Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Memorial of Sorts

Yesterday, the hospital health system that had sent the helicopter for Daniel, and had ultimately been entrusted with performing an autopsy which took eight months, had a Memorial Service for the children who had passed to spirit within the last several years. In concept, this is a lovely idea. Particularly with the economy, many families cannot afford funerals or ceremonies of remembrance and so for many of them, this may be all they have. Families and their friends are welcomed as long as one RSVPs in advance. There is a room where there are tables of remembrance where one can either set up a picture of your child, or some brought the child's toys, or a computer with a power point presentation of their child's life and times. There is childcare, and a fairly sanitized service bordering on the non-religious. On entering, families are given carnations of many colors, and as their child's name is called, they come forward and place the flower into a wooden "Tree of Life" with holes drilled for the carnations to rest. One can also ask for more flowers in order to remember others who have passed recently.
It was an interesting gathering. My husband and I attended along with all three of our children who remain on Earth, the two in college and the one who had graduated. The gathering was held in the medical center's college of nursing building which is experiencing renovation. Parking was underneath the building, and we arrived to a table outside the elevator with kleenex packages, programs, forget-me-not seeds, poems on cards, and a booklet on local Grief and Loss resources. It was interesting to learn that there IS a branch of Compassionate Friends in our area, as I had asked this, and was told no, about ten months ago. We went and set up Daniel's framed photograph.
It was interesting to me that there was a bevy of pregnant women, almost due, who were there to remember a premature infant they had lost in the last eighteen months. There were lots of families with babies who were there to remember an older child. You could pick out who the parents, aunts, uncles, friends, and grandparents were. Mothers had tears and were barely holding it together. Fathers looked as if they had been punched in the gut. Aunts were concerned and supportive. Grandparents were as supportive of their families as they knew how to be, and siblings were simply bewildered, wandering from table to table, realizing that their grief and pain, was a grief shared with so many other children and families. No one there was doing particularly well, and families that did not already know one another, avoided eye contact as well as avoided talking to one another.
It is a difficult event to structure in the best of circumstances, and a tough audience to be sure. As I waited in a line at the two stall ladies room two ladies using walkers lamented the lack of toilet facilities for a crowd this size. The pregnant women clenched their legs in line hoping they could make it to their turn to use the toilet.
As a result of the bathroom line,we were a little late to the service which was one the other side of the long hall, and was unmarked. There were poems read by some of the families which we could not hear at the back of the room. About that time I realized that Daniel's name in the program, had been listed as Eric James with our last name.(??!??) In addition, they cited our favorite poem on this subject as author unknown, when Edgar A Guest is the well known author of "To all Parents" which they had mislabelled as "God's Loan". One presumed boys grandparent said to another, "I hope our boy got better care than the set up of this little fiasco." I took this to mean that there were other errors in the program, and that the toilet issue upset her, as I had seen her there with a walker a few minutes earlier.
In point of fact, no medical center is required to do this. It was staffed by volunteers and is tough work. I recognized the names of some of the children as being a sibling group of three or four who died in a housefire earlier in the year. It is unlikely that any institution will please the throngs of devastated families who attended. I noticed that a large number of children did not have their families in attendance. My husband and I placed flowers for both Daniel and my Dad, and I kissed them before placing them in the tree.
I found the ceremony very difficult. I realized that I am not yet ready to return to church simply because music reduces me to big sobs. The man who played the hammered dulcimer yesterday as a last minute addition was very welcome, and the music reminded me of Christmases, we would never have with Daniel here on Earth. I also appreciated the young physicians, "The Arrhythmics" who sang two numbers a capella, although Daniel's passing being due to a probable arrhythmia made their name unfortunate for me. I consoled myself throughout the sweet music by calculating how much all these young doctors could bill for their ten minutes of time, in about six years collectively.
It is enough for me to know that our lives are completely changed and torn without seeing the multitudes of so many who lost their beloved children in a variety of terrible ways. A mother who has lost a child can pick out others who have, a point I learned recently at a local mall.
After the ceremony, there was a rather nice catered reception. If one is ever in my area, you might want to go to Brix Cafe who provided the unusual Italian reception fare. I spoke to only one family. A young African American boy stood mesmerized by Daniel's picture and told his mother that he thought he knew him. I spoke to them and learned that they had recently lost their five year old daughter to an asthma attack. All of them were quite devastated and the wound was quite fresh. I spoke to them for a little while and told them that she would find ways to tell them that she is alright. Her mother confided that her five year old used the microwave all the time at home, and that today, with no one nearby and nothing in it, the microwave had turned on and run for about 15 seconds by itself. She believed it was her daughters way of saying that she still is nearby at times.
I spoke briefly to a female chaplain who attended, who seemed surprized when I related Matthew's dream. It seems strange to me to work in the field of grief and sorrow and not know many people who have found hope in small ways, either through dreams or in isolated actions of ones microwave.
Had Daniel been there, he would have asked two pressing questions. One, can we take some of the left over Panini home ? and Two, why did you subject yourself to this ? Seeing so many suffering families will not help you. You are too empathic. Help one at a time as God places them before you. He might be right.

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