I remember sitting, numb, in the big room inside the funeral parlor. The chair was uncomfortable. There were boxes of tissue on every flat surface. Scattered on the shiny table in front of me were multiple binders. Binders which held images of caskets and linings and flower arrangements. I kept thinking it all was a bad dream. That at any moment, my alarm would go off, and I’d wake up. Of course, this didn’t happen. Instead, I went to the store and wandered around, trying to find something for my daughter to wear at “her visitation”.
There are no words to explain the pain which accompanies a mother choosing her child’s last outfit. Up one aisle, and down the other, I searched for the perfect outfit for Becca. Finally, I found myself in the sleepwear section of the store. I saw a beautiful white silk nightgown with a matching robe. It looked so much like the simple dress she’d worn for her senior prom. This was what I had envisioned her in. Something that made her look like the angel she now was.
With the clothing chosen, I now had to decide how she would “look”. I told them I wanted her to look like the little girl that I had raised. Very little makeup. Her hair simple, in a pony tail, I wanted her to look natural. I needed her to look like herself. Even now, writing this, my heart is torn in two as I remember her laying there . . . covered by the Care Bear blanket she’d had since she was three. I’d always thought that blanket would cover her children someday, not be cremated with her.
Earlier today, I was in a position to hear two people talking about autopsies. Their conversation was light with some laughter. You need to know, one of the participants in this conversation is going to be a doctor. A discussion about viewing an autopsy is not perverse but expected of a medical student. Though this topic isn’t out of the realm of what is talked about . . . it completely ripped apart my insides as the memory of my daughter’s visitation rushed into the middle of my thoughts.
Because Becca’s death was brought on by the actions of another, she was autopsied. My daughter was killed on a Sunday. She was kept in the morgue, in one of those refrigerated drawers, until her autopsy sometime on Monday. I spent that time frantic because I desperately wanted to sit beside her, so she wouldn’t be alone. I wasn’t allowed. In my bedroom I sat, looking out the window into the snow, aching to be with my child.
The first opportunity I was able to see her was a few minutes before her visitation began. I was led into a room. In the center of the room, there lay my Becca, her hands crossed atop the Care Bear blanket. She was on a gurney because I couldn’t bear to see her in a coffin. A coffin made it too real somehow.
In a future blog, I’ll share more about the visitation. For now, I’ll talk about her autopsy scars.
I remember, hysterically thinking, why are they called scars?? A scar indicates healing. When I gently parted the robe across her chest, and saw the Y shaped incision, my heart nearly stopped. They were not scars. They were cuts. Cuts that were never supposed to happen to her body. Distraught, I felt wild to know if her organs were put back where they belonged. Was she treated with respect? Oh my God, I pray that she was treated with tender care. She was my baby. She deserved to be cared for, even at the end.
As I stood next to my daughter alone, having asked everyone to leave so I could say good bye, I arranged her robe back over the stitches and kissed her farewell. Turning and walking away from her was so incredibly difficult I couldn’t do it. I had to be forced to leave her side.
I’m writing about this today to convey a very simple truth. The meaning of something to us will rarely be what it is to another person. If I had heard the conversation I shared above, a few years ago, I would have exploded. There is too much raw emotion, for me, around the term autopsy. I am a mother who witnessed the remnants of the procedure on her child. The person who talked about it today is a medical student. Worlds apart. Completely different sides of the same thing.
We bring our own experiences to every situation. The little ones, and the big. In no way did these two people mean for their conversation to raise memories about my daughter. They couldn’t know it would shatter any peace I felt today. If they had, I am certain they would not have talked where I could hear them.
Most people are like this. They can’t know the memories behind every day things because they have not experienced them in the way a grieving mother has. I imagine, most of the time, people don’t realize why what they have said has hurt you. I doubt there is much intent in hurting us, further.
If you need to explode, then do it. Those who are close to you will understand. It took me a very long time to realize what I’ve tried to explain above. If you haven’t realized it yet, that’s ok, you will . . . in your own time. And your time is all that matters.
If you are one of the people who’s been hit by the fallout from just such an explosion . . . thank you for sticking around. We are doing the best we can to come to terms with all that’s changed around us, and within us.
The key is attempting to understand each other, even if we fall short in it’s completion, there is deep connection in the act.
I'm a mother, artist, and writer. A decade ago I lost my daughter. I find writing, and painting, heal me. Sharing my story of loss and healing lightens what I carry. And, hopefully, my words help another along the way.