Two days after August was born, we had to drive to the funeral home to make arrangements for his cremation. It was a chilly, rainy morning. E drove, slowly and carefully, while I lay back in the passenger seat with the back of the seat reclined. I wasn’t supposed to be up and walking around yet.
At the funeral home we sat on small upholstered chairs across a large, dark desk from a man who looked at us sympathetically as he asked us questions in a gentle voice. We answered as well as we could.
At one point, the man said something, I don’t remember what, but something that made me think August’s body was there, in the building somewhere. I sat up straighter.
“You mean, he’s here?” I asked. My heart had started to pound. I felt more alert than I’d felt in days. “Can I…” My words trailed off. I wanted it so badly I couldn’t ask.
The man paused and looked at me; his eyes widened slightly. He seemed to be searching for words. Looking back, I realize he must have understood that I was a crazy woman — the mother of a dead baby — and I craved seeing that baby again. Whatever he had said that made me think August was somewhere nearby had set off that craving.
Which meant the man had to backpedal, make up an excuse, put me off. You see, in the moment, I wasn’t thinking about anything beyond wanting to see my baby boy one more time. Hold him again. Touch his soft, chubby cheeks again, hold his little hand and feel his tiny fingers in mine again. Just once more.
I wasn’t thinking about what state his body would be in, two days after he had died. I wasn’t considering the fact that we had donated his body to the Blood and Tissue Center, and they had long since removed his heart valves and his corneas and I don’t know what else.
Later, realizing my mistake, I felt ashamed. What a huge oversight! Even if August were there, even if the man had brought him to me, of course I wouldn’t have wanted to see him like that. What had I been thinking?
But I was only thinking of how much I wanted him back. That’s all. For months and months and months, that was all I could think of.
The man at the funeral home stammered some excuse about, “Oh, I don’t mean he’s here — he’s actually at our other facility, awaiting cremation.”
I slumped a bit and sat back in my chair, dejected. “Oh. Okay.” I wouldn’t be seeing him once more after all.
Later that moment of wild hope — he’s here? Can I see him once more, just for a minute, I’ll make it quick, please please please?? — seemed so ridiculous. And yet, what mother wouldn’t have felt that way? To have a child who dies is to want something every minute of every day that you can never, ever have again. No matter who you ask, how hard you beg, how craftily you bargain, the answer is always, and will always be, No.