Planning your child's funeral is something no parent should ever have to do. That is something we all know.
Kelvin and I took the first step and went to the office of The White Ladies to discuss a date, place and presiding minister for the service. We had decided on a cremation, and to have the service in Sydney. It is a beautiful place, with peaceful gardens and magnificent but simple chapels. Debra was able to book us the East Chapel on the 6th of May, 2010. She asked us whether we would like to nominate our own celebrant to preside, and we were extremely lucky that the Reverend who married us and christened Jack was available to preside over the service. His words were "I'd be honoured." It meant a lot to us that we were able to have this man conduct Sybella's funeral, it gave us a sense of familiarity in a time of utter bewilderment.
I had a bag with Sybella's funeral outfit in it. I had been strong throughout the meeting with Debra, until I pulled out the tiny tiny gown, hat, booties and shawl that Mum had bought. Stroking the items, I broke down in gulping sobs. It just wasnt right that I was here. Debra, such a soft woman, hugged me with tears in her own eyes. "I'm a mum too" she said. "I'm a mum too, and I cant imagine what you're going through."
Debra organised for myself, my brother Sam and my mum to see Sybella one more time. We decided to take the opportunity to dress her for the funeral, and organised to do this on the day before, May 5th.
In the meantime, I kept myself busy by making a disc of songs, choosing readings and poems and writing the eulogy. We had someone come to our house to put together an order of service, which was extremely generous, seeing as we live about a one hour drive away.
I was very conscious of the fact that this was the last thing I would be able to do for my daughter. I feared the time after the funeral, because what would I be able to do for her then? I would no longer have a baby to sing to, or feed or rock or dress. This was my last task as a mother. Now I know that isnt true, because I keep finding things to do for her. I am making a scrapbook of her memories, writing this blog, and painstakingly making sure that she isnt forgotten by other people. I bought a stamp, that has a little angel on it and the name "Sybella" that I use for cards. Cards that have "Love Stephanie, Kelvin and Jack" written on them, and Sybella's little angel stamp in the bottom right hand corner. I wont allow her to be forgotten. She will always be counted. I make sure of that every single day.
We had a meeting with the minister to discuss the running of the service, and discovered that he too, had lost a daughter. His fifth child, the youngest, was born at 28 weeks. She survived a week before she died. At the time he was undergoing his clergy training, and let us know that he had many many questions for God during this time. The minister was gentle and comforting and at the end, he said a prayer with us, which was very touching. I clearly remember sitting there, as he spoke to God for us with his soft voice, and I really felt the presence of God in the room. I felt warm and "swaddled" like there was a big soft blanket around me. It really helped me continue on with the preparations.
On the 5th of May, we went to the morgue at Northern Suburbs Crematorium to dress Sybella. We were warned that because of her autopsy, she would have stitching across her head and abdomen, and because of that, the ladies had already put on her jumpsuit and hat. They had also put a nappy on her, which I appreciated. She was lying there on the gurney. Some of her skin had begun to peel by now, but it wasnt too bad. We had some time looking at her and touching her. I think it had hit Sam hard to see the baby, but I think he is glad he did. The overall sadness was palpable and everyone was thinking the same thing: "this is so wrong." Mum put on her booties, and I put her arms through the sleeves of the dress and was helped when it was time to button up the back...someone lifted her up as I did up the little buttons, and Sam patted my back. Later on he told me that he nearly lost it at that moment, watching me do up the buttons on the dress of my dead baby. He told me that no one should ever have to do that. I havent swaddled a baby since Jack was small, but I hadnt forgotten how. I chatted as I folded the shawl into a triangle, laid Sybella in the middle and wrapped her up. It came back so naturally and I was struck by how I was supposed to be doing this to her, alive, in a few weeks time, not now. We were able to all have a hold of her, and as I nursed her, I found myself patting her and swaying side to side, as if she needed settling. Others told me later how sad they found this, that I automatically went into mother mode, settling a baby that was already settled. I had some time alone and I whispered soft things, mother's words. Sam asked for some time alone also, and he told me later how he had spoken about how he had been looking forward to getting to know her, taking her to the zoo with Jack and teasing me, to make her laugh.
I was offered the opportunity to place her into her casket myself (I still cant say coffin, it has to be casket) which I did. It was so unnatural to be placing my baby girl into her casket, when two weeks before, I had been fitting sheets on her cot. But I did. I tucked her in for the last time, made sure she was comfortable, doing the "mum" thing. I made sure there were no loose flaps of wrap, her head was on the pillow and her legs werent too squashed. I kissed her cheek and wished my Sweet Pea goodnight, until it was time for us to meet again.