The day that my daughter died was a very difficult day, but it is not the worst day of my life. It’s not the worst day because it was also the day she was born. Her birthday and her death day are forever intertwined–one a moment of light and the other a moment of darkness middling together in a dim glow.
The hardest day of my life was the day I went to collect the urn that held my daughter’s remains.
On the day that we went to collect Dorothy from the hospital, I felt like I was watching a scene from someone else’s life. It didn’t seem real that I would willingly go to a place where someone was going to hand me the ashes of my stillborn daughter.
Upon our arrival, we checked in at the front desk and asked for the hospital social worker. The volunteer who phoned upstairs must have sensed the gravity of the situation. She did not attempt small talk, she simply gestured for us to stand beside the desk and let us know that she would be right down.
As the social worker crossed the lobby to meet us, I remember being so confused. Her hands seemed empty. I started to panic. Did we come all this way just to find out that Dorothy’s remains weren’t ready? Why wasn’t she cradling our daughter in her arms? She came closer and it was then I realized — Dorothy’s urn fit in the palm of her right hand.
I didn’t know they made urns so tiny.
My hands felt heavy but I was having a hard time keeping them still. I felt them reaching out as if it were an instinct. It was like my hands could sense her presence and wanted to reclaim her. So, I stepped forward with outstretched arms, ready to receive my baby. When I was inches away from holding my daughter again, my arms dropped and I immediately began to cry.
I didn’t want that urn. I wanted my baby.
If she handed me that urn — that impossibly tiny urn — it would mean that my daughter was actually dead. You wouldn’t cremate someone who wasn’t really dead. It all felt so final.
We were quietly ushered into a small reading room off of the hospital library. I can vividly remember how nondescript it was. The neutrality of the room was offensive. It was neither sad or poignant enough. It seemed like such an odd place for the second worst moment of my life.
The social worker sat down and began to talk, but I couldn’t comprehend anything she was saying. All I could do was stare at her hands cradling the remains of my dead daughter. She passed Dorothy to me and said a few more words that did not register before leaving us alone.
And there we were. Once again, the family we wanted. Never again, the family we imagined.
When we made the decision to cremate, I understood that we would receive Dorothy’s ashes. I understood that we would not bring home a baby and that we would be taking home an urn instead. I thought I was prepared for all of that.
But, I was not prepared for what it would mean to hold an urn so tiny.
Because the truth is that no one is ever ready for that moment. There is nothing to prepare you for the moment when someone hands you the ashes of your baby and the remains of your dreams.