Saying Goodbye During A Pandemic

Last week, Marvin and I stood outside the local crematorium waiting for the 2pm service to start. The service we had been invited to the week before over the phone. The call felt like it came out of the blue, I was expecting the call but it still felt unexpected. We lost Baby J on the 7th October but the call came on the 20th November, to tell us our babies remains would be cremated on the 25th Nov at 2pm and we would be able to attend a short service if we wanted to. If we wanted to – I didn’t want to be having to say goodbye to my baby. No, it’s not what I wanted.

Due to COVID, only the two of us could attend and we needed to abide by social distancing guidelines while there. So, as we stood outside the service we prepared to go in with our masks and hand sanitiser. Being careful to keep our distance from the other 3 couples there, we chose a pew that wasn’t roped off with a sign stating “closed for social distancing purposes”.

It was only a short service, delivered by a Chaplain. It was the first time either of us had been in a church since March. It felt peaceful. The Chaplain said some things, prayed some prayers and read a poem about a butterfly. Somebody had knitted little butterflies so we could each take one home with a laminated copy of the poem. These had been individually wrapped to be sure they were safe and clean.

A butterfly lights beside us like a sunbeam

And for a brief moment its glory

and beauty belong to our world

But then it flies again

And though we wish it could have stayed

We feel lucky to have seen it

UnkNown

It’s difficult to see people’s facial expressions when they are wearing a mask. I found that hard during the hospital appointments we had during the miscarriage. Not being able to see Marvin’s face properly or the doctors and nurses. Crying with a mask on is messy. It makes it hard to wipe the tears & snotty nose with a tissue. The tears poured into my mask during that service, making it all wet. I needed to take the mask off to wipe my face, but I felt bad removing it when the sign had said to wear a face covering. The mask definitely needs washing.

It was just something I didn’t need to be worrying about at that time but throughout this whole experience I have been anxious about the rules, about keeping everyone safe, what’s the right thing to do, what’s allowed, what’s not allowed. Grief has a way of clouding your thinking, but combined with the constant changing restrictions, on many days I haven’t known if I was coming or going.

There was music playing in the service, I think I recognised some of it but I can’t recall it now. I cant recall much that was said by the chaplain but I know at the time I appreciated her words. I can imagine she had chosen them carefully to be sure everyone felt included. As a Christian, her words and prayers really meant something to me, I appreciated them, but I can’t remember them.

This service was an official goodbye for Baby J. This is what I have called him. We don’t know if it was a boy or girl but both Marvin and I felt it was a boy. There’s a story to the name Baby J, maybe another time.

We were the last ones to leave the chapel because we sat there for a little while longer after the other couples left. Marvin prayed. As we left, we collected our butterfly & poem. The Chaplain stood at the door and told us the ashes would be scattered in the Baby Garden the next day. So if we needed to come back at any time we could. I like that we have a place to go if we need to, a place specifically to lay our loved ones to rest.

Because I don’t want the bathroom in our house to be the place I go to to remember when I started bleeding or our bedroom to be the place I go to remember, where I had to lay awake all night, bleeding, in pain while our baby slipped from my body. These places will be the place I remember those things. Even sitting down on the sofa in the same place I sat down on that day and felt my waters break, before running to the bathroom, brings back that memory. With time I hope these memories will ease but for now they remain, imprinted in my mind, my heart.

Both Marvin and I had friends buy us boooks by Zoe Clarke-Coates. She has been through baby loss herself and now runs a charity called Saying Goodbye https://www.sayinggoodbye.org/. She is the author of several books, 3 of which we now own and I have read. These have been one of the biggest helps to me. We can often think “if only there was a hand book to help me through this”, well Zoe has written one – The Baby Loss Guide. Wow, it put so much of what I was experiencing into words. Gave me understanding, made me feel normal about what I was thinking or feeling and gave me hope. I have hope in God, but to read of the stories in Zoe’s books adds another layer.

One thing struck me while reading the chapter about how to help people going through baby loss (because the book is also there to help people support family & friends going through this). Most of the ways listed are extremely difficult to do during the current pandemic we find ourselves in.

Suggestions include offering to look after their other children, to give them space to rest or cry. Going round to help with housework. Taking them for a coffee. Giving them a hug. All things which we are no longer allowed to do under the current restrictions. Going through baby loss is extremely difficult and I can’t even imagine what it was like for those who went through it at the height of lockdown. I have heard some heartbreaking stories and if you are reading this and have been through that, I am so sorry.

Baby loss can be a very lonely place to be. If you have been through it, I am sure you can relate. Throw in a national lockdown and the isolation gets very real. I honestly can’t wait to be able to sit down with friend’s and have a coffee. To process things, to laugh, to cry, just to feel normal, whatever normal is.

Losing a loved one under any circumstances is one of the most difficult emotional experiences that we go through. Grief affects everyone differently, there is no right os wrong way to feel, but it can be even tougher to deal with at a time when we have to self-isolate and socially distance from friends and family, potentially being cut off from our usual network of support. It has definitely added challenges into an already difficult situation. Not being able to sit with family & friends, not being able to just go for a coffee, all the extra rules around medical appointments and even just feeling confused by the restrictions, has all added pressure to us both.

For now, I continue to take it a day at a time, to keep praying & trusting God, to smile through those silent screams, to ride the waves of grief when they come and to dare to hope and dream again.

Love, Amber x

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