In the last few days, I’ve felt waves of grief during quiet moments. Most times I’ve been alone, but the other night I felt it while at Sea World with a few friends. One was about 8 months pregnant, and I couldn’t help but look at her and wish I could go back to when I was pregnant and Jane was still alive…
I’m choosing to work through my grief by continuing my list of unpleasant decisions.
Decision 7: What to do for Jane’s Funeral? (Like Decision 6, ‘Decision’ 7 was actually a series of decisions.)
a-c) Where? When? And officiated by whom?
The ‘where’ was easy. When I contacted Fr. JP the Tuesday after Jane’s death, he indicated that we should have the funeral at whichever church we felt most connected to. Even though I’ve spent the last two years attending my neighborhood parish, I knew that I felt much more connected to our local Newman Center, which I’ve attended off-and-on since beginning my postdoc in 2006. C and I went through our marriage prep there with Fr. JP (even though I was living in another city at the time), and I had served on the Pastoral Council from 2012-2015.
The timing was a little trickier. Fr. JP would be leaving town in a few days and could do the funeral on Friday, July 29 (It was already Tuesday the 26th), or not until late September (it was July).
His colleague, Fr. D (whom I also love; I mentioned him before in my post on infertility and the Catholic church) was currently in Bosnia, but could probably do the funeral the following Saturday, August 6. There were no options in between.
We weighed having the funeral sooner (so Jane would look better if we had a viewing, and could be put to rest without delay) or later (so that family and friends could plan to attend). Several out-of-state friends had already expressed a desire to attend the funeral, and with that in mind, along with the fear of trying to plan a funeral and reception in three days, we decided to go with Fr. D the following Saturday (two weeks after Jane’s death).
d) Details of the ceremony?
This was one of those times when I was grateful to the Catholic church for having rules for every situation. C and I met with the Pastoral Associate at the Newman Center, who handed us a copy of a booklet containing step-by-step instructions for planning a Catholic funeral.
(My friend L would be quick to point out the similarities to this gem from Beetlejuice…)
We had to make decisions, but they were constrained to manageable bites:
- Do we want a full funeral mass (including communion) or the shorter funeral service? Since C and his family are not Catholic, we went with the service.
- Which of 3-10 prescribed options do we want for each prayer, psalm and reading? I read all and narrowed them to 2 or 3 options each, which I presented to C… “This one captures the misery we are feeling right now…; this one mentions being God’s children, which is nice; this one isn’t SO Jesus-y and won’t alienate the non-Christians as much as the others…” We went with Lamentations 3: 17-26 for the Old Testament reading; Psalm 23; 1 John 3: 1-2 for the New Testament reading; and John 12: 23-26 for the Gospel reading.
- Which songs would we like everyone to sing? Ideally, they are supposed to be happy songs – about resurrection…We went with ‘You are mine’ and ‘I know that my redeemer lives’ (both by David Haas), and ‘Be not afraid’ (by Bob Dufford).
- Do either of us want to say any ‘words of remembrance’? I couldn’t think of anything to say for this, and the thought of adding public speaking to my list of responsibilities for that day sounded unbearable, so I was advocating that we skip it…but C felt like that was the one part of the service that he could contribute meaningfully to, and he wanted to do that for Jane. I have so much respect for my husband for this. He did a beautiful job.
- Whom did we want to involve in the service? We wanted to involve as many people as possible – as pallbearers, ‘placing the pall’ on the casket, or as readers. We chose to involve our parents, siblings, and a couple of friends who had gone out of their way to help out, or to be there for us throughout my pregnancy and after Jane’s death.
e) Whom to invite?
My default was just to invite close friends and family. I figured funeral attendance was for the bereaved, and why would anyone want to come to a funeral for a baby they had never met?
Thankfully, my friend S, who was helping us plan, knew better. We had already decided to share our loss on Facebook, and she encouraged us to include the funeral information in that post. She also notified C’s work colleagues, and tagged us in Facebook reminders closer to the day. My colleague shared the funeral information with my university, which resulted in a campus-wide email.
The result was that a shocking number of people came. A bunch of my colleagues – all the chemists, a biologist, a mathematician, a Spanish literature scholar, a sociologist, three academic deans, and my provost. Friends from my postdoc. My good friend’s big time PhD advisor. Friends from high school and college whom I hadn’t seen in years. My college friend, a coworker from my previous university, and my research collaborators all braved the SoCal traffic for over two hours to be there. Several of the other mamas from my infertility support group were there. C had friends who flew all the way from San Francisco and Seattle to be there. Three of his biggest business competitors came too. Our housekeepers came and brought their three kids. Between the guest book, photos from that day, and my memory, I counted 133 people.
It was surprising, and touching, and exactly what we needed to feel like Jane was loved and wouldn’t be forgotten.
f) To have a viewing or not?
We decided to have a private family viewing on Friday, five days after Jane’s stillbirth, so that my dad could meet her. We figured if she looked okay, we’d go ahead and plan to have a more formal viewing the following Friday, the day before her funeral.
Damned if her hair didn’t keep looking cuter each time we saw her!
Jane looked pretty good at the private viewing (I showed some more pics in this post), and we found it therapeutic to be with her again, so we went ahead and scheduled the formal viewing for a four-hour window on Friday. A handful of people came – about 20 in all, and we ordered pizza and wrote ‘thank you’ cards and sat with Jane and it was nice. We also had another one-hour viewing shortly before Jane’s funeral for anybody who wanted to see her but couldn’t make it on Friday.
Jane’s visitation on Friday. While we didn’t hire a monk or chant in a full Buddhist ritual, my in-laws did bring fruit and incense.
4 hours is a long time, and C. Samuel alternated between watching Octonauts on Dad’s iPhone, chasing his Auntie around the funeral home, and walking with Grandma around the cemetery.
Third and final viewing just before Jane’s funeral. She looked so sweet and peaceful!
Our friends S & Q, whom I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, since they are probably the most thoughtful friends I’ve ever had (perhaps the most thoughtful friends that anyone has ever had), insisted that they wanted to take care of the reception for us. Before leaving her job to be a stay-at-home-mom, S was an event planner for the Hyatt. She and her friend (who is still an event planner at the Hyatt) would take care of coordinating the flowers and catering and decorations and alcohol and guest book and memory table and coordinating with the venue… She promised to make it “The Best Shittiest Day Ever!”
We had wine and beer and sandwiches and fruit, and listened to the ‘James Taylor’ Pandora station, and talked, and let the kids run around. It really was the best shitty day.
Guests contributed their thumbprints to make a memento to Jane. (One of S’s many thoughtful ideas for The Best Shittiest Day Ever)
The rose drawing at left was a gift from my talented friend (and fellow IF blogger) wheresmywave.
I already wrote a bit about Jane’s interment, with pictures, here. It happened just over two weeks after the funeral. First we had to wait for Jane to be cremated. (In hindsight, we regretted not just burying her body the same day as the funeral…but at the time, we still didn’t know whether we wanted to bury, scatter, or bring home her remains, and cremation let us postpone that decision a bit longer…) By the time we made up our mind to put Jane in the cemetery, Fr. D was leaving town not to return until late September.
Fr. D informed me that the interment ceremony didn’t actually require a priest – anybody could do it. As with the funeral, the Church provided a handy guide. So we decided on a small informal ceremony last Monday, officiated by me. We invited just a few people, five of whom were able to make it at 2:30 on a weekday. I led the group in some prayers, we sang our version of Sweet Baby James together, and then a man from the grounds crew put Jane in the ground, along with a few toys for Jane to play with.
We visited Jane’s grave on Tuesday, and three more times since.