Our Final Goodbye
The last time we saw our daughter was in the chapel of rest at the funeral directors, lying peacefully in her beautiful white coffin. We declined the opportunity to see her at first. Adam and I both felt that we wanted to remember her as she had looked when we left her in the hospital. We were told we could visit her at the funeral directors on the Saturday after she’d died, but when we said we didn’t want to, my Mum went instead. She called me afterwards and I was relieved to hear that Madelyn still looked the same as she had when we’d last seen her on the Thursday. It gave me great comfort to know that her Granny had spent more time with her, a little less time spent alone.
Our meeting with the funeral director was on the following Monday afternoon, after what felt like a very long weekend. That morning we had attended an appointment to register Madelyn’s birth and death, something I can’t really remember much of now. I remember being early for our appointment, so we sat in the car listening to music and it was there in the registry office carpark that we chose the song that would be played at Madelyn’s funeral. We left the appointment in a daze with our daughter’s birth and death certificates, and headed home to prepare for our meeting with the funeral director. We gathered a few things that we wanted Madelyn to have with her in her coffin, such as a family photo we had taken in hospital and also a blanket that I’d bought for her while I was pregnant. It had a pink owl design on it, and when I bought it I also bought a blue version for Noah. When I was pregnant, I had imagined taking photos of them napping together with their matching blankets so I desperately wanted her to have it keeping her warm, the same as her brother’s would be used to keep him warm at home. Each time I see Noah with his blanket or just even catch a glimpse of it in his bedroom, I think of Madelyn wrapped snuggly in hers.
We arrived at the funeral directors for our meeting, with our little bag of things that we wanted to be laid to rest with Madelyn. We talked through our plans and wishes for the funeral and at the end we handed over the keepsakes, but as we did so I felt a sudden change of heart and an overwhelming urge to see my daughter again. How could I not take the opportunity to see her when she was so close to where we were sitting? I said quietly to Adam that I had changed my mind but that I didn’t want him to feel pressured to do the same. My Mum asked the funeral director if it would be ok for us to see Madelyn and they said they’d go and get her ready for viewing. At first Adam said he’d let me go with my Mum as he didn’t think he could do it but when we were told that she was ready he decided to come too. As we approached the door of the room where she lay, I was so frightened. I had no idea what to expect. Was I doing the right thing? Would she be in a coffin? Would she look different to how I remembered? I held on tightly to Adam as we were shown towards the tiny white coffin, and when I saw her beautiful face again I burst in to tears. I was so relieved to see that she just looked like the peaceful, sleeping baby that I remembered. I stroked her little cheek and told her I was sorry for being scared to see her. I was immediately glad that we had changed our minds about seeing her. It was so special, we sat in silence a lot of the time but it just felt amazing and heart breaking all at the same time to be sitting with our daughter again. As we said our goodbyes that day, we left our beautiful sleeping angel swaddled in the shawl I had once been swaddled in, covered in her new blanket that matched her brother’s and with our little notes and photographs tucked in beside her. She looked truly peaceful and cosy in her forever bed.
After confirming plans for Madelyn’s funeral, we decided we’d like everyone to wear something pink. We went shopping for our outfits and I remember thinking it was so surreal that the last time I’d been shopping was the day before she’d been born. That day I’d been excitedly looking at baby clothes for my daughter, but this time I was looking for something to wear to her funeral. What a cruel turn of events. As we looked around one of the shops I remember seeing a man with two sons who seemed to be looking for holidays clothes. I was so jealous. I thought to myself; I remember when we used to go shopping for things like that, without a care in the world. It was in that moment I realised that even the little things would never be the same again.
The day of the funeral arrived, the day we had been dreading. Funerals seem so final. Obviously I knew that I’d never see my daughter again, but the thought of her being buried in the ground was completely traumatising. We had a small gathering with family in my Gran’s house, and even though I had already seen Madelyn in her little coffin, it was still shocking to see how small it was when she was carried into the house. I stood beside it trying to picture her little face behind the wooden lid. The humanist said a few words and then we all made our way to the cemetery. Adam and I travelled in the funeral director’s car, and we said our own little goodbye to Madelyn on the way. It felt comforting to have this final moment alone and say what we wanted to say whilst we lay our hands on top of the beautiful white coffin lying across Adam’s lap.
As we arrived and saw everyone gathered and waiting for us, my head just dropped. I don’t think I looked up at all during the service. I clung on to Adam, and when he stepped away to join Madelyn’s uncles to lower our daughter into her grave, I clung on to my Mum. I don’t remember crying much at the cemetery, I just felt utterly lost. It was a similar feeling to when we’d left the hospital the day after Madelyn had died, like there was no ground beneath me and everything and everybody around me was a complete blur. I would describe it as a kind of abyss. I was physically surrounded by people, but it felt as though I was just being swallowed in to a never ending darkness.
In the days following the funeral, we tried to focus on what would help to pull us through. Noah was a huge part of that. We found going places where we were unlikely to bump into anyone who knew us really helpful. It felt like a bit of an escape. We found a new place to explore and go walking, and for the first time since we had lost Madelyn, I watched my husband playing with our son and I had a feeling of almost-contentment. In that moment I thought; this is us, this is our family and this is what we like to do together. How I wished that I was watching them play as I carried our daughter in my arms, but for now this was how it was and for the first time I felt like I might be able to cope with it.