place" chosen and purchased, we moved on to the funeral arrangements. Oh, I guess I have to talk about something else first.
Caution: this part is going to be really uncomfortable for you. Feel free to go get a snack, check your facebook, or stand up and stretch.
At some point, and I don't remember when, we had to decide what to do with his body. You already know, there are two choices, right? Well we had to pick one, and it was awful. When you really think about it, both options seem absolutely terrible. There are pros and cons for both, but when it all came down to it, there is no such thing as a coffin for person as small as Donovan.
A few people have gently asked (and never to me, just to my mom) "was Donovan...ummm...cremated?" The answer is yes. But it was not an easy decision, actually it was an impossible one. As a matter of fact, the concept of cremation has always freaked me out and seemed totally cruel. I know many of you agree. I was tormented, haunted and tortured about making this decision. I couldn't sleep, when I closed my eyes all I could see was fire. How could I let that happen to my son? Two or three days after he was born and a day or two before the funeral, I had a life changing experience (yes, another one. This is the whole reason I'm telling you about the cremation). I was sitting on the side of my bed. I was hurting so badly in my soul, feeling like I'd done something terrible to the body of my child. I was praying desperately that God would help me, fix this, heal me, let me sleep and somehow bring me peace about this impossible decision.
A little voice along with the face of my baby boy appeared to me. I'M NOT JOKING.
This soft little boy who I'd held in my arms just days ago, looked at me (yes his eyes were open now) and he said sweetly "It's okay Mom, I don't need it."
My son told me it was okay. He had made a very good point. He no longer needed that body, he was done with it. The decision we made did not hurt him or bother him. He was fine with it, and wanted me to know it.
I am not making this up. I have never had an experience like this before. And trust me, I have had many prayers go unanswered (obviously) but for some reason, I got a miracle that day, and I saw my son again, and felt a perfect peace that I really needed.
Not once since then have I regretted our decision. It was right for us, it was right for Donovan, and I no longer think it's mean or gross. The bottom line is, when someone dies the people left behind have to make a very difficult decision between two things that both seem terrible. There is no way around it and it can be traumatizing.
However, my unbelievable experience helped me immensely and I would hope for anyone struggling with this type of choice to somehow acquire the peace I felt about it and still feel, after I was reassured that it was okay. I can still hear that soft, happy, concerned voice: "It's okay Mom, I don't need it."
We spent the majority of the days between his birth/death and the funeral at our home, editing pictures and putting them to music. We went out to MacGregor one day and met with the funeral director, selected an urn, funeral card, flowers and balloons. Hmm, sounds easy now, but every decision was SO HARD. I felt tons of pressure. One chance and one chance only to celebrate your child, to introduce him to your extended family and friends, and to imprint his specialness on their hearts.
During these days of planning, our cheek skin was raw and sore from all the tears. Doug, in a very creative, hilarious way, actually came up with a way of tilting his head back slightly while he cried, then when his lids started to overflow, he would snap his head forward and the tears would jump out of his eyes, missing his cheeks completely. It was the one thing that could make me smile... and even laugh.
Since I'd been pregnant, I had no appropriate clothes that fit me, and this resulted in a trip to the mall. It was the last place I wanted to be. It was the strangest experience. I felt so weird being there. I couldn't help but to think: "How can these people just wander around oblivious..." yet of course why would they know, or why should they know. But I kept wondering how many times I had walked past someone whose baby had just died or someone else they loved. How many times have I walked by someone whose silent pain was throbbing through their whole body. It's a weird thing to think about, and to this day I always wonder what people are thinking about, when I see them walking quietly or looking down. You just never know what's going on behind those eyes.
Needless to say it was the most decisive I'd ever been shopping, I think I tried on one thing and bought it. We went and got Doug some stuff too, and of course at Moore's they ask "Is this for a special occaision?" Ugh. It's the kind of question when you know they'll be sorry they asked if you tell them the real answer, so we just said "Funeral." He asked "Are you a pall bearer or something?" We just nodded and pleaded with our eyes for him to stop asking questions.
When grow-ups die, there us usually more people to help with the plans, but in our case, we pretty much did everything ourselves. It was tiring, especially since I'd just given birth, yet at the same time we were motivated with the concept of giving our boy a special day. The day before the funeral, I woke up to sheer pain on my chest.
So off to goggle I went, to find out how to deal with this. I didn't know for sure if it would arrive, since I was only 21 weeks pregnant, but now we know. The only think I could find that was recommended was cold cabbage leaves, so Doug went to the store. I will only say this: I'm never eating coleslaw again. Doug affectionately nicknamed my situation: Bra-slaw.
It felt like a cruel joke, to have all this milk and no baby that needed it. Plus all the hugs I got on funeral day were extremely painful and I wish I'd worn some kind of chest protector. It really hurt!
Sunday November 8th was one of those amazing warm days last fall. There was still no snow and it was warm enough to be without jackets. We packed up everything, and I remember pulling out of the driveway thinking "I can't believe I'm going to my son's funeral." I was so nervous. Nervous about everything going as planned, and nervous to see people, because besides the mall outing, I'd pretty much been hiding in my house all week. We had invited people by phone, aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, parents and closest friends. As I've already mentioned, I do wish we'd opened it up to have anyone who wanted to come, but hindsight is always pretty clear, isn't it.
We had accidentally ordered 2 sets of balloons, one store sent them to the funeral home, even though I'd said I'll call them to confirm if I wanted them. It wasn't a huge deal, but they were different colours than the other set. If you know me at all, I really really like things exactly the way I'd pictured them in my head. So to have mismatched balloons on an important day like this seemed sloppy and careless. However, I had bigger things to worry about, and too many balloons was better than too few. But let's be honest, I to make a conscious effort to let it go. : )
The pastor who did the funeral is the same one who had officiated our wedding 3 years prior. He's amazing and we appreciate him and his wife so much. He did a great job. Doug's mom read Psalm 139, Doug and I both spoke, and we showed the slideshow of Donovan. I have tried 20 different ways of getting it onto my blog, but I haven't figured it out yet. Soon, I hope.
I really didn't cry that much at the funeral. So little in fact, that I was worried that people would think I wasn't sad enough. But the truth is, we had planned it so carefully and it was so important to us, that I think I kicked into gear and kind of had my "game face" on. Doug and I both actually felt an amazing amount of peace that day. During the slideshow, I leaned into Doug and said "I just want to stay here forever, just keep everyone in this room, ooing and aaahhing over how cute he was, thinking about him and loving him." The part that scared me most was when it was all over, and I'd be expected to go about my life again. Being in that room with friends and family focusing on Donovan, actually felt pretty good.
Here is a picture of the table we had set up in the front of the chapel. The beautiful urn, surrounded by flowers, and some of the special gifts we and others had given Donovan.
In the entrance we had a very cute guest book table set up, which we forgot to take a picture of, but the table cloth was Precious Moments fabric we'd bought, intending to make a blanket out of it but didn't get to it in time. Also with some flowers and two stuffed puppies which had been given to Donovan from his Grandpa and Grandma Penner and his Uncle Chris. It was very very cute and special.
After the service, just immediate family went to the graveside. Donovan's middle name is Isaac, which was my Grandpa Boehlig's name. Our plot is in the next row behind my Grandpa, so we had brought flowers to his grave for that day, with a little note that said "Grandpa, please take care of my baby"
I'm really glad we did the balloon release. It was beautiful. I do realize that those fell into some poor farmers field somewhere and that they didn't really reach my son. But it gave us something tangible and visible. Now, when we're feeling particularly far from Donovan or wanting to do something for him, we go and get two balloons, stand in our backyard, talk to him for a bit and then let them go. It's our little way of feeling connected to him.
Now you may not believe me, but something really funny happened. At least it was funny to me. For some reason, just after we let the balloons go, I looked behind me at our friend who was videoing the release. Since he had the camera, he didn't realize that when he let his balloon go, it had gone straight up into a tree and got stuck there. When I turned, his wife my dear friend, looked at me with huge eyes that said "Oh no! I'm so sorry!!!" The look on her face was priceless. I turned back to our cluster of balloons being carried away. Finally they got theirs free from the branches and it slowly made it's way up, a mile behind the others and it looked to me like it was saying in a squeaky voice "hey guys, wait up!" I actually had to bit my lip to keep from laughing. But when we got back to the house and I was trying to explain what had happened to their devious ballooon, I laughed so hard I cried. The others in the room seemed to think i'd lost my marbles, but I thought it was good that I could find something funny. I laughed and laughed, remembering the panicked look on Leann's face. At that moment I realized if I can laugh at a botched balloon released at my own son's funeral, surely, someday, I would find real joy again and maybe I'd get back to the place where there are more laughs than tears. Someday.
The urn was so beautiful and shiny that I really didn't want to put in the ground. But I'm not really into the urn on the mantle thing either. Plus, I don't have a mantle. So again, gotta do it. The others left Doug and I alone at the graveside, he shovelled and I knelt beside placing flowers which my sister had brought, into the hole. I had meant to bring some flowers for exactly that purpose and I forgot, so I'm very very glad she thought of it. Like I said before, i needed this day to be just right. Sometimes people just leave the burying part to the funeral home staff, but we wanted to do it ourselves. We buried him right between our two plots, half way down, so when we are buried it will look like he is cuddled between us.
It was hard, and at this point the peace kind of went away and I started to freak out. It was all just a little too much. But we went through these motions, they were non-negotiable, and we to just get through it.