On the days when Samuel was at playgroup - and the emptiness was most apparent - we would go for coffees together. A new garden centre had opened locally the weekend of Emilie's death and we made the most of the heat wave that had struck that week - very strange for the end of September in Liverpool - and sat outside at the garden centre drinking coffee and planning Emilie's funeral. No parent should have to plan the funeral of their child.
We were given a basic structure to follow and sat discussing how we wanted to pad it out and what we wanted to include. Did John want to carry Emilie down the aisle or would we like the funeral directors to do so? What songs did we want? What prayers and readings did we want and who did we want to read them? How did we want to acknowledge Emilie's life? What flowers did we want and who did we want to come? I couldn't help but notice the stark similarities between planning Emilie's funeral and planning our own wedding yet I was all too aware of the strange juxtaposition between the two. It still felt like a dream - were we really sat planning our own daughter's funeral? Was John really going to carry her down the aisle in a coffin rather that walk her down in a white dress? I couldn't understand how it had gone so wrong. Thank goodness for the other people we had around us to plan the formalities of the funeral and the reception as I really don't think we would have had the capacity to do so.
7th October 2011 was the day of Emilie's funeral. We had decided for Sam not to come to Emilie's funeral - not because we felt it would be inappropriate for him; we knew that the would be other friends' children there - but because we wanted to be able to grieve without worrying about the effect our reactions may have on him. A childminder friend had agreed to have him for the afternoon and Faye had agreed to pick him up afterwards to bring him to the reception so that he could see our families. We felt that this was best all round.
We woke up on the morning of the funeral with the knowledge that we were going to be saying 'goodbye' to our baby girl and wondering if this was going to be an end to the limbo state that we were finding ourselves in. We sent Sam to playgroup and picked him up as usual and were given an amazing bunch of flowers from the staff. We had decided to go for a family lunch together before the funeral to give us something nice to remember. The lunch in itself was lovely although surreal. The three of us sat together whilst John and I had the strange knowledge that this was the day of our daughter's funeral. The staff at the cafe made a big fuss of Sam but I wanted to let them know that we had another child and this was the day we were saying goodbye to her. I really struggled with the fact the people who didn't know us had no idea that Emilie had ever existed. I longed for people to ask about her so that I could speak to them about her; so that I could acknowledge her existence and importance. But they would just see a family of 3 and have no knowledge of the fact that that had ever been different.
After lunch we dropped Sam off at my friend's house and returned home to wait for our wonderful friends, Tom and Lindsey, to arrive. They had been close friends of ours for years in Liverpool, before moving to London to pursue a music career, and are Sam's godparents. We had asked them to come to the house before the funeral and to come in the car with us. There was no one I would have rather had next to us on that day and we needed their support. Once they arrived there was no awkwardness of wondering what to talk about - we continued as normal. We had a catch up, as much as we could, cried and laughed together and eventually prayed together before the car arrived. My stomach was in knots the whole time and I begun to regret having such a big lunch as I felt quite sick with nervousness. 2:45 pm arrived and there was a ring at the doorbell. I think that John answered the door and I followed behind but as soon as I saw the funeral limo and Emilie's tiny, white coffin in the back my legs crippled and the panic gripped my chest. I began to shake and cry in huge sobs. I needed to be virtually carried to the car and was held on one side by Tom and the other by Lindsey. In the same way that I had known I wanted to write Emilie's Eulogy, John had known that he wanted to carry her coffin. He sat in the back of the car holding onto to his precious daughter whilst I sat in the middle with Tom and Lindsey holding my hands and helping to keep me grounded. In through the nose - and out through the mouth. The journey to the crematorium seemed to take forever and I shook all the way. I began to wonder if I had enough tissues to get me through the service. As we pulled up at the crematorium I could see our friends and family through the window and could see friends arriving. I couldn't control the tears and panic any longer and sobbed uncontrollably in the car. Tom and Lindsey were amazing. I could tell that they were in immense pain seeing their friends go through the unthinkable and yet they managed to keep their composure and uphold us.
Dave came to greet us in the car and go through formalities with us before we got out of the car. Nearly a week after Emilie's death a young man from church named Michael had also died. He had had a cancerous brain tumor and put up a long fight against it before going to home to Jesus. Dave had also officiated Michael's funeral on the same day and must have been exhausted yet he remained calm, kept his composure and was an amazing support to us. I remember speaking to Mike's mum, Carol, some months later at coffee together. She told me how much Mike had loved babies and children. I imagined Mike and Emilie walking through the gates of heaven together and Mike being a part of Emilie's heavenly upbringing. I imagined them knowing the relationship that their mothers would build up and the common ground that they, and we, shared. It has been a huge comfort to me since.
The time came for us to get out of the funeral car and go into the crematorium. We had asked for people to be seated before we went in so that we did not have to worry about meeting and greeting or taking on other people's emotions before the service. We walked through the door and I focused on the front of the room. Lindsey held on to my arm and helped to hold me up as we walked down the aisle and Tom did the same for John. We made it to the front of the room in one piece and sat for the service. It was an incredibly emotional and special service for our beautiful girl. The songs we had chosen seemed to fit perfectly and Dave led a dedication in which we gave Emilie back to God. The emotional release of giving Emilie up was amazing and we knew that it was something we had needed to do.
I was able to lead Emilie's eulogy - something that I am certain was only possible through the strength that God had given me that afternoon. I wrote the eulogy down to save it and when I decided to recount my experience in writing I also decided to share the Eulogy:
As a family John, Sam and I were looking forward to Emilie’s birth so much. I had prepared myself for another early arrival just in case and had my hospital bag ready packed. I think I’d done it to avoid the sense of denial I felt when Samuel was born prematurely. We had waited 2 years to try for another baby as we were so fearful about what might happen. We not only had trouble conceiving Emilie but that it had been a far from easy pregnancy. In-spite of all this and even though we were worried about how things were going to pan out, when I did find out I was pregnant we were over the moon and have spent the last 7 months preparing our lives and home for Emilie’s arrival. Sam has known that he was going to get a baby sister and had been very much looking forward to meeting her.
I think that you can get to know a baby when you are carrying them and Emilie had a personality of her own – she was very different to Sam. She seemed to have a sheer defiance and despite hundreds of position changes from me she would stay wedged under my ribs. I remember going for a meal to John and Kirsten’s house a few weeks ago and being unable to finish my desert because she had wedged herself firmly between my stomach and ribs and refused any coaxing to move. The midwife told me she was probably just comfortable there. A few weeks later she curled into a tiny ball at the base of my stomach and again wouldn’t accept any coaxing to move. I think we would have had quite a character on our hands.
Finding out that Emilie’s heart had stopped was the hardest thing that John and I have ever experienced. There are no words to describe the feelings that came crashing down on us. I am so glad that we have the Women’s hospital on our doorstep as I genuinely don’t know what we’d have done without the staff whilst we were in hospital. I desperately wanted a caesarean to avoid what I thought would be the terror or giving birth to stillborn baby but I was encouraged to have a normal delivery and I am so grateful that the midwives and our consultant didn’t give up on me. I think that giving birth to Emilie made the whole situation more real to us and enabled HER to become more real. I was terrified about what she would look like and had asked the midwife to prepare me thinking that she would be preparing me to meet something horrific. We prayed and friends prayed with us that I wouldn’t have to endure a long, drawn out labour to add to the horrors we had already experienced. Emilie was born after only a 3 hour labour, was handed to us in the same way that any other baby would be handed to their parents and we spent hours just holding, kissing and cuddling her. I needn’t have worried about how she would look - she was perfectly formed and beautiful and would have grown up into a beautiful little girl.
I don’t think we’re ever going to know why Emilie was taken from us and I don’t think it would make any difference even if we did know. I know that she won’t be in any pain anymore and that we will see her again. I even believe that we’ll know who she is when we meet her – that she’ll be waiting for us. The one thing we’ve experienced in abundance since Emilie’s death is amazing love, support and compassion from the people around us. The pain has been unbearable but everybody has made it just a bit easier for us by caring for us and showing us we are loved. We have the most amazing support network around us and without that, and the knowledge that God will never leave us, I don’t know how we’d have got through the past weeks or be able to face the coming months. Emilie will always be a part of our lives and we will never forget her nor would we want to.
Close friends prayed for us and read readings at the funeral. It felt so special and so personal for us. We were surrounded by our closest friends and family and felt very loved. Following the service we were encouraged to stay behind to spend a small amount of time on our own with Emilie. As our friends walked out we were given hugs and felt like they truly shared our pain.
We returned to church, to the cafe, in Tom and Lindsey's car, the four of us chatting and feeling the relief that the end of the funeral had given. For the first time in 2 weeks I felt a release of the pressure. I don't know if it was due to an adrenaline rush caused by the unrealistic and difficult situation being over or if it was God's comfort sustaining me for the day. The reception that Jenny had organised for us was lovely. All of our friends were present and the atmosphere was such that we were able to laugh and share together. There was a wealth of homemade baked goods and tea and coffee served by friends. We felt truly blessed that so many people were willing to spend that difficult day with us and to help to make it such a special afternoon.