Friday, March 10, 2006

Nothing Sweet About the Sorrow of this Parting

Steve and I argued in the car. We were running late, and I was getting more upset because I wanted as much time as I could get. Running late combined with Steve’s need to make an appointment was turning me into a grouch ten-fold.

“You’re not being yourself,” Steve said, “You’ve just got to calm down.”

I took a deep breath and bit my lip, as I pressed my forehead into the passenger door window. Of course I’m not myself. I’m on my way to see my baby boy for the last time in my entire life, and I’m running late. I didn’t respond to Steve though. I felt like a train wreck, snapping and saying horrible things filled with resentment. The anger has been building within me as has been the bitterness, fear, anxiety, frustration. So many negative emotions coursing through me, and I took it out on Steve. I reached across the car and grabbed his hand. “I’m so sorry, honey.” I couldn’t say any more. He squeezed my hand and smiled gently.

After parking the car, we made our way to funeral home. Sarah greeted us at the door with a smile and an offer of tear before ushering us into her office. Steve accepted the tea, and we sat down on the settee while she made it for him. I didn’t want to sit in her office. Why did she sit us in her office? Didn’t she know how little time I had? I will never see him again. I don’t want to sit and chat. But that’s what we did, or Steve and Sarah did, rather. Steve caught a glimpse of a pamphlet for the cemetery at which his stepfather had dug graves thirty years ago, and he himself had spent many a childhood day playing, so they chatted about that while I stared at the ground, toes tapping anxiously, arms folded. When there was a break in the conversation I looked at Steve imploringly, “Can we go in now?”

“You ready to go in?” he asked.

I nodded my head and stood up rapidly. Sara led us to a door down the hall and turned to us and said, “Now, Baby Oliver just looks like he’s sleeping,” before she pushed upon the door and turned the dimmer switch so that the room was pleasantly, but not overly, illuminated.

I nodded my head absently and waited for her to move out of the way so that I could be with my baby, but upon entering the room I found myself nearly paralyzed. The coffin was so much smaller than I ever imagined, despite the health visitor’s warning; I couldn’t look inside. Instead I pressed my face into the opposite wall and shook with sobs. I barely noticed Steve’s presence, though I have a feeling he was just as affected as I. But I could hear him talking to Oliver. I calmed myself down, and still I couldn’t make myself look at Oliver. Steve caressed his little face and told him how much we love him, but I paced in the background while Steve took a couple of pictures.

Finally, I approached the coffin. I stroked the engraved plaque on the coffin’s lid, which had been leant against the wall behind the casket. It read, Baby Oliver Harry R-W Died January 21, 2006. Such finality in the word “died.” My eyes lingered on it, and my heart seized when I tore my gaze from the plaque to the coffin’s contents. “It’s not fair; it’s not fair,” I moaned. This wasn’t my son, but he was my son. Oliver’s lips were a deep red color, which lent him a doll-like appearance, so unnatural and yet so real. “I can’t touch him, not like this,” I said, tears running in a continuous stream down my cheeks and onto the coffin’s lining.

Steve put his arm around me as we looked down at our little son and said, “It’s hard. He’s cold.” Eventually I got the courage to find his right hand, the one I’d held for so many hours in the hospital. Though warned, the temperature shocked me; his hand wasn’t just cold, it was near freezing. A fresh batch of tears sprang to my eyes.

“Oh, Oliver. You’re so cold. My poor baby,” I said in a whimper, picking up the hand I’d dropped so quickly. His little fingernails were a deep purple color. I tried to ignore it, as I tried to ignore how hard his cheeks felt when I finally brought myself to touch his face. I closed my eyes and put my hand on his head. His hair was just as soft as I remembered it. I tried to pretend that the skin beneath it was warm, and I stayed like that for several minutes. Bringing myself out of it and opening eyes, I felt the anger stirring within me again. I wanted to take him out of the coffin and shake him until he woke up; I wanted to put the lid back on the tiny box and carry it out with me and just keep Oliver’s little body forever. I wanted to kick and scream and make all of it just go away. Instead I stood silently staring at the little boy who’d once eaten so vigorously from my breasts, who’d cried only when getting his diaper changed except when daddy did it, who’d made the most adorable little turtle face. He was gone. Gone.

I looked over at Steve. His eyes were red and filled with tears. “God had to have a good reason for this,” Steve said, “Unless he’s just punishing me for being a terrible person.”

I fiddled with the lining of the coffin, rearranging it around Oliver’s little body, “Maybe he just wants us to grow from this, maybe someday we will help others who experience a similar loss. I don’t know, Steve. He’s not punishing you or anyone.” I moved toward him, and he pulled me into his arms. “I think I’m ready to go now,” I whispered into his ear.

Steve nodded his head and said, “I am.”

We each kissed Oliver’s forehead and told him how handsome he looked in his little outfit, gathered our things, and left the room.