“I could never” I told everyone. Told myself. I could never walk into someone else’s loss. To look at another’s dead baby and be reminded of my own son I had lost. How could I enter that space again that had nearly destroyed me? And then not only enter it, but be the source of comfort for another grieving family? How could I hold the body of a baby who would look so similar to the one I had once given birth to and then shortly placed into the ground? There was no way. I could never go back to that place again, let alone do it for a stranger.
But then the call came for someone that wasn’t a stranger; it was my friend. My childhood friend was facing the same devastation I had stared down just over a year before. Her daughter had fought for every extra minute of her short life, but now left behind her grieving mom with a pain I knew well. My heart couldn’t cope with the thought of leaving her to grieve alone.
I knew the support I received after my loss was invaluable. A volunteer came to me a few hours after I had my stillbirth. She showed up like an angel, there to take care of a different kind of angel now swaddled in my arms. This volunteer spoke to me in such a soothing voice, giving me comfort and hope in the most confusing hour of my life.
She bathed my son.
She made molds of his hands and feet.
She gifted me mementos, reassuring me that I would want them someday, even if they didn’t make sense at the moment.
I now cling to those mementos.
This volunteer set the tone of the room, turning my tragedy into treasured time. I could thank her every day for the rest of my life and still feel indebted for the way she helped me create memories with my baby. And she did this for me because she understood too well. She had lost her son seventeen years before. She knew the grief too, and knew how to hold my hand and guide me through it since she had walked the road herself.
And now I was faced with the same situation. My friend was at the beginning of the path that I was already walking on. Could I really join her at the beginning again and guide her the same way the angelic volunteer had for me? I had said I could never. In reality, I was scared. I was scared of the trauma it would bring up for me. I was scared I would fail her in such an important role. Could I really meet my friend where she was, hold her deceased baby, and give her the same comfort that had been given me?
How could I not try?
So I went.
I joined the same volunteer who had served me, and took hold of my courage as I walked into a mortuary for the second time in my life. My friend sat alone in the large room, holding her daughter’s body. My empathy overcame my anxiety at that moment. She needed help. She needed us. She needed me.
My friend showed me her baby, and as I looked at the tiny girl who had fought so hard, the thought came to me, “This is not my baby.” And it wasn’t. It wasn’t my son. This wasn’t my loss. This was different, and I could separate the two in my head and heart while still being emotionally present and compassionate.
It was still heavy to know my friend was struggling, and I desperately wished I could fix it for her, but despite that heaviness, I pressed on, saying words to her that had encouraged me. The other volunteer and I gave mementos and made molds. We hugged this mom who had joined us in the journey of loss, and before we left, I held the baby girl one last time and spoke to her. “I’m so glad I met you. I know not many will, and I’m honored to be one of the lucky few who did.”
I drove home and cried. I cried for my friend, for the grief she now carried. I cried for myself, for the longing for my son that wouldn’t ever go away. And then I cried for all the strangers who faced this pain alone. For all the mothers and fathers who wouldn’t have anyone to come to the hospitals or mortuaries to bathe their babies, or make molds, or gently create positive memories. I wept for the babies who would die without dignity, who would be loved by those who wouldn’t know what to do, just like I would have been if left alone.
Could I go back to living my life without caring for families in need of someone to join them at the start of their journey? Could I ignore the heartache of parents just like me who need help in their heaviest hour? Could I forget about the life-changing service that was shown to me and not even try to give that gift to others?
I could never.