Touching Leah’s body for the last time before leaving her behind at the hospital was undoubtedly the most difficult moment of my life. Never again would I caress the soft folds of her skin, which had now turned pale and cold. Never again would I hold her warm belly against my chest, our hearts beating together as one. I returned countless times to her bassinet in the corner of my hospital room to stroke her cheeks and hold her tiny hands, all the while she lay still in her white dressing gown. Even in death she was beautiful, like a delicate porcelain doll. As we packed up and prepared to leave, I finally bent down to give her one last kiss.
“Goodbye my sweet girl,” I whispered into her ear. “Mommy loves you more than you’ll ever know.”
The grossly unnatural act of returning home without my daughter was initially eased by my lingering shock and exhaustion. I had not slept in 48 hours and so much had happened during that time, it was beyond my mental capacity to process everything just yet. I don’t believe I cried too much that first night. Instead, my husband and I lay next to each other in bed, holding hands and discussing our disbelief that any of the previous days’ events had happened at all. It felt like a bad dream that we would wake up from after a good night’s rest.
Of course it wasn’t a dream. When I woke up the next morning the empty bassinet standing next to my bed was all too real, and the crushing weight of this new reality hit me afresh. “She’s supposed to be here,” I thought to myself as I let the tears wash over me. Still, there were plans to make for Leah’s arrangements, and they mercifully gave me a sense of purpose and a place to focus my energy during that first week of mourning.
I knew immediately that I wanted to have Leah cremated and keep her ashes so that she would always be present in our home. It was decided that we would hold a memorial service for her in my hometown so that we could share her little life with all our family and friends. In the meantime my husband and I printed out all the photos we had taken during our hospital stay and put an album together. I savored every moment of this process. In a strange way, making these preparations allowed me to feel as if I was taking care of her. I was still her mother, after all, even though I was perusing urn and funeral card designs for her instead of changing her diapers and fussing over which outfit to dress her in each day.
Part of this process also included writing something for her funeral card. At first I resisted the idea, feeling too numb to channel any emotional or creative energy. But one evening my inherent writer’s instinct kicked in, and the poem that I would title “Leah” came together in my mind in a matter of minutes:
Read the second part of In Loving Memory here.