This week I went to the funeral of a baby for the first time; one of the patients that I’d cared for on the last day of their short life.
I’d been to three funerals before; two as an adult which were my Grandad’s and the Northern One’s Grandma and one when I was at primary school. A boy in the year above me died and I took it very hard even though I didn’t really know him. I didn’t really understand that children could die. My mum and the school thought that maybe going to the funeral would help give me some closure so one of my mum’s friends who’s son was also going took me.
I remember her wrapping her arms around me in the church while I sobbed into her shoulder, unable to look at the white coffin that contained a boy only a few months older than me.
I still can’t hear ‘The Circle of Life’ without thinking about that day.
I needed to go to this funeral for the same reason, some sense of closure.
I was the nurse who was with him and his parents at the end.
I stood and witnessed his baptism.
I removed his breathing tube.
I listened to his broken mummy sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ to him as he quietly went to sleep for the last time.
I want to say goodbye.
One of the things I’m unsure about is what to wear. I don’t want to wear head to toe black, it just doesn’t seem quite right. In the end I settle on a dark floral dress and a black cardigan and tights; I know no one is really paying attention to what I’m wearing but I want to get it right.
The sun shines as I drive to the crematorium. I get delayed in traffic due to roadworks in one of the villages surrounding the town where I live.
The speaker on my phone is broken, something to do with the Northern One and a bottle of diet coke so that satnav app doesn’t talk to me and give me directions. Instead I have to keep glancing at the screen to make sure I’m still going the right way.
All normal, everyday things.
Except today is not a normal day.
Today is the day I witness the single most heartbreaking thing I’ve seen.
Dad walking up the centre aisle, carrying a tiny white coffin and mum walking beside him, her face flushed and swollen from the many tears she must have shed already.
They stand straight, looking ahead even though they must be bowed and crushed with the weight of their grief.
People burst into loud sobs as dad, carrying his small, precious, impossibly heavy burden walks to the front and puts the coffin down.
It’s so small.
No one should ever have to bury their child.
The service is beautiful with the celebrant reading mum and dad’s words about their little boy and his life. Once or twice her voice breaks and she has to pause to steady herself. She must have officiated dozens of funerals over many years but clearly she doesn’t see it just another working day.
‘Twinkle Twinkle’ is the last song played.’
I grit my teeth to try and maintain some self control.
Tears stream down my face as I remember the choked, halting voice of mum desperate for her little boy not to go.
To stay with her just a few more minutes.
A few seconds longer.
For the rest of her life.
The service ends before the crematorium curtains close around the tiny coffin.
That last goodbye is just for mum and dad.
Their final chance to say goodbye to the tiny boy who will leave such a huge, gaping hole in their lives and their hearts that no one will ever be able to fill.
A hole that fits his shape exactly.
We wait outside for them, each clutching a balloon ready to release in memory of their little boy. The rain rattles on the surface of the balloons, running down their swollen sides like tears.
We let them go and the wind whips them into the sky.
I watch until I can no longer see my balloon.
The rain soaks me through, leaving dark patches on my coat and my hair streaming with water.
It seems appropriate.
As I walk back to my car I spot a robin hopping about in the undergrowth at the side of the path. He doesn’t seem bothered by the rain and looks at me, with his head on one side before bouncing back into a bush.
I feel drained even though I haven’t done anything but sit and try to hold myself together.
I want to call the Northern One but I remember that my phone speaker is broken.
It pours with rain most of the way home but suddenly the rain stops and the sun comes out, shining brightly. The skies turn blue and the sun causes the rain drops on the grass and the trees of the verge to sparkle. The world looks fresh and new but it isn’t.
It’s still the same world filled with joy and sadness, where some children defy expectations and other lose their fight, where some parents take their children home and others have to bury them.
I look for a rainbow but I don’t see one.
When I get home Squidge is asleep. I go up to his room to stroke his hair and hear his sleepy little noises.
To reassure myself that he’s safe.
Squidge wakes up from his nap and starts shouting for me. I go into his room and he gives me a huge gummy grin, just showing his two teeth. I pick him up and hold him tightly, trying not to cry. He doesn’t understand and starts wriggling, wanting to go downstairs.
I sit him in his high chair, checking that there’s no bits of porridge I missed cleaning up at breakfast and give him his lunch. His waves his little arms about and kicks his legs at the sheer excitement of being given food, even though it happens three times a day seven days a week. He smears the orange veggie mush around his face, attempts to feed himself but ends up chewing the bowl and goes to town on a breadstick and half a satsuma.
All normal, everyday things.
Life goes on.
My life goes on as will the life of the parents.
It will go on because it has to.
Even though their grief seems insurmountable and the pain of their loss unbearable.
Their lives will be devoted to preserving the memory of their son.
To making sure that the world knows that he lived.
That he touched lives and changed them.
That he will live on in hearts other than their own.
Every time I sing to my own little boy.