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To The One Who Held My Baby Last...

To the one who held my baby last...

You don't know me, and I will likely never know you, but you were the one who held my baby for the last time. You were chosen to do something that I was never able to do but would have given anything for the chance. I like to believe that you were gentle and kind as you held him in your hands. I hope that you had compassion and understanding in your heart to know that this was not the way it was supposed to be. I pray that you gave him safety and tenderness as you took him into your care. This world can be dark and scary. I hope that you held him close.

When you awoke on that cold February morning, you had no idea that my baby would be among the others you'd receive that day. Although you knew the building, the routine, the did not know the story. Did you pull the van around back, next to the dumpsters and loading dock? Did you grow frustrated with the long wait to be escorted inside?

Did you make small talk with the attendant, or whisper, 'what a shame,' under your breath as you zipped the bag up? I pray you closed the door gently after placing him in the van and drove with caution through the streets back to the funeral home. When you opened the bag to take a peek, because curiosity won you over, did you look at him with loving eyes and acknowledge my little one? For you see, your eyes were the last to see my son.

Did you catch a glimpse of the future that I wasn't ever going to get the chance to know? Tell me he the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.

When you looked at him, did you grieve for the person he could have been? His brown hair, blue eyes and long eyelashes like his fathers? The bumps and bruises earned from wild adventures on the playground. The forehead I would have wiped when he had a fever. The cheeks where he'd try to grow his first beard and where his first date would place a kiss. The circles that would have developed from reading too late or studying for college exams. The dimples from his smile after asking the love of his life to marry him. The grey hair that would have grown over the years while watching his children have children. The tears from when he was supposed to say goodbye to me first. If it's anything like the scenes I imagine would know how beautiful life would have been. Oh, tell me you took it in and maybe even said a prayer for him. I said a prayer for you.

I hope that you placed him gently into the tray before closing that iron door. For you see, your hands were the last to touch my baby. When you closed the retort door, did you hear the wailing of his mother's cries or the sound of my heart breaking? Did it echo off the walls with a wistful longing that he'd come back to me?

I hope that you will forgive my dramatics. I know you see this everyday. I am a little more sensitive when it comes to him because I have fought the voices telling me that my loss is not the "right" kind of child loss and people wondering why I'm still not over it. I think the worst of others because I've known the worst in me. I've gotten used to telling people "I'm fine," while I'm still dreaming of what might have been. I get defensive because part of me still thinks I have to convince the world his death counts. Feeling like I'm just one step outside the grieving mothers circle. How lonely this grief can be. I speak about my son though. I may have failed him physically, but he will live on through my words and in my heart.

So, to the one who held my baby last...did you treat him fairly even with all the chaos going on around you? Will you remember him? Did you carry him gently with your hands?

I say all of this with the hopes that we pause and think about the ones who get overlooked. The ones that become part of the routine of the day to day. I don't say this to judge you or condemn you for you see, my dear colleague, that baby you picked up on that cold February day was the catalyst for a broken and lost girl to find her way to funeral service. And I, too, have been in the same spot. The place where the day seems never ending. The place where burnout numbs the empathy. The point where outside problems overshadow inside duties. I've had those days where names are written and erased off the board without me ever truly knowing who they were. The frustration in getting the call when you were just about to eat lunch or had plans after work. The mornings that are foggy from being on call all night that it takes everything in you just to remember your own name.

There's nothing wrong with that...we are human after-all. We, as funeral professionals, are human. My only wish is that we take a moment to slow down, breathe, and acknowledge that this person, no matter what age or from where they came from, is a life that we have been entrusted and chosen to care for. This person needing our care is someone's baby. Not every person will get an elaborate funeral, cheaper caskets will be selected, direct cremation will be all that's wanted, and some we will lose to our competitor down the road.

The true honor is how we serve them regardless. Not by seeing them as a certain dollar amount service or a statistic, but when we see them as a human. Let us stop and acknowledge the people in our care that are individual stories, branches on a family tree, personalities, or the ones who were too precious to get the chance. They are people who have known love and were given love. They once played on a playground and laughed with not a care in the world. Take time to honor those lives, regardless of how "busy" the day can get, and help the families they leave behind. After all...

You are the one who held their baby last. Were you gentle?

-photo by Rachel Cone Photography

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As a new father, my heart broke reading this. Such a poignant reminder of what we do, and to keep these thoughts when caring for infants.

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Thank you for reading, Noah. May we always remember the lives lived and the lives cut short as we continue to serve. Congratulations on becoming a dad! Hug your little one tight and make them proud. 🖤

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