If you are just joining us, you may want to start at the beginning. Click HERE to get to Part One. In case you have a hard time remembering what happened last time, click HERE to get to Part Seven.
Isaiah's Story - Part Eight
It was about mid-day on Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012 when we returned from the hospital. It was wonderful to be home - yet it was so strange not to have our baby with us. Our children were napping when we got home, and we brought in our bags and were greeted by our parents.
My parents slept in the guest room during that time and Matt's parents graciously slept on an air mattress on the floor in Isaiah's not-quite-finished nursery. (This turned out to be a very good thing because we never really spent time mourning in his room. Even after everyone went home, Lydia still napped in that room - and it was never a feaux pas to be in the room. Seeing the baby furniture made us sad, but thankfully we didn't have to put lots of baby clothes away, etc., because we hadn't yet taken any out since we were waiting until delivery to find out the gender of our third child.)
We were so thankful that our parents were able to stay with us and help with the kids. I really don't remember much of that day we came home other than holding the kids a lot. It is a fog in my mind. I know beautiful flower deliveries started arriving and we could already feel the love of many through meals, messages, and calls, but I truly can't recall much of that day.
The funeral home personnel graciously offered to come to the house the next morning instead of making us drive there, so we made arrangements for the kids to go to our wonderful friend A's house on Wednesday morning. Our kids love being there - with kids of the exact same gender and ages - so almost as soon as we arrived they ran off to play. A and I were also expecting our third children around the same time....her baby girl was about a month old at this point. It was obvious that none of us knew exactly how to address the baby when we got there, but Matt had not yet had a chance to meet her, and we wanted to see her. Matt held her first.
Watching him made me cry - and I'm pretty sure there were tears in A's eyes as well. I assured her that I wasn't crying because the baby wasn't Isaiah...it was just precious to see Matt hold her (as new babies are his favorite) - and it was so different from holding Isaiah over the past two days. When I held her, watching her breathe was nothing short of amazing. It was beautiful. For all of you that have breathing babies -- don't take it for granted. Their breath is a tender gift. I know it must have been hard for A to have us there, too. With about 13 of our friends just having or expecting babies shortly, I knew it would be hard for all of them. How do people conceptualize and work through a loss that could've happened to any of us? I am so thankful for A - who graciously offered her friendship even in a hard, uncomfortable time. It would have been easy to stay away, but her love was unceasing and so needed. Thank you, my friend.
We headed home shortly after to meet with the man from the funeral home. I wasn't sure how to approach this meeting, but on the way home I felt a resolve come over me to just get through it -- to just make the decisions we needed to make. I had already imagined how horrible it would be to talk about details like coffins and embalming - burial and service logistics - but I knew that we just had to get through it.
The funeral director (the son of the founder) came alone, and he was not what I expected. He was not extremely serious with a quiet voice, but instead had an enthusiastic nature. He was very intelligent and respectful and thankfully shared our faith at a deep level, but he just wasn't what I expected. Our parents sat in on the meeting and weighed in when needed. I could tell some of them were having a really rough time at moments. Matt and I didn't cry during the meeting...we just considered the facts and made decisions as we had to. The hardest part for me was figuring out how to plan the service. It was hard for me to call it a funeral, so we called it a memorial service instead. We made the casket choice and discussed many details. The director told us that we needed to have things like order of service, burial clothes, and obituary write-ups to him by the Thursday morning. I really did not want to visit the funeral home, so my Dad offered to drive the items there. Eventually the director left and we went back to A's to pick up our kids. We had SO much that had to be done in the next 48 hours. My head was spinning.
Having never been to a child's or infant's funeral, I had been scouring the internet for resources to help us plan and really had no luck. Nothing in the book we received from the hospital was helpful, and the few planning resources I did find online had to be ordered and shipped, which didn't help us time-wise. I had asked our funeral director during the meeting if he had any resources like songs, poems, scriptures, order of service, etc. for infant funerals that we could look at, and he said no. I was shocked. How were we supposed to plan an infant funeral? We had never been to one and had no resources to help us. I started to feel anxiety rising when thinking about the service...it was so overwhelming. The only thing I had in my mind was that I wanted something simple. I didn't want 10 songs or a complicated service...I felt convinced that simplicity would reflect in some way how we wanted to celebrate the life of Isaiah. Although Isaiah never lived outside of the womb, he lived! Even though that was a simple existence, the entire reason we were having this service was to recognize his life.
Although I am a music teacher and come from a very musical family, I didn't even want the music to be complicated. Thankfully Matt's mom came to the rescue as she calmly flipped through the hymnal and started making a list of songs that might be appropriate. As we looked through them, we chose Great is Thy Faithfulness as our opening hymn - for the message of the lyrics and the fact that our kids knew it well - which we hoped would put them at ease at the service. I loved the words of Children of our Heavenly Father, but we were unsure that the congregation would know it well enough for a congregational hymn - so instead we decided to list the words of several of the meaningful verses in the program. We chose 'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus as the closing hymn - during which the family would exit.
For the prelude, instead of having someone play the piano or something, I knew I wanted the people to enter listening to one of my favorite albums by Fernando Ortega - The Shadow of Your Wings. This album has brought me through MANY sweet and hard times over the past few years. If you are seeking peace, this album speaks the truth of scripture through song - and I highly recommend it. It is dear to my heart.
Eventually Matt and I had to choose a song to go with the slide show that our nurse T had made to use for the service. We went into our room alone to listen through several songs that I had found. It is always hard for me to hear songs that speak of the hurt we are enduring. After listening to several, we decided on "Glory Baby," by Watermark. I had known it before and it was the one T had suggested when she made the slideshow. I do have to say that I didn't know about the song "I will Carry You" by Selah yet -- and may have chosen that if I had -- but I have always loved "Glory Baby" and was really happy with that choice. (I'll post Isaiah's actual slide show in the next post.)
Time started to get away from us, and we realized that we still had so much to do. Wed night we went to the closest department store to look for a burial outfit for Isaiah. How does one do such a thing? I didn't want a fancy baptism-like gown or anything cartoony - and Matt really wanted to be able to see Isaiah's feet in the casket...it was important to him. So anything fancy, cartoony, or with footies was out. We finally decided on a sweet blue outfit with some animals on it. Later we did find another one of these outfits so that I could have one for a keepsake -- (another thing I never would've thought about -- buy two of any burial outfit right away -- a mom will want one to keep).
When I found out Matt wanted to be the Pall Bearer, I was unsure of what to think. Every funeral I had been a part of used many nephews, grandsons, or cousins for such a task. The funeral director said that it was customary in infant funerals for the father to carry out the casket, but I wasn't sure how I felt about it. When I talked to him later about it, Matt somberly told me that he felt like this was the only thing he could really do for his son. Of course I agreed to let him if he wanted to, but I just didn't want him to feel like he had to. It seemed impossible that our son had died - and that the only thing we could do for him was carry his body to a safe burial and try to honor his tiny life. It seemed like these things just don't happen to people - but they do.
Though we were so thankful to have our parents there really caring for our kids in a time when we didn't have the energy, our little house was very full. I don't think I know how to be emotional around people - so all I really wanted to do was be in my room alone to grieve - even though I knew everyone there loved us and wanted to support us. The only person I really wanted to grieve with was Matt - though I did know that everyone else was grieving, too. It was a hard time.
We spent the next couple days in a fog - writing obituaries, planning the service, buying funeral flowers, choosing our family's clothes for the funeral, and loving on our living kids. Along with these emotionally exhausting tasks, recovering physically from birth and dealing with the physical issues of not having my baby there made the week even harder. We also had never known how grief could truly physically affect a person (exhaustion, eating, sleeping, ability to think clearly, etc). The more I read, the more I realized this was very normal...and those physical affects remained present for quite some time.
On Thursday my Dad drove the burial outfit to the funeral home and we worked on the service details throughout the day. My Dad designed the program for the service - as he felt this was something that he could do for Isaiah. They turned out beautifully.
After my Dad returned from the funeral home, he told us that the funeral director really wanted us to go to the funeral home to see Isaiah and decide if we wanted an open casket for the funeral or not. He explained that they were having a hard time keeping his skin from breaking down because it was so fragile. Matt and I were very torn about this decision.
We went to the funeral home on Friday morning, and I'm so glad we did. There isn't much that I can say to explain seeing our tiny baby in his tiny white casket for the first time, but I am glad we were able to do it alone before the day of the funeral. It was good for Matt and I to see him alone - and it took some of the stigma away from what the funeral would hold the next day.
Isaiah didn't look quite like himself. I was really disappointed to see him "made up" like other bodies I had seen at funerals. I was hoping they would be able to keep his body as natural as possible, but as they explained, they were constantly dealing with the breaking down of the fragile skin on his face and had to apply make-up often. To them, he didn't look all that great - but we didn't care...he was our baby, and to us - he would always look good.
We still couldn't decide about the open casket issue, though. We had made time for a family viewing at the funeral before the public arrived - which was most important to us. My Mom and Aunt D were working on a beautiful spread of photos that would be displayed (thank you for making that Mom and D - it was perfect) -- and the funeral home was working on blowing up several pictures to display as well -- so we knew people would at least get a sense of who Isaiah was, but we weren't sure if others wanted the chance to see his body. As we asked a few friends for their opinion, and it seemed those in our generation did want the chance to see him -- those in our parents' generation were split on the issue -- and those in our grandparents' generation were against it. We definitely didn't want people to feel obligated to view his body, so in the end we decided that we would have an open casket before the service as long as the casket was far from the door where people could make the choice if they wanted to view him or not. Matt and I would then go and close the casket before the service started.
On Friday, several of our family members and friends started arriving for the funeral. Although distance or sudden illness kept some from coming, we were so thankful that all of our immediate family (except my sweet Grandma) were able to come to either the service in the cities or the service the following week in SD (which preceded the burial). Since they all live out of state, most of our family members weren't around us right away when Isaiah passed - and though I knew they were sad, we weren't together to actually see how learning of Isaiah's death had affected them. So even though there are many things that I remember about people supporting us, one of the most meaningful moments was seeing my brothers and their families when they arrived - and the fact that without saying anything, they just cried with us. I don't know why it meant so much. It would've been easy to try to be strong and just tell us how sorry they were, but actually seeing how losing Isaiah affected them meant a lot. Thanks for being willing to share your emotions with us, family -- we love you.
During that funeral planning week, many people were writing us messages and calling, but keeping up with this wasn't something we were able to do. We did realize that because the funeral would be on the Saturday before Easter, some of our friends and family would be out of town and unable to attend the service. Because of this, our Moms suggested scheduling an open house at our house on Friday evening for people that couldn't come to the service to be able to stop by - or for friends and family to convene in order to show their support. In hindsight, I'm very glad we did this - but at the time it was very stressful to me - only because we had so much to do and I felt pressure to then worry about the house, etc. There were things around the house that our Moms wouldn't be able to just find a place for, so I had to do some of that. But they took care of all of the rest of the cleaning and cooking, and it ended up being a really nice time. Thanks for your love and energy in putting that on, Moms - we love you! And thanks to everyone that was able to come.
God was so very near to us in this time. We looked to Him and felt His strength, but to be honest, we were also very numb and in shock. I am so thankful for God's faithfulness in upholding us in a time that we could barely function on our own. As we prepared to remember Isaiah, we wanted God to be glorified in all things - even amidst this storm in our lives. I hope that was so.
As I had just attended and sang at my first cousin, J's, funeral just over a week earlier, I had said to Matt that day that if I was my Aunt and Uncle, the first thing on my mind the morning of the funeral would be that I just wouldn't want to come. I wouldn't want to come to grips with having to say "goodbye" to my child! Who knew that I would be dealing with a similar situation so soon. This is definitely what I was feeling like the night before and morning of the funeral. But like that meeting with the funeral director, a resolve came over me that we just had to get through it (the strength of the Holy Spirit, I'm sure). As much as we didn't want to go at all...see anyone...say goodbye to our boy --- we had to.
To be continued...