Wednesday, April 23, 2014

End-of / after life wishes

Heads pressed together, tears and snot and breath intermingled, B heaves and sputters, choking on his words.  He can hardly breathe as he tells me.

I saw the body bag out there.  They're going to put him in it.

We are in the hospital, in October of 2006, after having just delivered our first son, B.W., who died in utero just a day or so earlier.  Fifteen hours of induced labor.  I birth my dead son, my only child.  Just six days after my 29th birthday. 

We spend time with B.W.'s dead body.  He is naked and loosely wrapped in a blanket.  We cradle him, touch him, kiss him and marvel at his features, our tears dripping all over his pink skin.  His hair is so soft, his nose so springy.  He has my lips and ears, B's fingers.  I begin to count his taste buds and realize it is impossible.  Through our sobbing and utter devastation, we try to take all of him in. 

He is ours for a little while. 

Then, the nurse comes in and says she is going to bathe him, dress him and bring him back.  Uh, ok.  I am heartbroken and shaken to my core - in complete shock - not knowing what I want, or how I want it.  It is all so wrong.  This is not at all how I imagined bringing my first child into the world.  The day before his birth, we had picked up the glider for his nursery and shopped a flea market looking for things to make his room special.  Sure.  Ok.  Please bring him back. 

She brings him back in a basket, an ugly basket.  He is tightly swaddled, wearing a funny train-themed outfit (one I did not choose, but am now forced to treasure) and a hospital hat.  There is some donated bear or stuffed animal in the basket with him which I despise, so I choose to ignore it.  We lift B.W.'s body out of this strange scene she has created around our son.  I hold him, but I can't study him, can't have the same intimate touch and experience that I did before she took him away and turned him into some kind of human baby doll.  I am angry at the nurse for stealing my dead, perfect, son.  We try our best to make the most of what's left of him and the time we have.   

And then, hours later, when we give the nod that we are done holding our dead son (how can you ever know when you're "done"?), they take his body, presumably put it in the body bag B has seen outside our door, and then the morgue, until the funeral home comes to pick "him" up. 


After years of pain and regret about our last moments with B.W.'s body, and the indecision and confusion about what to do, how to ask for it, I vowed it would never happen to me again.  That, if I were unfortunate enough to have to experience the death of another of my children, I would find a way to weed through the immediate shock, confusion and despair to discern my wishes and make them known. 


The neonatologist and nurse tell me they will try to do anything they can, anything we wish, as it relates to the end of Zachary's life.  Our dear friends want to do the same.  Through the sheer pain and exhaustion of this hell we are living - while still furiously praying for a miracle - I begin to plot our last wishes for Zachary.  C.T. and I will bathe him on his last day (something C.T. had looked forward to doing).  I will have to continue to pump breast milk during his last hours, so time and space will need to be designated.  Zachary will be baptized around mid-morning.  A nurse will help us create Zachary's hand and foot molds. There will be a professional photographer who will take photos of our last moments and any that we want after his death.  There will be a special blanket and an outfit chosen by me.  C.T. will select some books that we will read together to Zachary.  Each of us will get to hold him for as long as we wish, before his support is removed.  C.T. declares he wants to hold him 1) before he is dead 2) while he is dying and 3) after he is dead.  We don't like the seating arrangement in Zach's hospital room, where we will hold him as he dies.  I ask that it be removed and that some other, more cozy, option be brought in. 

I pull the neonatologist aside and explain that I do not want Zachary's body put in a body bag, nor do I want him to wait in the morgue until the funeral home van comes to stack "him" with any others that require transport.  I tell him that I want to walk out of the hospital with Zachary.  That I want to deliver my son's body to the funeral home myself.  He says he has never heard this particular request before.  Of course not.  I remind him that there aren't many people who have a second chance at this. 


And it went almost exactly as I planned it.   After Zachary died, and our others wishes were mostly carried out, I was wheeled down to the bottom floor of the hospital, with Zachary's body dressed and wrapped in a blanket, in my arms.  I waited for someone to ask to see the baby - I would have been proud to show him off... or maybe I would have punched the person.  I don't know because no one asked.  B went to get the car.  Zachary's doctor and nurses, and the funeral home people, waited with me and two of my children, one alive, one dead.  After tearful hugs and kisses between our family and the NICU folks, I stood up with Zachary and carried his body out in the snow and into our new vehicle, the one we had recently upgraded in preparation for his arrival.  No need for his car seat. 

I was able to give Zachary a death somewhat unhindered by protocol, tradition and the circumstances of his dying in the hospital.  I am glad that I could do that for him, and for us.  I still cannot believe I had to do it.  That he died.  


  1. How much you love and miss Zachary is so evident in all your choices, words, and life. I want to do the same, for Zachary, for you and your family, honoring Zachary every chance I have. I love you.

  2. This really resonates with me... i just found you blog through Glow in the woods and feel compelled to comment. I am glad your wished were heard at the hospital but so sorry that you had to live through this twice.

    When we were in the hospital, i first said i definitely didn't want our baby to be dressed in what the nursed called a "cute outfit". But then he asked us again after Paul's death and i couldn't argue about what seemed like a detail at the time. But i'm so glad my boyfriend did. We kept Paul in his soft swaddling blanket, with a hat my grandmother had knitted for him. When i think back to those awful hours, at least i feel good about that part -- detail or not.

  3. I found your blog through glow too and I am just so sad about your two boys. This is a wonderful guide for anyone who knows their baby might die (as I was told in my pregnancy). I regret that I gave my baby up too soon and I dont think I would have even thought to bring her to the funeral parlor myself. What a nice image (nice in the way only baby loss people can understand).

  4. I have just read through several of your posts, coming over from Glow in the woods. I am so, so very sorry for the loss of these two beautiful boys, for your family. I remember after my daughter died thinking of all the things I wished I'd done differently. It is the ultimate in unfairness - and tragedy - that you had to live this twice - I am so glad, though, that you were able to take Zachary away from the hospital yourself. Your words here and in all the other posts are so honest, raw and beautiful, too: a beautiful tribute to your sons.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, and of course, I am so, so sorry for the loss of your daughter Anja. I have found your blog too, just now.