The darkness that follows the day your baby enters Heaven
As I wrote the title of this post, I realized the irony of it. We all talk about Heaven and how wonderful it is there. We all long for it. Yet, the moment our child enters the beautiful realms of Heaven, our world becomes consumed with darkness and the last thing on our mind is a celebration and being happy that our baby is in a better place.
No matter what, I think no parent should ever live to see the death of their child. I believe it is, by far, the worst pain anyone can ever experience.
The days following Sebastian’s death were the darkest days of my life. Amidst the shock, pain, disbelief and darkness that filled my reality, I had to gather enough strength to be able to arrange for his funeral and take care of a million other things that needed my attention.
For years, I shopped at an international food market located near a funeral home. When passing it, I would always turn my head the other way so I wouldn’t have to look at it. Together as a family we drove by it so many times. I would have never imagined that one day I will be saying “good bye” to my son’s body there for the last time.
While making funeral arrangements, I was asked whether I wanted to see Sebastian’s body. I immediately responded, without even thinking about it, that I did not: I did not want to replace the image of my baby boy full of life with one of a cold body resting in the casket. To be honest I was afraid of how he would look. For the longest time I did not want to know the specific details of how he died. It was simply too much for me to bear at the time. When I spoke to the police, all I wanted to know was whether he died quickly and whether he felt any pain. That was all that I could handle. I was not able to watch any news or read articles on the internet or newspapers about it either. As time went by, however, different people would mention certain things which gave me an idea as to what happened. Nevertheless, I was still unsure as to how Sebastian would look and what condition his body was in.
On more than one occasion, the funeral home employees asked me if I wanted to view his body which I continued declining much to their disbelief. Despite the fact that I thought I had made it very clear that I did not wish to see Sebastian before he is buried, the woman who was handling the funeral arrangements asked me if I wanted to personally dress Sebastian for the funeral. Things changed then. I felt like it was not only my duty as a mom to do it but, most of all, it was an opportunity to dress my little baby boy one last time. One last opportunity to bring him his pillow and blanked and cover him up the way he liked: the striped blanket on his feet, the one with cars on his belly, and the one with dots on his chest. I thought that perhaps I would also have enough courage to tell him one of those make-belief stories he liked so much and give him his last foot rub. As convinced as I was that I would not allow a stranger dress my baby boy, I really had no idea if I would have enough strength to even enter that room. What if I would never be able to erase the picture of my son lying there, lifeless, from my mind? There were a million of those “what if” questions in my mind.
My solution, as always, was to pray: for courage; for strength; and to allow me to make the best possible decision. I prayed in the days prior and still I was not sure what I would do when it was time to enter the room where Sebastian’s body was being kept. On that day, however, when I entered the funeral home, I knew I was going straight to see my baby boy.
I will never forget the moment when I entered the room and saw Sebastian just lying there… As I moved towards him, I remember saying that he looked just as if he were sleeping. And he did. He looked so beautiful, like a little angel taking a sweet nap. I began to cry and talked to him for a really long time: asking him for forgiveness, wishing I could have done so many things differently, I kept telling him how much I loved him. I talked and talked… All this time, I was able to strongly feel his presence like a ray of light to my right side. Then it was finally the time to dress him. We uncovered him from the white sheet he was wrapped in. He was lying there in a tiny diaper… my beautiful three-and-a-half year old boy who was potty trained a long time ago… His little body stitched up from the neck down after the biopsy. When I saw him like that, my heart sank. My little boy, whom I wanted to protect from ANY and ALL suffering, to whom I wanted to give the very best of everything, was lying there naked in a tiny diaper with his body all torn up. I thought, what an irony… I looked at his head and could see tiny bruises on his forehead under his bangs—probably from the impact of the bullet going through the skull—and a tiny part of his ear was missing from the right side. I assume this is where the bulled had exited….
He really did look as if he were just sleeping, but as I began to dress him, his body was so cold, so heavy and numb. It was so difficult to feel him this way. It was so difficult to dress him like that. My wonderful friend Elena was amazing enough to be with me at the funeral home and to help me dress him and so was the funeral home employee. I thought I would be able to give him his last foot rub and to hug him—but the stiffness and the coldness of his body were just too much for me to bear. He looked just like my little Sebastian, my little sleeping angel, but he definitely did not feel like my baby boy anymore.
Once he was dressed, we transferred his body to the casket where I covered him up with his blankets and put pieces of his favorite trains in his hands. He looks so beautiful, so peaceful and serene. Once we were done, my mother, and then my late husband’s family, all entered the room. That was the first time they saw Sebastian… As they all said their good byes to my little boy, something magical happened. That entire day at the funeral home, I felt Sebastian’s presence very strongly, but at that particular moment, as I looked in the left corner of the room where a large armchair was located, I swear I saw Sebastian just sitting there and kicking his legs up with so much joy, just like he used to when he was alive. He looked happy with a huge grin on his face. Yes, it is possible that the trauma of the day made me hallucinate. All I know is, I will always remember that moment…
The mass and his burial took place the following morning. As I entered the church yard I was still more or less calm. However, the moment I entered the church and saw Sebastian’s picture there at the altar, the one with a huge smile while playing in the sand, I began to cry… I cried and cried as people approached me. His teachers from his Montessori school bought me his yearbook and a notebook filled with his pictures and artwork. I remember holding it during the entire mass close to my heart—trying to fill that empty space with it. Then I saw the hearse and his casket being taken out and carried through the church… Not a scene that could be or will ever be forgotten, not a scene that anyone wants to ever live through…
The service itself was beautiful, though I don’t think I stopped crying even for a minute during the mass. When the mass was over, all I wanted to do was to crawl somewhere, hide and rest. I was completely exhausted from all the sobbing. But instead, I found myself standing in front of a huge line of people who wanted to pay their condolences. As I stood there, I remember praying for strength because I literally felt like I was about to collapse. It was beautiful to feel the love of the people standing before and around me and somehow I was able to get through it…
During the burial, his picture kept falling down from the stand and I was filled with such guilt and disappointment: I thought that it was either a terrible coincidence or that perhaps Sebastian’s spirit was trying to communicate his discontent with me. Whether it was a coincidence or not, I do not know. However looking back, knowing what I know now, I am sure that if it really were Sebastian’s spirit somehow knocking that picture down, it was to tell me “Mama stop crying. I am okay. I am in the best place I could be.”
I know losing a child is not something anyone would consciously choose to experience. The heartbreak that child’s physical absence creates in life is truly unimaginable for those who have not experienced it. If I had a choice of having Sebastian here with me or in the spirit world, without a second of thought, I would have chosen him to be here with me. But in reality I know now that my baby boy is truly in the best place possible, finally at home.