Decision 6: What to do with Jane?

Following the death of our sweet baby Jane Margaret, many of our most painful, frustrating, and morbidly humorous moments centered around decisions about what to do with Jane’s remains. (For Decisions 1-5, see this post.)

a) Autopsy or no?

While we were still in the hospital, Dr. R informed us that we had the option to do an autopsy on Jane to see if it revealed anything about the cause of her death. Dr. R believed Jane died from an accident in utero (either a cord accident or placental abruption), in which case an autopsy wouldn’t reveal anything, and Jane’s flawless appearance seemed to agree with that assessment. Data junkie that I am, I was somewhat surprised to find that this was one piece of information I didn’t feel like I needed. C felt the same way. We said we preferred not to put Jane’s tiny body through that.

b) Funeral home vs. hospital cremation?

When we met with the hospital social worker, one question she asked us is what we wanted to do with Jane. She said that the hospital could cremate her, in which case we would not get any cremated remains (or ‘cremains’ – yes, that is an actual word). This decision proved an easy one. My mind jumped to an image of Jane being tossed into a pile of medical waste for burning, and I reflexively and emphatically answered “Funeral home!”

c) Which funeral home?

At bedtime on Sunday, I realized that I needed to start taking action about Jane’s disposition and funeral. I emailed my two favorite priests and their pastoral associate, letting them know about Jane, and asking for a funeral home recommendation and guidance about how to plan Jane’s funeral.

Overnight, Fr. JP emailed me back, saying he had worked with EC Memorial before. I was in no mood for price shopping, and called EC Memorial first thing Monday morning to arrange for them to pick up Jane at the hospital.

It took another day for the Kaiser hospital to release Jane (during which I continued to be tormented by an irrational fear that Jane might somehow end up in the hospital furnace by mistake). Eventually, Nick from EC called and let me know that Jane was on her way to EC Memorial. Phew! We set up an appointment for Wednesday with representatives from both the funeral home and the cemetery sides of things.

I was hoping for a mom-and-pop shop of a funeral home, like the one where we took my Grandma. I pictured Dan Aykroyd from My Girl coming in to meet us…

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I so wish this was our funeral home director… (Source)

What we got was decidedly more corporate. Upon arrival, C and I were shown to a small meeting room with a tray of snack chips, cookies, candy and ‘Dignity’-branded bottled water. A man in a dark brown suit introduced himself as Sergio and gestured toward the tray, “If the family would like to help yourselves to some snacks…” He explained that he was the cemetery representative, and that Francisco – the funeral home representative – was running late, and would we like to take a tour of the cemetery? We said, “Sure?,” and followed Sergio to a golf cart.

Sergio drove us to a wall of niches, a man-made waterfall with holes where you can inset cremated remains, two “Catholic” burial areas, and a burial area for infants and children. At the second Catholic area, he informed us that all the visible sites toward the front were already purchased, but that there were some available spots towards the back near a “Madonna feature”. He asked “Would the family like to go see the available spots?” We again replied, “Sure?,” then immediately regretted it, as we saw Sergio crank the wheel a hard right and drive over the sloped curb and onto the grass. Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk. Over headstone after headstone! Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk. Live baby or not, I had still given birth three days prior, and was regretting my decision to leave the inflatable donut that my sister bought me in our car. Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk. Sergio drove diagonally across what seemed to be as many graves as he could hit, occasionally turning the wheel to dodge flowers. Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk. Finally, Sergio stopped, gestured in front with his hand, and told us that this area had availability…but only for double vaults (in case we decided we wanted to plan ahead for our burials). He could check and see whether all three of us (Jane, C and I) could be placed in one double spot.

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Wish I had brought my donut, purchased and lovingly decorated by my sister, for our fateful golf cart ride…

After our bizarre tour, Sergio drove us back to the little office, where Francisco met us.

d) To embalm or not?

Francisco proceeded with a series of uncomfortable questions. Did we want to embalm Jane or not? If so, the sooner we do it, the better the result would be. Wondering whether we wanted to put Jane through it, I made the mistake of asking what embalming entailed. “Well, you see, we make an incision behind the ear, and drain the blood, then replace it with a pink-colored preservative…” Ugh. Not what we needed to hear. He also made several references to “leakage”.

We decided to embalm Jane, if only so that we could have the opportunity to view her again. (We ended up being really glad we did, since it meant we got to have a private family viewing – during which we got imprints of Jane’s hands and feet – and a public viewing prior to the funeral. They also washed her hair, which was so soft and precious!)

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Taking imprints of Jane’s hands and feet during a private family viewing, made possible by embalming

When we resisted making any other decisions at that meeting, Francisco proceeded with some paperwork, asking C a series of questions that I tuned out, and then turning to me:

“What is your maiden name?

Date and city of birth?

What is your nationality?

When was your last menstrual period?

When was your first OB appointment?

How many OB appointments did you have?”

C got visibly irritated and asked, “Is this your form? Because these questions seem really impertinent!” Francisco looked flustered and explained that it was the State of California’s form, required for us to get a death certificate. He showed us the form, which was specific for stillbirths. (I can only imagine the quality of data coming from grieving parents filling out that form… Also, why in the hell didn’t Francisco just hand over the form for me to fill out, instead of asking me about my menstrual cycle?!)

e) Cremation vs. burial?

f) If cremation, what to do with her ashes?

g) If burial (whole or of her ashes), where?

These were harder decisions, and ones that we ended up postponing for another week plus. Considerations included (in no particular order):

  • Our off-putting experience with Sergio and the golf cart (see part c, above)
  • Our (relatively young) age, and uncertainty about whether we will stay in this city forever
  • A desire to have Jane be part of something big (like the ocean), or close to us (like in a pot or in the earth at our home), or incorporated back into nature (like under a tree)
  • A specific place to visit – on Memorial Day, and Jane’s birthday, and whenever
  • A sense of permanence – something that says Jane was here, that will outlast our home, us, even C. Samuel
  • Catholic Church teaching (Since Vatican II, cremation is allowed, but scattering the ashes is not)
  • Our reluctance to make any decisions (this probably influenced what we ended up doing more than any other single thing)

We decided to cremate Jane after her funeral. This decision bought us some more time to decide where we ultimately wanted to put Jane.

 

Today, almost a month after Jane passed and two weeks after her funeral, we interred Jane’s cremated remains under a tree in the infant and child section at EC Memorial, between two other babies.

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6 Comments

  1. No parent should ever have to go through this. Such hard decisions. I’m so sorry b

    Reply
  2. * . The “b” was a typo.

    Reply
  3. Sending lots of love, these decisions seem so difficult. Hugs.

    Reply
  4. Rest in peace, Jane ❤
    Hugs to you, brave mama ❤

    Reply
  1. What happened next | the infertile chemist
  2. Jane’s Funeral | the infertile chemist

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