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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel's Mom (Sarah)

The Dawning of Afterlife Preparations

We were sitting in my hospital room on the antepartum wing (the hospital moved me back to antepartum because they felt it was less cruel than having me in the post-partum wing with all the living babies) when it dawned on me that we would have to make afterlife decisions and preparations for Nathaniel.

I will never forget the words out of my mouth, "we have to choose an urn. We have to get him cremated. How do you schedule a cremation? How the f*** do we do this? I have no idea how to do this."

Not only did we not know how to do this, we had not yet done any of this for our parents, let alone ourselves. And now we had to do it for our child.

Luckily, our hospital room phone rang and it was the hospital social worker with some updates. During the phone call I said, we realized we needed to figure out what we want to do with Nathaniel's body after he dies. Now it seems silly, like of course we have to, but in that moment, it was utterly unfathomable that this is what our life and parenting decisions looked like. Can you help us find a place where he can be cremated?

What we learned shortly thereafter, at least for us in Massachusetts, is that many funeral homes:

a. partner with a crematorium, if they don't have one themselves

b. the funeral home with coordinate with the hospital to pick up the body

c. in many cases, the cost of cremation is free for infants 1-year-old or younger

d. most funeral homes recommend choosing your own urn because the ones they have are too big

After learning these four important pieces, we selected a funeral home that was near my parent's house where we would be staying once discharged from the hospital, so we wouldn't have to travel too far. We had asked the hospital to call us when Nathaniel's body was picked up by the funeral home. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. This was my first pang of anger, when I felt like my baby's body wasn't being carefully cared for and they didn't have the courtesy to keep his mother informed. With a bit more distance, I like to think that it's just because they forgot or were busy. It did take about 2 weeks to get Nathaniel's ashes. They called us when we were able to come to pick them up. It was a sinking feeling. I wasn't sure if I could go, but I had too. I missed my little boy.

The hardest part was when they brought his ashes to us. They had put his ashes in a very boring white box with the printed text of "Baby Stillman" and those were in a small brown paper bag. I was shocked. They didn't even put his name. Nathaniel. Just Baby. Then seeing my baby in a brown paper bag made me feel like it was just some small object picked up at a store, which he definitely was not. I instantly grabbed his box from the bag. The box never went back in that bag.

Once at my parents' house, I opened the box, and his ashes were sealed in a thick plastic bag. I examined each particle through the plastic. This was all that was left of my baby. I couldn't believe it.

While we waited for his urn to be delivered, I moved Nathaniel's ashes into a new box. It was a small cedar box that had held my beloved childhood dog's remains. This cedar box held so much love and all I wanted was a nicer box than the plain white one. So this worked in the interim.

Now to choosing his urn... We didn't like most of the urns we saw. They were too gaudy for us and not something we would want to display in our home. We then came across Vitrified Studios, and we fell in love. The ability to personalize the urn, and choose colors and prints made this feel unique and special. When Nathaniel's urn did finally arrive, I felt like part of me was able to heal and settle into my grief a bit more. I was able to transfer Nathaniel's ashes to his final resting place on our living room mantle. But before I did, I took a hat that he wore in the NICU and placed it around the bag of ashes. Then I put his hatted ashes into his urn.

There are still days I hold his urn, hugging it close to my chest till I can feel my heart beat against it, thinking it might be ours beating together again. Sometimes I wrap the urn in one of his baby blankets. Other days, I take out his hatted bag of ashes and hold them; running my finger over the knitted hat and making sure his ashes are properly cared for.

I'm grateful for having chosen an urn I can kiss and hold every day. I am grateful for knowing that when Amy and I choose our final resting place, we will be able to have him buried with us, wherever that may be. Together forever, in this life and the next.

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