Monday, October 4, 2010

The Funeral

There are many things that no one should have to do, and plan a funeral for their child is one of them.  Not everyone has funerals for babies born like Donovan was, but I can't tell you enough how important it was for us, and I would urge all bereaved families to do it.  We were distracted by the questions in our minds "Would anyone even come, they didn't know him?" and "What do you say a funeral for someone with a 4 hour life?"  Once we got into the planning though, we found no trouble putting together a service, and we invited just a small number of people.  Again, in hindsight I wish we'd had a regular funeral, where whoever wanted to could attend.  But we felt doubtful that many people would come, so we just had it at the funeral home which only held 50 people, and invited aunts, uncles, grandparents and a few close local friends.  The feedback we've had about it after though made me think that we could have filled at least half a church, if not the whole thing.  I guess I didn't realize how many hearts broke when Donovan died.

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"

The day was so beautiful and peaceful.  I still felt so much disbelief, I think any parent would have that, especially at the funeral.  The pastor read some verses, and a blessing that my friend's mom had written.  It was beautiful and perfect.  Once everyone had a balloon (or two, because of the double order) We had a moment of silence.

It acutally looked really cool, everyone standing together, on such a serious and sad occaision, with 50 bright balloons waving above us in the wind.  Bill said an "Amen" and we all let go.  We let our love and kisses and hugs fly up with our balloons:

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. 

I remember that evening, we didn't want the people to leave, we didn't want the sun to go down, we didn't want to change our clothes.  I didn't want it to be over.  We couldn't think past this day and didn't want to think about anything else besides Donovan.  We went home the next day, and by this time we had 13 flower arrangements and our house was like an indoor garden, it was so nice. 

Many times I re-read all the cards we received.  Don't underestimate the value of a card.  It really was nice to read all the messages and poems of love and support.  It was especially neat to receive some from people a little on the outskirts of our lives, like someone I worked with 15 years ago during potato harvest, friends we hadn't seen in years, and the three doctors who helped us at St. Boniface through my pregnancy and delivery.  It was truly did help to know that people far and wide were thinking of us and praying for us. 

I don't really know what else to tell you.  Here is a picture of the heastone, which we designed ourselves.  The footprints in the clouds are an exact copy of his footprints we inked at the hospital.  The shooting star above Donovan's feet is for his little brother or sister who we lost through miscarriage at 10 weeks, on June 16th 2010. 

 The headstone was done by Larson's Memorials, in Winnipeg Manitoba.  They were awesome and we appreciated their careful work and kindness.  This is obviously yet another really tough decison. You know that expression "It's not written in stone" indicating that it's not permanent or won't last forever.  Well, choosing a headstone, really is written in stone, so there is a wee bit of pressure to get it right ; )  Anyway, we are very happy with it, and hope Donovan likes it too. 

That is all I have to say about my son's funeral, burial and headstone.  Sometimes I still shake my head and say to myself "I can't believe my baby died."  Creating this blog has really helped me.  Sharing the details of this experience and letting people know both my regrets and my joys, is very liberating for me. 

Thanks for wondering, and thanks for loving my boy. 

Donovan, I miss you and
I wish you were here...


  1. What a beautiful post Jodie.

    I appreciate you extending an invitation to me for Donovan's funeral. It was a beautiful service and there was no doubt in my mind that you love that little boy very much. The attention to every little detail makes that very obvious.

    Unfortunately I know from personal experience how painful a miscarriage can be, although before it happened I never thought it could be so terrible. But it is.

    Thinking of you often.

  2. Hi Jodie - I'm Carla's friend, Heather. I stumbled across your blog when I accidentally clicked on your link from Carla's blog. I really loved reading this post... it brought tears to my eyes. Carla has shared with me about the loss of your babies - I am so sorry. Maybe she has told you that I've lost babies too? Three miscarriages - four babies (one of the miscarriages was suspected twin pregnancy). I don't fully understand the extent of your loss, because my babies were never born into my arms. However, I understand how it feels to wonder why, and to have so many questions for God that seem to go unanswered. I hope you don't mind that I read your blog - my blog is private, and it isn't really about the babies I lost anymore - but you are welcome to read it anytime.

  3. I'm glad you found my blog Heather, thanks for reading! Yes Carla had told me about your losses as well, I have thought of you often this year. I will check out your blog too, thanks!

  4. Thank you for sharing this Jodie. I really wanted to be there, but am so happy that Brad was able to be there for both of us. I find it so amazing that you were able to hear and see Donovan...what peace that brought you!! How great it will be to meet him in heaven again!

  5. Thanks for another little glimpse inside your life during the days after Donovan was born.

    I feel really bad that I made the choice not to come to D's funeral, especially in light of the long process that Josie-Grace put me through to come into the world. I just really didn't want to have her on the way back to Winnipeg. Little did I know that I could have drove to MacGregor and back about 6 times before she was born!!

    I absolutely love the balloon release pictures. Each time I look at it taped to my cupboard door, I try to say a prayer for you and Doug. I had to chuckle when I saw the 2nd picture of your balloon release as the first thought that popped into my head was that the balloon that was way ahead of the others must have been D in a race to get to heaven first! Typical boy!

    Miss you!

  6. Thank you Jodie for sharing your heart with us. You are so good at expressing your heart and being blunt with us too. You answer the questions we all have but don't know how to say them. May God continue to give you peace and strength through this time. I can picture your two children in heaven playing my my two children up there too! Someday we will be able to see them again!

  7. Vanessa Kudeken (nee Hill)January 13, 2011 at 5:34 AM

    Gosh, I can relate to the milk problem - rock hard breasts so painful that even sleeping on your side is not an option! I remember people telling me that they'll get better; which I took to mean that they will always hurt (while breastfeeding) but only at about 50% of the current level. Huge relief now I know that 'get better' means they'll feel normal again. Now if they'll only stop leaking...

    Donovan's funeral looks like it was as perfect as you hoped. I'm glad you were able to find a smile within it with the rogue balloon :)