When my pregnancy with Adrian went overdue, I had a brief thought that he might become a 4th of July baby. That would have been right around 42 weeks. Instead, on the 4th of July, 2017, my sister and I walked into a funeral home.
Planning the Funeral of a Stillborn Child
I knew I wanted Adrian to be cremated. I also decided I wanted a service. I didn’t know how any of that worked though. I had only ever been to three funerals in my life. But I did want to honor him and his short but powerful life.
The person that I spoke to was quiet but professional. I imagine that’s a requirement of the job, but it was comforting. He led my sister and me to his office, and asked how he could help. I opened my mouth, but the words would not come out. Just sobs. My sister had to tell him why we were there.
With a calm efficiency, he presented my options, and I decided on a memorial service for the following Tuesday. We could have done it sooner, but I wanted people to have enough time to plan to attend. One part that was difficult for me was that, because I didn’t want my son embalmed, they asked that I not do an open casket. It was an additional piece of difficulty on top of things that were already hard.
I signed a contract with them, and the next day I coordinated with the hospital for transportation of my son’s remains. The funeral director called me that same day to let me know his body had arrived. I do wish I had thought then to ask if I could visit him. I didn’t know until much later that was a possibility.
For the next several days, I became occupied with planning the service. I was torn between a desire to not want to do anything, and an equally strong desire to make sure he was appropriately honored. It is oddly painful today that the Type A personality in me came out to take over the planning then, but it was important to me.
One of the employees at the funeral home asked if I wanted to publish an obituary. I had considered it, but I couldn’t think of what to write. How do you describe a life that never got to be lived? The employee did some research for me, and helped create a short announcement. She also sent me samples of funeral programs other families had used. We published the announcement online and used it in an email I sent to friends and family, and another one I sent to coworkers.
Adrian James Hernandez, June 30, 2017 – June 30, 2017
Adrian James Hernandez was born silent into this world on June 30, 2017, but his little life spoke volumes. Adrian spent only a moment in her arms but he is forever in the heart of his mother, Miranda Hernandez. A visitation will begin on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 at 10:00 a.m. – 11:00am with a funeral service to be held at 11:00 a.m. at [location].
“I carried you every second of your life & will love you every second of mine.”
Email sent to friends and family:
One week ago today at a routine check-up, I discovered my baby’s heart had stopped beating in the middle of the night. I was 41 weeks pregnant.
Baby Adrian James Hernandez was born sleeping at 3:31pm on 30 June 2017. He was 9lb, 0oz, and 22 inches long. As far as the doctors can tell, he was perfect; they couldn’t find any reason.
I miss him with every piece of my heart.
If you are local to San Antonio, there will be a memorial service at 11am next Tuesday, 11 July at the [location] at [address]. Visitation will be held the hour prior, from 10am-11am.
I am off of Facebook for now, but I will remain available by email.
I unfortunately no longer have a copy of the email I sent to my coworkers.
Planning the ceremony itself was difficult. As a non-religious person, the thought of a religious ceremony didn’t resonate with me. I found examples of secular ceremonies available online, but they all seemed to focus on the life of the deceased. I also had trouble locating a secular officiant. When I couldn’t find anyone to assist, I contacted a chaplain I knew from work and he agreed to officiate. We met that week and discussed the things I wanted to include, and he made additional suggestions.
Order of Events:
Music – Disney Classic Lullabies
Opening Meditation – Chaplain
Remarks – Chaplain
Musical Selection – Candle on the Water
Speaker – Friend
Speaker – Aunt
Reflections – Open to the audience
Speaker – Mother
Closing Meditation – Chaplain
Song: “The Rose”
At home, I worked on the program, and I also decided I wanted to do a display of some of Adrian’s things. I know that may sound funny, but Adrian did have things. There were letters I had written to him, but also things I had purchased, planning he would use them. It was important to me that these things be shared.Resources section soon. Letters to Adrian, photos, and Adrian’s things (Modern Lux Photography)
I also spent time looking for music and anything else to make the day special. I bought a book about planning funerals, and I asked the photographer who had done my maternity photos to document the funeral. I am so thankful for those photos today; I think photos help me to solidify the memories.
In the midst of planning, my sister reminded me I had nothing to wear to a funeral. We went shopping, but it was already over 90 degrees and most places didn’t offer many options that were appropriate. I finally found some things on Amazon, and ordered one of anything that looked like it might fit my postpartum body. The funeral director also asked me to purchase clothing for Adrian. I found a beautiful outfit with elephants, and a matching blanket. I also found tiny shoes. They weren’t necessary, of course, but I bought them anyway.
Other details consumed me. I looked at flower arrangements, and I was sad it was too late in the season for bluebonnets. The same employee who had helped me to write the obituary offered to go to the craft store and buy some fake ones. On the day of the funeral, she added them to the arrangement I had ordered, and they looked perfect. I wish I had kept them.
Throughout this time, I had no idea who, if anyone, was going to come. I think it’s one of those strange aspects of society that you RSVP for everything but a funeral. I also wasn’t sure who would want to come. Most of my family lived far away, and although I had invited work friends, I wasn’t expecting a large number. So imagine my surprise when close to 100 people came.
Some of my family made the 3-hour drive from Houston, and my cousin Neal* flew from California. A good friend drove overnight from Louisiana, and a colleague who worked in a different state happened to be in town, so he came too. Several people who couldn’t attend sent floral arrangements. These gestures were touching. I think they helped me solidify his importance. He was a real person, and he mattered, even if no one else had gotten to meet him.
Before the service began, my sister, cousin, and I set up tables with Adrian’s things, and I was able to spend time with him before they closed the casket. Because he wasn’t embalmed, the funeral director warned me that his appearance might be distressing. Although he had been in refrigeration, he had already been dead for 12 days. But when they showed me the casket, all I saw was my son. They brought a chair and I sat next to him and read my favorite children’s story.
I wasn’t ready for the time to be over, but at 10am, the funeral director came in to close the casket. It was the hardest thing to take my hands away, to kiss his forehead, again, for the last time. And then they closed the lid, and I kissed it too. I don’t think any amount of time would have been enough.
After the viewing, the chapel was opened for visitation. Several people came early to express their condolences, but I mostly felt awkward. It’s another strange aspect of society that you never really get any training in how to respond to well-wishers or sympathy. What do you say? I mostly thanked them for coming.
Something that bothered me was also surprising–as more people came in, I found I wasn’t able to cry. Tears had not been far in the days prior, but something about the crowd triggered a numbness in me. I almost didn’t want to be there, but I also couldn’t imagine leaving. I felt something akin to trapped, and outwardly I tried to just breathe.
Then the service started, and the chaplain kept everything organized. He spoke about my life and preparing for pregnancy, and in places where there would normally be scripture, he used poetry. Several of my coworkers spoke and my sister gave a beautiful eulogy. I couldn’t cry then, but I do when I read it today.
And then it was time for me to speak, and everything felt suddenly real, and I wanted nothing more to run out the doorway. I had decided to read my last letter to Adrian, but in that moment it felt stupid, and also incredibly personal. I read it anyway. Afterwards, I sang The Rose, which I picked because it felt right, and also because he was born in June. Sometimes I wish I had recorded it. I feel like I sang better that day, but of course it’s hard to know. I have tried to record it since then, though, and it has never felt the same.
We planned to end the service with a butterfly release. I thought it would end the service on a sweet note, and also help to spread the monarch population. Since I had only ordered 36 butterflies and there were more people than expected, I asked the funeral director to ensure my family members received one butterfly each. The rest were distributed randomly, and we moved outside.Modern Lux Photography)
(I found out later that these releases are somewhat controversial and may not provide the benefit they claim. I don’t think I would do one again.)
After the funeral, I went to lunch with my family. It felt strange to spend time laughing and acting normal, especially feeling so numb. Afterwards, at home, I felt drained. Planning the funeral had given me purpose, and then I had — nothing. Neal tried halfheartedly to interest me in board games, then he made apple crumble instead. I pumped milk and took a nap.
I was still emotionally hungover when I woke up, and for some reason I thought of the random shoe that had been sitting on a concrete barrier outside my development the past several days. Alexis and I had joked about what it was there for, and what it might mean. I decided, quite randomly, that I wanted to give it a flower. We took two stems from one of the funeral arrangements and walked to the barrier. It was both incredibly weird, and also exactly right. And then we ate apple crumble, and I slept.
* Names have been changed to protect privacy.